How AI is transforming the traveler experience from start to finish

This is a viewpoint from Noreen Henry, CEO of Wayblazer.

With today’s technology, consumers are able to interact with self-driving cars, real-time language translation services, and of course shop for products on Amazon using Alexa. Many in the travel industry are well aware of the incredible opportunities that artificial intelligence can bring to specific areas of the booking journey in order to delight, engage and optimize the customer’s experience.

From pre-trip research and planning to in-trip recommendations and seamless itinerary changes, travel brands can make smart, meaningful enhancements to the customer experience by leveraging the right artificial intelligence tools.

By now, most people know what artificial intelligence is. But for those who need a reminder, it’s the utilization of a computer system to perform a function that normally requires human intelligence.

When it comes to implementation, the key questions brands are asking today is:

  • Where do we start?
  • What are the best use cases for the technology available today?
  • And, perhaps most importantly, what do our customers want most?

Here are a few examples of where we’re seeing this applied in ways that are soothing common pain points for customers.

Conversational commerce

Conversational Commerce combines conversation design, natural language understanding (NLU) and, in some cases, reflexive dialoguing, which has seen the most amount of chatter (no pun intended).

Travel brands such as Booking.com and Expedia have integrated chatbots in Facebook Messenger to help customers search for hotels. Other bots, such as the recently acquired Mezi, were designed to help customers with wider travel booking considerations such as searching for flights as well as in-trip assistance such as restaurant recommendations.

For travel brands considering building conversational commerce into their search and booking experience, reliability is key. The brands that have been most successful in this arena are those that can deliver value, no matter how low-hanging it might be, to the customer.

Mezi automates part of the conversation with a bot but a human agent takes over when the customer’s question requires a higher degree of fidelity. It’s better to answer simple questions correctly every time than more complex questions once in a while.

Personalization

The Next Wave of Personalization is the ability for a brand to leverage data and technology to deliver individualized messaging and product offerings.

In other words, the holy grail for all marketers is the ability to deliver personalized experiences to each customer. Of course, the application of this is more far-reaching than what technology can offer today. However, inventive brands are innovating on existing technology and strategies to personalize the customer experience at a more granular level.

For example, President of Emirates Airlines, Sir Tim Clark, recently stated that the companies of the 2050s will have little to no resemblance to those of 2018. Under their North American vacations branch, Emirates Vacations, the company is already beta testing a virtual assistant called Emma (developed by WayBlazer) to help travelers search and discover vacation packages across destinations worldwide based on their personal interests and travel intent.

What this means is that soon travelers will be able to receive tailored recommendations from brands based on what kind of trip they are planning (i.e., a honeymoon, family reunion, golf-trip). This personalizes results and makes for a happier customer.

Machine vision

Machine Vision allows for computers to read and understand imagery. It is the cousin of voice recognition, but instead of giving machines the ability to hear, it gives them the ability to see. This can be applied to a broad set of use cases, from analyzing the metadata in an image to perform large-scale scale optimized guest services functions such as passenger check-ins.

Last year, Delta Airlines launched a test project at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport that allowed customers to use facial recognition to board flights to Paris. Passengers seamlessly approached the camera to have their photo taken. Seconds later, they receive a confirmation receipt and board their flight.

The implications of a technology like this are greatly reduced wait times, less conflict, and less stress for travelers, who still report air travel is the most difficult part of any journey.

Though machine vision powers everything from self-driving cars to Facebook’s facial recognition program, travel brands will find that they don’t have to go to extremes to take advantage of it. A simple outcome might include personalizing image selection for travelers based on their text searches, and perhaps being able to pull images from a wide variety of sources (as opposed to whatever’s loaded in the website CMS).

Recommendations

Similar to Spotify’s recommended playlists, travel brands are using historical data such as previous searches and bookings to help improve search results for your next trip.

OTAs such as Expedia, Booking.com, and Priceline are largely leading in this area because of their techno-optimist mindset and the vast amount of data they can collect from website traffic. Google is using its data-driven recommendation engine to offer flight recommendations and “date tips” that suggest cheaper travel times or connecting airports based on your destination.

These opportunities aren’t just available to the tech-giants of the travel industry anymore; they are widely accessible to most travel brands at this point.

What it comes down to for brands still trying to figure out where to start is, first, understanding that AI is more than technology. It is the pathway to a new immersive, rich and provocative customer experience — one that the travel industry is better positioned to deliver than just about any other industry.

By prioritizing the customer experience as an organization, any travel brand can now leverage relatively simple and quick-to-deploy technologies to enhance customer engagement, from search and discovery to check-in.

When travel brands deliver an experience that resonates with the customer—one that helps them on their specific path, whether before, during, or after their journey—they will find a far more satisfied and engaged customer. One that keeps coming back.

With today’s technology, consumers are able to interact with self-driving cars, real-time language translation services, and of course shop for products on Amazon using Alexa. Many in the travel industry are well aware of the incredible opportunities that artificial intelligence can bring to specific areas of the booking journey in order to delight, engage and optimize the customer’s experience.

This is a viewpoint from Noreen Henry, CEO of Wayblazer.
Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

Related reading:

Artificial intelligence is everywhere and it’s only the beginning

Photo by Maxime Rossignol on Unsplash

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Viewpoints

About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.

 

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  1. Christian Furtner, BA

    Our focus should be more on experience design, rather than solely on technology adoption. If people drive cars or use self-driving ones the questions we should ask in tourism are: What do guest really look for? And: How can we deliver relevant experiences in the best (and most efficient) way?

     
  2. Nihit Jain

    Very well summarized !

     
 
 

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