Artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks—all these words are hogging business technology headlines. It fills some with fear about robots taking over the world and others with promise that life is going to get a whole lot simpler with technology enabling things like never before. Even as the debate rages on about whether we are hurtling towards a man-made crisis or bending the arc of future, chances are that you may have already come in contact with it.
For internet businesses, especially travel e-commerce where the cost of switching is almost next to nil given the customer has to only browse from one app to the other— AI and its various off-shoots are going to be even more critical. Choice is a beautiful thing but decision-making can often be agonising, given the Goldilocks Effect of offerings that suit you just right. So, the race is now on to deliver highly personalised and contextual offers that will dramatically shape the way we will seek and select our travel experiences.
Artificial intelligence is already starting to change how we search for and book travel. These range from algorithms that are constantly refining how options are ranked on your favourite travel website, to apps on your mobile phone that consider past trips, sentiment shared (think of the times you gave thumbs up, or reviews) and even volunteered information like what you liked the most at your favourite bar.
Artificial intelligence also helps travel companies create highly-tailored offers based on customers’ needs and preferences. Past behaviours can obviously feed computers to predict future purchase actions. But deep learning algorithms can help travel companies make the most out of their customer’s online activities. Computers are now able to understand images, videos and sounds, creating opportunities to better understand travellers.
Taking AI out of the labs and applying them for everyday use-cases, travel-tech companies are using predictive analysis to find the perfect flight by predicting fares to help consumers lock in that price rather than watching flight prices fluctuate. Using analytics, AI is being deployed for revenue management functions to help price hotel rooms and flights on the fly and more efficiently to improve demand forecasting and boosting revenues and profitability.
In today’s always-on world, where you need to run business staying agile at all times, it is critical to identify a platform where you can serve great customer experience. There are multiple channels available, therefore, opportunities to reach broad audiences are plenty. New digital mediums like chatbots have opened up an advanced dimension taking the customer experience to the next level.
Chatbots are already helping airlines and online travel tech firms like MakeMyTrip handle some of the simpler customer transactions booking, boarding passes, etc., so that human agents can focus on more complex interactions. Further, customers are now being recommended flights, hotel and holiday package based on their search history, booking behaviour, location and user segments. On a similar note, travel companies have now begun using voice-activated assistants (like Amazon’s Alexa in GoIbibo’s case) to offer hotel search and book functions.
As AI-based services mature, they have the opportunity to simplify and personalise the user experience throughout the travel lifecycle, from facilitating searching and booking, to enhancing the user experience during travel and, finally, collecting feedback post travel.
Artificial intelligence is changing the rules for the travel industry and the ability to predict the behaviour of travellers will unlock new revenue opportunities for travel players. This is just the beginning of exciting change and the new artificial intelligence system is set to make travel smarter at a pace not known before.
The writer is Group CTO, MakeMyTrip