The travel industry, even on a ‘just get it done’ corporate level, is still customer driven and customer satisfaction invariably comes through at least a reasonable level of personalisation.
The corporate travel industry, one of the largest and fastest growing in the world is constantly seeking better ways to enhance the personal experience but faces the obvious challenges of massive logistics and statistics tabulation and analysis, which can only be attained through sophisticated technological applications.
In a recent interview, GetYourGuide CEO Johannes Reck said that ‘true success in the future of travel comes down to personalisation.’ And James Waters, Global Director of Customer Service at Booking.com said “as we operate in an industry that is incredibly personal, emotional and complex, maintaining the right balance between genuine human interaction and efficient automation is something we’re always trying to fine-tune and optimize throughout every stage of the consumer journey.”
So could Artificial Intelligence (A.I), the newest form of automation, taking this and almost every other major industry by storm, be the answer? Can this cold, calculated, data-based revolutionist that employs automated ‘chatty’ robots actually personalise the travel industry?
Perhaps that question is best answered with a question – “What are some of the ways A.I is already deployed and assisting in this regard?”
Recognising past preferences.
Personalisation is primarily built on remembering. Simply remembering someone’s name is the basis of the beginning of a successful relationship – remember their Birthday, who they are married to and in the case of the travel industry, where they last vacationed and why – these are the makings of a beautiful relationship.
A.I is at work when searching for holiday destinations on an Online Travel Agent (OTA). You will see recommendations based on your previous searches and bookings. This is also the case if you book a flight to Cape Town, for example. Typically, you can be taken to a page offering hotel and car rental options in the Cape Town area after booking that you may have utilised in past visits!
OTA’s even recommend alternative travel dates, destinations and local sightseeing options based on your search queries. It’s common for users when using OTAs to receive recommendations based on their previous searches or even what others have may have booked for them.
Improved pricing through analysing variables
Obviously, pricing is determined by variables. Hotels and other hospitality establishments use data such as pricing, weather, user booking patterns, occupancy, room etc. – and as time goes on, more data points will be required to be added.
Data-driven pricing can be used by hoteliers to drive more direct bookings and remain competitive. From a personalisation point of view – improved pricing is always seen as a demonstration of concern – at least for the pocketbook – of the customer.
Chatbots are the perfect assistants
Oddly, Chatbots, born of Artificial Intelligence, often appearing within instant messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and Slack, are often seen to be preferred Travel Assistants as they don’t answer back, are always polite and generally more accurate with the information they depart and tabulate. Personalisation is attained simply through polite accuracy!
These A.I assistants can help plan an entire trip and do everything from searching for the best flight and hotel deals to giving suggestions on top tourist attractions and the best eateries! Flight, airport and traffic information are available while on the go, and the bright future of these chatbots will be further emphasised with the more frequent usage of voice devices such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri.
Ours is not to question why
Google’s Vice President of Engineering for Travel and Shopping, Oliver Heckmann, says that nearly 60% of consumers believe that their travel experience should deploy the use of A.I and base their search results on past behaviours and/or personal preferences.
Who are we to argue? A.I has proven its point and is doing its job. Bots that replace humans are never a comfortable thought to humans, but to a multi-billion dollar industry, improved systems that can create increased efficiency and offer an improved personalised experience are seen as ‘bytes’ in shining armour!