Why bots are coming to business travel
Artificial intelligence (AI) is getting cleverer. Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil has said that by 2029 computers will have human-level intelligence. We’re not there yet, but travel companies have already begun to test out the potential of AI to deliver services to customers at a reduced cost.
One of the latest developments in artificial intelligence is the rise of the chatbot. What is a chatbot? It’s a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, with the majority of applications running over the Internet.
Developments in both artificial intelligence and natural language processing have enabled a much greater accuracy in chatbot performance.
This, combined with the growing use of mobile messaging applications and the new “millennial” generation of mobile-native consumers who are comfortable with messaging as a primary mode of communication, are opening up new possibilities for brands of many kinds – including those in the travel space – to utilise chatbots in their interactions with customers.
Travel Booking via Robot
Recent research has shown that most travellers feel that robots will be a large part of their lives by 2020, and the majority said they would be comfortable using them in the travel industry.
The expansion of these platforms as a sales and marketing channel through which travel companies interact with their customers has created a space in which automated conversations can be accepted as the norm. Brands and customers are using these platforms for an increasing number of human-to-machine interactions.
Bots for Business?
While the major consumer brands may be embracing the power of the bot, could these services translate into an effective customer service and sales channel for business travellers?
It’s true that convenience is key for business travellers. A travel chatbot offers the tantalising possibility of a 24/7 digital travel agent and advisor, completely clued-up on each traveller’s individual travel preferences, past bookings, visa status, and other relevant information.
However, there are several hurdles to overcome. It is interesting to note that, so far, most of the consumer travel services that make use of bots transfer through to the web booking tool or a live customer service agent for the actual booking. The bots are being used to deal with first-stage consumer enquiries where the level of conversion is low.
Business travel is very different; travellers want accurate answers quickly and a seamless booking process. What’s more, although there have been advances in AI and text and speech recognition, the capability to handle serious travel disruption and make judgement calls about how to respond, alter plans, and rebook travel services simply doesn’t exist yet – the bot fails the 24/7 assistant test just when that assistance is needed most.
The travel booker using a corporate account raises further complications. In the consumer model, the travel booker has direct relationship with the vendor through its terms and conditions – but this isn’t the case in business travel. And this may raise some serious concerns over data privacy and corporate data management policy.
The capability of bots to interpret travel policies, rules, guidelines and duty of care obligations – and make a judgement on how much flexibility there is in each in order to make the best travel arrangements – is still some way off being a reality.
Significant advances in AI and machine learning will be required before the chatbot is the future of business travel booking. Yet it cannot be denied that those advances look increasingly more likely. How soon before the business travel bot is a reality?
It’s clear that, for now, the dream of the bot-powered personalised travel experience is some way off. Until that super-bot arrives, your Travel Counsellor gives the best personalised business travel service available.
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