If you’re working in the travel industry and reading this then I don’t need to tell you that bots and AI are hot topics. This area is vast, from a large and growing start-up and tech supplier scene to platform plays from the likes of Facebook and Skype, barely a day passes without reference to the effect this trend will have on the travel industry. But let’s boil this down to the three areas where bots and AI are currently impacting the industry and take a look at how this may evolve in 2017.
EXPANDING REACH: Bots have allowed travel brands to grow their reach and talk to current and new customers via third party channels such as Facebook Messenger. Functionality such as search and travel updates are not necessarily new, but both the channel and the environment are different; bots enable brands to speak with users in places where they already live and feel at home.
REDUCING COSTS: At the moment the use of bots for automated responses and customer service may be relatively limited but anywhere that automation can be used to reduce costs is welcome in the industry, whether that be for airlines or TMCs.
SOLVING PROBLEMS AND CREATING OPPORTUNITIES: Bots and AI are starting to chip away at travel problems. From last minute requests for a boarding pass via Facebook Messenger through to automating disruption alerts, bots are beginning to have a top-level impact on some of the industry’s issues. But opportunities are also starting to be uncovered with progress being made in harnessing AI to improve recommender systems for ancillary sales and providing personalised destination suggestions based on individual and aggregate historical travel preferences.
There’s no doubt that 2016 saw significant progress being made, but much of it is scratching the surface and is fragmented in nature. So where do bots and AI need to go to make a bigger impact in 2017? To date bots and AI have been great at acting as a basic assistant using scripted responses, however bots need to understand context and history and ultimately need to act as collaborators on more multi-layered and complex travel challenges, rather than simply responding to basic commands. Things are moving fast, experimentation is recommended!