The Future of Travel with AI at the Wheel

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The Future of Travel with AI at the Wheel

11/29/2017

The travel industry at large is evolving quickly, but it still faces certain challenges such as fragmented services, scattered information, an overload of disparate customer data, and inconsistency in customer preferences which leads to shifting loyalties, customers demanding ultra-personalized travel experiences, and the seasonality of travel, all of which impact bookings.

The fast pace of technological innovation has produced a treasure of new business opportunities in the global travel industry by expanding the scope of available services and experiences. The race to develop driverless cars, introduce digital assistants into homes, or make sense of online data has promised to change the way consumers travel. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here and it’s here for the long haul. From here on out, it's what hospitality does with AI and automation that will count with consumers. That includes leveraging the technology to give consumers more bang for their buck. Technology has never held more promise for the travel industry than what it holds today. This article from Absolutdata will discuss how the travel and hospitality industry in particular can use AI to its advantage.

Personalization Happens with AI

Of course, AI is making its mark everywhere, but travel is a unique game. In the travel industry, every stage of the customer cycle contains data points that can be stored and analyzed by Artificial Intelligence (AI). The travel industry is full of data which is ripe for AI interpretation, to create actionable insights for customized experiences. Understanding the complexities of customer interest in travel is the sort of job AI was made for. Since travel is fragmented and has abundant variety, products or services can’t always be optimized. Besides, it’s not enough to create stagnant promotions, static offers, or mass emails and discounts. Travelers now seek and prefer personalized itineraries over mass, general offers. Travel brands can leverage Artificial Intelligence and related technologies to make the content adapt to real time, location, and provide the most up-to-date, relevant and personalized information to the traveler.

AI therefore has much to offer, so here are some examples of how it is sweeping through the travel industry: 

  1. Better Pricing and Forecasting:  Placing relevant offers to travelers at the right time and at the optimal price (i.e. the best price for their needs) is the Holy Grail for travel operators. By combining historical data with predictive analytics, travel companies can now meaningfully predict where and when travelers might want to go, giving out suitable recommendations considering even minute details like the distance from the hotel to the destination, eateries around, entrance fees, even suggesting options on how to spend a day as per the travelers' personal taste. These technologies can help marketers design custom advertisements and boost conversions all the way down the sales funnel.
  2. Effectively Positioned Travel Plans: AI technology can be used to create tailored travel offers for its users. AI based tools like Amadeus can scan a customers’ social media activity (with their permission, of course!) to build a model of interests, likes, their social graph, and information from past travels, purchase behaviors etc. This collected data can be used to identify patterns from a wider customer community. The hotels/ travel companies can create clusters of customers with similar preferences and develop suitable travel plans. The idea is to match users with relevant offers. After scanning for the best deals and interpreting other digital behaviors, such as how the person booked in the past, the offer is placed in optimal positioning for conversion.
  3. Virtual Customer ServiceChatbots and virtual assistants provide relevant solutions or suggestions to customer queries and challenges. In addition to Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa technologies for general travel inquiries and planning, IBM’s Watson is being used by Hilton Hotels to create its travel buddy, Connie, who helps travelers during their stay. These bots can become travel advisors, tour guides, and travel planners. They can take care of a customer's entire itinerary and may even step forward to plan for their vacation before customers were even thinking of going on vacation. 
  4. Ultra- Personalized Stay Experiences: AI can be used to create a smoother experience during travel. Virtual Assistants can be put to action as an augmentation and addition to front-of-house/room service staff. These bots are supremely capable listeners; the more the guests interact with them, the more they learn, adapt and improve their recommendations. Hotels will also have access to a log of FAQs with best answers, which will enable improvements to the long-term guest experiences. For example, a waiter at a luxury hotel could use information on a guest to predict what kind of drinks she would like and recommend something from the menu. Or reception staff, with data on a guest's spa use, might propose a specific service.

At the bottom of the travel market, computing is about automation and saving money, but at the top end, AI is being used to provide dream-like experiences to customers – with the support of technology. As it develops, AI will help simplify complex travel decisions, shorten the buying process and deliver a more personalized and seamless offering. Artificial intelligence is changing the rules for the travel industry and the ability to predict the behavior of travelers will unlock new revenue opportunities for travel players. Without a doubt, exciting times are ahead within the travel industry with AI at the forefront.