How bots, big data & AI will transform the travel booking experience

shutterstock_589786691Since the rise of technology, it has been in a rapid state of constant evolution. It has transformed the way we think, interact with each other and of course, how we travel. In the early 2000s, the travel industry leveraged the internet to reach customers on their desktops and now in their back pocket. And today it seems clearer that we are ready to embrace some of the latest and upcoming technologies to provide a complete and immersive experience to the travelers. Let’s take a look.

Conversational interfaces

NLP (Natural language processing) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) have become power players in the digital age. When these two upcoming technologies are combined, it is possible to make a computer understand the casual conversational language and to respond with the information that is most useful to you at that moment. Generally these interfaces fall into two categories based on the way you interact with them – voice-based and text-based. Most of the voice interfaces today are built into the device (For e.g. Alexa, Siri, Cortana). On the other hand the text-based interfaces mostly exist as apps across a wide variety of platforms, which are commonly known as a bots. Bots (derived from Robot) are nothing but intelligent apps that can understand what you are typing and can reply to you with the most relevant information. The more you use them, the more they learn about you and gets better over time. As of today, there are more than 10,000 chat bots on Facebook Messenger.

Last year, Expedia launched the first Expedia bot through Facebook Messenger. A traveler enters his/her destination and dates, then the bot curates intelligent recommendations, and finally the traveler can move forward with the booking. Once the booking is complete, the bot sends the itinerary to the user and then follows up with useful notifications before the trip and during the trip.

So why are message-based interfaces so important?

The reason is quite simple: messaging is on the rise. Almost every survey and research shows that within the rising tide of social media, messaging is the fastest growing behavior. Also with the enhancements and advancement of NLP and AI, the voice interfaces might soon outperform message-based interfaces.

Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

As a travel provider in 2017, it’s important now more than ever to have a USP (unique selling point) – a travel model that stands out in a very crowded market. So think beyond selling a product, but rather selling an experience. Digital players like AR/VR are the perfect way to sell an experience, because it allows the potential customer to immerse themselves in what you have to offer. It takes the guess work out of the equation and you no longer have to visualize what the beautiful fall colors look like in the Green Mountains. You can create 360-degree virtual tours that allow the customers to experience the location before they book.

On the other hand, AR is a type of VR that not only allows you to experience the virtual world, but also allows you to make decisions that may alter that experience. In AR, the user can customize their VR experiences.

How can travel providers use digital players?

  • Airlines can show an aircraft cabin and select one’s seat before booking
  • Hotels can show the room types, views, amenities and more
  • Tour operators can provide their customers a preview of the experience they are about to book
  • Restaurants can demonstrate various dishes, and allow patrons to choose a table before making a reservation

Big data shapes a personalized future

In one of our recent reports, “Big Data is bound to shape the future of the travel industry“, we showcase how when travelers search, plan, and book the trip creates massive amount of data. All of this data can be used to create a platform to make effective decisions about how to promote offers to customers and provide intelligent and useful recommendations.

With the availability of this data from user behaviors, preferences, previous interactions, social media platforms, companies can turn this unstructured data into personalized service around traveler’s needs.

If we talk about the most important decision-making factor for travelers, pricing is generally close to the top of the list. People don’t want to pay too much for their travel. Big data has helped play a key role in creating better pricing strategies, allowing airlines, hotel providers and car providers to advertise more accurate pricing. If you visit any major OTA website, you will see an example of big data playing a crucial role. For example, with the Amadeus API, you can ask questions like “Where can I go with $1000?”

With the tools and applications becoming smart and intelligent, they should be able to propose the customers more and more personalized services, products and recommendations even before the customer asks for it. Technology is surely going to play a big part in this transformation. In the rapidly changing world of travel and technology, almost anything you could imagine is a possibility. If not today, tomorrow.

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