Published on Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Thomson has begun testing a chatbot after research showed that more than three-quarters of customers thought a virtual agent would help them find a holiday.
The chatbot, which has voice input capability on Firefox and Chrome browers, provides real-time suggestions of destinations or experiences via a simple interface.
However, unlike the live chat function on some other websites, it is a purely automated system and, at the moment, is unable to respond to detailed requests.
The service, which uses IBM's Watson technology, is in beta stage and will continue to be developed using machine learning and customer feedback to improve responses, said Thomson.
"The tool enables a simple and personalised search using natural language, a very different way of finding the ideal holiday when compared to the usual checkbox and filtering of e-commerce sites," it said.
"The conversation tool, with added personality, is designed to make the search experience more enjoyable and easier for customers. The Watson technology behind it is designed to learn from every customer interaction, to become smarter over time and provide ever more accurate responses."
Jeremy Osborne, TUI director of strategic innovation, added: 'We wanted to test whether a conversational search experience would resonate with our customers as a new, fun and easy way to find their ideal holiday.
"By leveraging IBM's Watson technology, we are raising the bar in the travel industry. We are delivering an interactive service experiment to our customers that offers holiday inspiration ideas and personalised search results based on customer interests.
"We are excited to learn how customers react and interact, what they get out of the experience and how it compares to the current way of shortlisting holiday options."
Thomson announced earlier this year that it will phase out holiday brochures by 2020 and will be investing instead in digital content.
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The recent insolvency of Low Cost Travel Group, one of the large players in the travel industry had a big impact on the travelers, hotels and all related players from both wholesale & retail arms. There were about 27,000 people on a holiday who had booked through the company comprised of a €200 million wholesale arm and €500 million OTA / retail arm.