This is the first in a two-part series which aims to demystify artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning for travel buyers and travelers. This article will look at how travel managers can benefit from the technologies and will provide practical examples.
It seems the latest buzzwords on everyone's lips are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. What once lived in the realm of sci-fi and futuristic ideas now has practical, real-world applications. However, deciphering fact from fiction can be a daunting and confusing task at times.
The term itself can be confusing – what do we mean by the term AI? The average layman understands broadly that it refers to machines that do cognitive work such as problem-solving, pattern matching, and creating analytics.
But of course, it's more complicated than that. We also have machine learning, which is a type of AI that allows computers to learn without being explicitly programmed, adjusting themselves in response to data to which they've been exposed.
AI is not new – in fact, it has been around since the 1950s when Alan Turing – famous for cracking coded messages in the Second World War – first explored the mathematical possibility of human-made thinking machines. Since then, computing has become powerful enough to not only perform tasks, but also remember them.
We have now reached a tipping point where the use of artificial intelligence is prevalent in almost every facet of life, including how we manage travel.
How can travel buyers use AI and machine learning?
The uses of AI in the travel industry are immense. Travel buyers can now use AI and machine-learning tools for virtually every aspect of the travel process, from researching and planning a trip, to customer service programs, to managing companies' overall reputations in marketing their products and services.
Plan and research personalisation options
Travel brands are personalising recommendations based on traveler's unique preferences. AI looks at, analyses, and learns from previous reservations made by the customer and uses that knowledge to make relevant suggestions on everything like the best flights, hotels, car rental services, and even suggest destinations for their next trip.
Devising smart pricing options
AI tools are available that can help travel buyers offer smart pricing options which can automatically adjust prices of flights or rooms depending on demand, weather, and other factors. Additionally, through some solutions, businesses can develop budgets based upon these predicted prices and encourage travellers to choose the most cost-effective options.
Improving customer service while reducing costs
Travel buyers are using chatbots to improve customer service, and hence loyalty for travelers.
A chatbot, once a tool that only existed in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi, is a complicated program that conducts a convincingly real conversation via voice or text, simulating how a person would converse.
AI chatbots let companies seamlessly respond to questions when a service representative is not available, allowing businesses to deliver response times either impossible or prohibitively expensive, for most companies.
Taking the grunt work out of reporting
Travel buyers have access to an enormous amount of data within the travel industry. However, most of that goes into traditional static reporting. For example, answering questions such as: "How much did a company spend on airline travel? Where are the employees going? What is the average daily rate at their hotel?"
Companies want to report on their travelers' habits to better plan budgets, but quite often don't know what all of that information means. AI can help analyse all of this unstructured data, turning it all into something more meaningful to the travel manager. Specific machine-learning algorithms can identify trends, performance leakage and other anomalies, which helps in guiding companies to make informed decisions.
Making reputation management easier to track
There is a wealth of information and customer feedback being posted every day to travel-oriented social media sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Twitter and Facebook.
Keeping track of and addressing this feedback with humans alone is an impossible and cost-prohibitive task for most companies. Fortunately, AI can be employed as online 'listening' tools that will drill into social media comments and guest reviews. Suppliers can provide a quick response to negative feedback as well as study trends affecting their business or where they can improve on service levels.
Using AI and machine learning to tailor a better travel experience
Travel buyers should consider taking advantage of AI and machine-learning tools to tailor and personalise bespoke travel experiences and itineraries that can impress travellers and also companies perform better in managing their travel budgets. These technologies assist companies in making improvements within their travel program through a well-defined analysis of their data, combined with automated recommendations.
These aren't the only uses of AI or machine-learning within our industry; it's ever-present and growing exponentially. The key to any AI-driven future is about how wisely we use the technologies and how well we allow it to complement personalised service, rather than replace it.