What does artificial intelligence have in store for agents and travellers?
With the hype in travel being on the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and concerns around how bots may take over the world, there has been a lot of discussion in the travel industry around their impact on agents and travellers. Having had more than a few discussions with clients on this topic, here’s our take on things.
Firstly, let’s define AI. Most experts agree it’s all about “intelligent agents”, or any device that can perceive its environment and take actions to achieve a goal. Colloquially, the term refers to how software or hardware mimic cognitive functions we normally associate with human minds, such as learning, problem solving and decision making.
In the world of travel software technology, AI is associated with bots – software applications that run automated tasks, or scripts, and perform simple, repetitive tasks much faster than would be possible for a human … and error-free. Björn Böhme, Global Director, Product and Engineering explains, “At Tramada Systems, we use bots to help with workflow automation, removing manual, repetitive tasks. This enables our agents to be more efficient and gives them the competitive edge.”
There is an imminent shift in the travel industry towards bots being integrated into existing online/offline booking workflows with the goal of leveraging the extensive information each successful agency has – which can include personal preferences, corporate policy, historical selection of suppliers and so much more – in order to “recommend” choices well before the agent or traveller have even considered them.
Think of AI as a way to utilise the many pieces of information that are captured in corporate and leisure bookings to identify, say, the likelihood of a traveller staying a few more days beyond a business trip or holiday, or choosing a particular hotel based on factors such as the day of the week, seasonality, proximity to attractions that would interest them – perhaps even identifying who to target with that amazing new marketing campaign.
Giving travellers more of what they enjoy
Essentially, AI and the use of bots means using the immense power of technology to target travellers with information, suggestions and alternatives that they are most likely to purchase, thereby helping consultants and businesses to sell more content and provide increased levels of service. Bots incorporated into an agency’s workflow could advise consultants of business-wide incentive agreements to book a certain airline or hotel chain to reap the benefits of commissions, and driving more income. And these are all mined from information the agency already has and used by AI to ensure the content is relevant to the customer. The customer has a better experience.
Chat bots are now becoming a mainstream facet of client communication and support such as United Airline’s Twitter chat bot assistant Autopilot, or Kris, the Singapore Airlines’ Facebook Messenger bot. These components will continue to improve and supplement business offerings by automating the process of getting relevant, specific information to customers on non-complex queries. Agencies would then be staffed by leaner teams, employed to assist with the more complex bookings, resulting in reduced business overheads while retaining, and even improving, the quality of service to customers.
One thing that AI and bots are not is a revolution in bookings that should keep you awake at night.
Instead, they are an exciting development in the evolution of the travel process that will improve the overall experience for customers while helping businesses increase their revenue. That’s a win–win, and to reap the benefits, agencies need to be open to change, willing to adapt and able to evolve.
On the rise of AI and bots in the travel industry, allow us to paraphrase Bill Gates: the advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it; so it’s part of everyday travel management.