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August 16, 2019

How AI is Supercharging the Summer Travel Experience

Jason Hekl

AI

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 in our ongoing series on Artificial Intelligence. The first story, a primer on what AI really is, and why it matters, can be found here.)

As we find ourselves in the midst of another record-setting travel season, companies are working overtime and pulling out all the stops to ensure they can deliver remarkable travel experiences for their customers. One of the things they are turning to is artificial intelligence. From discovery and planning to booking and the in-stay experience, AI has become a critical piece of the end-to-end travel experience. 

For brands, it’s no longer enough to move people from point A to point B, unveil new destinations, or organize trips. Today, it’s about delivering truly personalized, memorable and share-worthy experiences at scale. This is where AI excels.

Let’s take a closer look at how applications of AI are heating things up in the travel industry 

Infiltrating Destination Discovery & Planning

AI and machine learning are infiltrating just about every aspect of the travel process, including destination discovery and planning—the first critical steps in any travel experience. 

It’s easy to spend hours glued to the screen trying to find the right destinations, at the right times, for the right price. By analyzing large datasets, AI-powered solutions can generate super personalized suggestions for travelers in seconds. With studies finding that almost a third (29%) of global travelers are comfortable with letting a computer plan an upcoming trip based on data from their previous travel history, the travel agent is getting an AI overhaul.

On the discovery side of things, Hello Hipmunk is a virtual planning assistant that uses Natural Language Processing and AI-powered travel search to provide travel advice and recommendations via a travel bot. When it comes to making sure that you stick to the plan during your journey, AI-powered TripIt uses machine learning to find opportunities to enhance the way it organizes travel plans from emails, allowing it to scale to support travelers and their plans around the world.

Below are some additional examples of how AI-powered tools developed by travel brands are pumping up this process:

  • Google: While the company has a suite of travel tools that leverage AI to help find the best deals and plan vacations, one of their most interesting use cases is using AI to predict future travel plans based on search terms. For example, a simple search query for “the best tacos in Mexico City” gives Google clues as to where you might be interested in going next. This information is then automatically filed away as Potential Trips replete with information about hotels, restaurants, and activities you’ve previously researched in specific destinations.
  • RoadTrippers uses AI and machine learning to sift through large data sets on millions of locations, map real time navigation routes and create itineraries that match with the personal interests and preferences of their users, creating the perfect road trip. 

These innovative AI-driven solutions are making planning and destination discovery faster and more personalized. And that’s making things easier for travelers. More importantly, they’re helping brands provide the kinds of personalized experiences today’s travelers demand.  

Simplifying and Streamlining Travel Booking  

AI is also making its mark on the once cumbersome and time-consuming booking process. Once upon a time, you had to pick up the phone and call a travel agent, or use an impersonal digital contact center to do it. All that’s changed—thanks to AI and machine learning. Brands are using AI’s data-driven capabilities to upend the customer’s booking experience and inject a much-needed dose of personalization into the process. 

Booking solutions now help travelers nail down the details of the booking process, like scheduling flights, arranging a room, and renting cars. Mezi, for example, allows users to send requests for flights, hotels and restaurant reservations through the app’s SMS-like interface. Mezi then makes suggestions and, once it figures out what users want to do, forwards requests to human assistants to finalize bookings—a great example of the growing trend of combining the power of AI with the human touch.

Below are additional examples of how innovative AI-driven technology is disrupting the booking process for all involved:

  • Hopper is an intelligent booking app that uses AI to provide travelers with the best time to purchase flights and book hotel reservations. It can predict prices for travelers with 95% accuracy up to a year in advance. 
  • Booking.com allows travelers to book lodging online at over 2 million locations. It also offers an AI-powered chatbot to facilitate traveler contact  with hotels they book.

The booking process is one of the most friction-filled parts of the travel experience. With expensive decisions to be made and a ton of information to process, AI is making it easier for travelers to pull the trigger on their vacation dreams.

Improving On-site & In-stay Experiences

While increasing booking and simplifying planning is critical for many travel brands, providing an outstanding and memorable experience once the traveler reaches their destination is just as important. 

There are many examples of how AI is being used by hospitality brands to enhance the guest experience. From the more mundane, where Amazon’s Alexa for Hospitality allows guests to use voice control to operate and control various aspects of their rooms, to the far-flung, where hotels are using physical robots to deliver amenities and even cook meals, with varying degrees of success, it’s clear that AI has made its way into hospitality, quite literally. 

Of course, the in-stay experience is an area where Zingle thrives. By equipping hotel guests with a direct line into hotel staff and service teams through intelligent text messaging, Zingle strikes a unique balance of high tech and high touch,  deploying AI to understand the intent of guest requests to determine which can be automatically resolved, and which should be escalated to staff. By combining AI with a conversational human touch, Zingle makes sure guests’ needs are understood and addressed in a superhuman way. 

Other examples of how AI and machine learning are helping hotels boost the on-site or in-stay experience include:

  • Facebook’s Talk to Walk project, which is using AI to learn how to guide clueless tourists through NYC. 
  • Marriott’s Internet of Things (IoT) powered room concept that enables in-room appliances to communicate with one another. They’ve even tested the ability for guests to use touchscreen shower doors to write on and send the messages as emails.

AI is already hard at work transforming the travel industry. From helping guests find the ideal destination that works for their budget, planning and organizing trips, and ensuring that travelers get the most out of their stay, AI’s ability to supercharge the travel experience is limited only by a brand’s imagination. 

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