Imagine this – You find out that you’ll need to travel to an international location for a business meeting in the next 2 months. You enter the dates into your phone’s calendar and go on with your day. While you go through your daily schedules and meetings, your virtual assistant goes ahead and books flight tickets according to the travel dates you entered, while also taking into consideration your preferred airline and time to fly. Furthermore, it also builds a tentative itinerary based on the experiences that you are likely to enjoy.
Although surreal, this scenario is pretty close to the reality we’re living in today. On the back of AI, the travel industry has undergone a complete transformation. The previously unorganized travel segment, is now a well-oiled machine driven by the demand for digital processes that are seamless and hyper-personalized.
The power of personalization
To appeal to the modern customer, a company’s services and communication need to be highly personalized. Travel brands are now creating value for customers by adopting AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) driven systems that lend a personal touch to customer service functions. Brands deploy chatbots that carry out complete conversations with customers in order to boost their satisfaction while resolving routine queries that do not require human intervention. Additionally, NLP powered chatbots can also read and ‘understand’ simple requests such as ‘Book a plane ticket to’ or ‘What is the lowest price for a certain destination’. Conversational AI can further assist with cancellations, refunds and rebooking. With conversation and satisfaction rates going up, leading OTAs can boost customer retention and revenues tremendously.
Leveraging AI for intelligent insights
Data-driven insights are being utilized across all industries to keep tabs on evolving customer preferences and behavior. Key stakeholders of the travel industry – OTAs, hotels and airlines, collate huge sets of data pertaining to customers and their preferences. When this Big Data and AI come together, it leads to quantifiable insights pertaining to travelers.
AI systems can scan through the purchase history of travelers while keeping track of their current online behavior, thereby allowing OTAs to determine the most efficient marketing channel that can be used to reach particular customers. Micro-targeted marketing campaigns created with thorough insights are more likely to resonate with potential customers, leading to increased conversions and subsequently, higher ROI.
Digital itineraries, reviews and beyond
The modern traveler considers reviews as a major criterion when it comes to making travel decisions. Most travelers post their reviews about destinations and experiences through social media channels and have the power to influence other travelers. However, OTAs can also use ‘social listening’ tools powered by AI that can perform sentimental analysis on reviews in order to polish their offerings. Social listening can also gauge intention of customers and plan interventions that are more likely to result in positive outcomes.
Additionally, in order to make the booking experience seamless, automation tools are used to offer suggestions to customers for flights, hotels, experiences and value added services that they are more likely to purchase and enjoy. In fact, OTAs now offer entire itineraries based on customer preferences to make the booking and planning process as effortless as possible.
A recent Price water house Coopers study of traveler attitudes to AI revealed that over 56% travelers are willing to accept an artificial travel agent in the next five years. The uptake of travel technology is, therefore, going to explode in the coming years. Though still in their infancy, AI’s applications have already enhanced the way we book and execute trips. It is exciting to anticipate what future innovations will bring to the table, and how the travel industry will evolve further. Our virtual assistants may be tracking our calendars to book our trips sooner than we imagine!
(The author is Director Of Products at Cleartrip – a leading online travel company in India, based on a straight-forward premise of “making travel simple” for its customers.)