At the end of last year, we asked a few experts to predict the social media trends we’ll be seeing in 2017

Live video was a running theme, as was virtual reality. However, we thought we’d take the opportunity to explore another interesting topic – artificial intelligence (or AI).

More specifically, the use of artificial intelligence in the travel industry. Why? Well, it’s already making waves. 

Providing travel brands the perfect opportunity to connect with consumers and enhance customer service – we’ve seen a number of businesses experimenting with the technology.

Here’s how, along with a few of the most interesting examples to catch my eye.

Customer service

Customer service can make or break a hotel’s reputation. Consequently, AI’s ability to pre-empt and predict exactly what the customer needs and wants is one reason why hotels are cottoning on to the idea.

Hilton is one of the most well-known examples, last year teaming up with IBM’s Watson to create Connie – a robot that provides help and information to hotel guests during their stay.

Connie works by drawing on information from Wayblazer – a travel advice tool that also uses Watson – as well as human speech. Essentially, the more people talk to Connie, the more it will be able to interpret and analyse natural language.

It’s certainly an original and innovative new concept for guests. The question is – will people be put off by speaking to a robot rather than a human?

According to a recent study by Travelzoo, this is becoming less of an issue as time goes on. From a survey of more than 6,000 travellers, it found that two thirds of respondents would be comfortable with robots being used in the travel industry.

What’s more, 80% expect robots to play a part in many aspects of life by 2020.

Data analysis

Dorchester Collection is another hotel chain to make use of AI. However, instead of using it to provide a front-of-house service, it has adopted it to interpret and analyse customer behaviour in the form of raw data.

Partnering with technology company, RicheyTX, Dorchester Collection has helped to develop an AI platform called Metis.

Delving into swathes of customer feedback such as surveys and reviews (which would take an inordinate amount of time to manually find and analyse) it is able to measure performance and instantly discover what really matters to guests.

For example, Metis helped Dorchester to discover that breakfast it not merely an expectation – but something guests place huge importance on. As a result, the hotels began to think about how they could enhance and personalise the breakfast experience.

With 81% of people believing that robots would be better at handling data than humans, there is also a certain level of confidence in this area from consumers.

Direct messaging

Chatbot technology is another big strand of AI, and unsurprisingly, many travel brands have already launched their own versions in the past year or so.

Skyscanner is just one example, creating a bot to help consumers find flights in Facebook Messenger. Users can also use it to request travel recommendations and random suggestions.

  

Unlike ecommerce or retail brands using chatbots, which can appear gimmicky, there is an argument that examples like Skyscanner are much more relevant and useful for everyday consumers.

After all, with the arrival of many more travel search websites, consumers are being overwhelmed by choice – not necessarily helped by it. 

Consequently, a bot like Skyscanner is able to cut through the noise, connecting with consumers in their own time and in the social media spaces they most frequently visit.

Future potential

So, we’ve already seen the travel industry capitalise on AI to a certain extent. But how will it evolve in the coming year?

Here are a few suggestions:

Business travel

Undoubtedly, we’ll see many more brands using AI for data analysis as well as launching their own chatbots. There’s already been a suggestion that Expedia is next in line, but it is reportedly set to focus on business travel rather than holidaymakers.

Due to the greater need for structure and less of a desire for discovery, it certainly makes sense that artificial intelligence would be more suited to business travellers. 

Specifically, it could help to simplify the booking process for companies, as well as help eliminate discrepancies around employee expenses. 

With reducing costs and improving efficiency two of the biggest benefits, AI could start to infiltrate business travel even more so than leisure in the next 12 months.

Voice technology

Lastly, we can expect to see greater development in voice-activated technology.

With voice-activated search, the experience of researching and booking travel has the potential to become quicker and easier than ever before. Similarly, as Amazon Echo and Google Home start to become commonplace, more hotels could start to experiment with speech recognition to ramp up customer service.

This means devices and bots (like the aforementioned Connie) could become the norm for brands in the travel industry.

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