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Published on Thursday, January 16, 2020

How Chatbots will transform the travel sector







Upali Kohomban PHD, head of research at CodeGen, believes chatbots have come of age and offer exciting possibilities for the travel industry.

"Businesses are excited about chatbots - applications that people interact with through chat, i.e. Facebook Messenger or WeChat - because they can enable a step change in customer service. While the bots deal efficiently with routine customer enquiries, employees can be freed up to handle tasks where the human touch is needed. Tech industry watcher Gartner forecasts that 25% of customer service operations will use virtual customer assistants or chatbot technology by 2020.

As a travel business, imagine if you could guarantee your customers round-the-clock service, always ready to provide accurate answers to their questions or help them with tasks like booking. With this level of attentive, highly-responsive service your conversion rates would increase significantly.

Take airlines, for example, they have moved quickly to deploy chatbots, usually to provide itinerary information and deal with customer queries. According to SITA, 14% of carriers already use chatbots: by 2020, 68% plan to adopt AI-driven chatbot services. Customers seem to like using them too. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, one of the first carriers to take up chatbot technology, saw a 40% increase in customer interaction using Facebook Messenger and the airline is now looking at enabling booking via this technology.

Early chatbot deployments in travel have been promising, and now technology is on the brink of fulfilling its potential which will make it compelling for travel sellers. For one, chatbots are getting better at 'talking human' and are becoming easier to converse with. Earlier generations of bots were restricted to answering direct questions and are not capable of following the flow of natural language so 'conversations' were frustratingly stilted.

Semantics - the science of turning human language into a form that computers can understand - is making big strides. However, if chatbots are going to talk human they need to be a lot smarter. And this is where AI (Artificial Intelligence) and sentiment analytics comes into the picture.

AI becomes increasingly sophisticated rapidly, meaning chatbots are getting better at learning from their interactions with human beings and making connections between different pieces of information. They will use this intelligence to inform and guide conversations, making them more effective at anticipating and answering questions - as well as better conversationalists.

Smart chatbots have immense potential in the travel retail sector, enabling online travel agents and tour operators to market - and sell - their products in a truly engaging way. Using basic information about the customer, these smart bots can tailor conversations around their interests and profile. In turn they make travel recommendations that are relevant to the customer and suggest a destination and offer a priced itinerary all designed for that particular individual.

As more and more customers - particularly millennials - are looking for unique and authentic travel experiences, the ability to automate personalised itineraries will be a major competitive advantage for travel sellers embracing AI and chatbots. At CodeGen, we have helped travel sellers use technology to support and grow their businesses for almost two decades. We believe smart AI-powered chatbots are the most significant technology we have seen, with the power to transform the sector and drive success. Any travel retailer who wants to be part of this growth wave should be looking at this technology now, and considering how they can deploy it to power their business."

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