Artificial Intelligence is set to change the world, and it’s already creating powerful ripples within the travel industry. With AI, the power of personalisation and automation can combine to offer travellers greater support. It can also bring about a reduction in transaction costs and an increase in agent productivity – a revolutionary prospect for TMCs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, simply put, the science of creating software capable of tasks that would require intelligence if performed by a human. The key assessment of AI is the Turing test, whereby a person is asked to examine responses given by both human and computer subjects – if they are unable to distinguish the two then the software may be considered AI.
But what impact can 'intelligent' software agents have on today's travel industry?
Why AI is Important in the World of Travel
The concept is not a new one, with AI topping the ‘trending topics’ chart at this year’s GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) convention in Denver, but it is only now we are starting to see services emerge, albeit tentatively, from the development stage into aspects of business travel.
AI implementation within the travel industry shows much more promise than within nearly all other business sectors. Whilst there are a number of factors that make it more appropriate, the major difference is the sheer amount of data available – travel management companies have access to past trips, client policy, traveller preference, and future travel plan data that other industries simply do not; if utilised correctly, this can play an important role in programming the AI effectively and give any AI app a head start in understanding the travellers' needs.
It’s Happening Right Now
The US branch of FCM Travel Solutions launched their first "AI-chatbot" booking request application at GBTA 2016 as an itinerary augmentation tool (although it was backed-up by real rather than software agents). It won’t be too much longer until other travel companies follow suit. At this moment in time however, the AI approach is minimalistic and assumes that the ground-breaking technology will enthral travellers enough to overcome the influx of errors and bugs that naturally creep in during the innovation stages of any brand-new technology launch. Only time will tell whether this is the case, but with the scope for greater innovation available, there are bound to be significant improvements in forthcoming years.
Most of the current focus for AI-chatbot usage is on a mobile travel app, and whilst this is understandable as the industry is just starting out with the technology, it is also somewhat short-sighted. AI will make the most sense when it is truly multi-channel – where the traveller is able to start, pick up or continue conversations over time, using multiple devices.
Where AI Will Be Used in the Traveller Experience
Arguably the industry already uses scripted automation within many solutions today – think automated ancillary merchandising or document delivery. The generally perceived understanding of AI’s role within the traveller experience is that it will be implemented within defined user-experience parameters – automated booking request forms or simple chatbot automation. It is unlikely that there will be a 'big bang' as AI is introduced into business travel, but that’s almost the point?
Introducing AI into the travel industry should result in a more seamless traveller experience, whereby travellers are not able to distinguish between communicating with an AI chatbot and the parts where they are conversing with an agent. This will be the true test of artificial intelligence within the travel industry – whether or not the recently introduced AI-chatbot applications can pass the Turing test.