Artificial Intelligence or as it’s commonly known as AI or machine learning is quickly dominating not just the travel industry headlines but all tech headlines across the web. Techopedia describes AI as ” an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. ” An american scientist and the father of AI, John McCarthy coined the term in 1956 but it wasn’t until recently that the term has gained widespread attention. You frequently see it on video platforms like Hulu and Netflix with their “suggesting viewing” of videos you may like based on your viewing history. Amazon, Walmart and other online retailers also use it to suggest items you may be interested in based on your previous searches.
In the travel industry many companies are using AI to suggest alternate travel dates if the ones you requested are not available. You can also see it on websites that suggest air travel to your destination once you have booked your accommodations. Sometimes you can get recommendations for alternative travel dates or airports that are in close proximity that offer cheaper flights to your destination. Car rentals are another area where it can be used. If you have booked a flight for 6 people for instance, it can suggest larger vehicles to fit all your passengers. Also, suggesting an off road vehicle if your destination is more remote.
Another way AI is currently being used is with website chats. How many times have you been on a website and a chat box pops up asking if you need any assistance? In the past these websites had another person responding to your questions directly through the chat. Now, many times, you are not interacting with a human at all. Chatbots which are basically AI for customer service. They can answer questions based on similar questions asked previously, make suggestions based on inputted product or service data, help you through the entire travel planning cycle and even close the sale. How’s that for customer service?
Yet another example is social media sentiment software. To give an example let’s say you are traveling to your destination and suddenly the pilot comes over the intercom and says there is a mechanical issue with the plane and they don’t know how long it will be before take off. So you decide to hop on Twitter or Facebook to express your displeasure with the airline and their incompetency. Your flight takes off and two hours later you land at your destination and you and your family are tired and hungry. You get on social media again and post another comment or two further expressing your disgust. The AI software is trained to search their customers social media accounts and send suggestive messages to help comfort the guest. For example, “Hi John, sorry to hear that your flight is delayed, I’m sure you are all tired and must be starving. Here are a couple of restaurants that are open late so you and your family can eat wen you get off the plane. Don’t worry, we will have your keys to your condo waiting for you in our night drop box when you get here. If you need anything else let us know” All this can be done with no customer interaction at all.
We are just scratching the surface with Artificial Intelligence and the travel industry is starting to integrate many of these tools already. The customer experience and improved customer service is the driving force behind this implementation and companies that are slow to integrate it into their business will be left behind.