The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on business travel

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Travel News 16 May 2017

ELECTRIC DREAMS? The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on business travel

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is playing an ever-increasing role in our private and business lives. The huge popularity of messaging platforms like WhatsApp and digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Siri and Cortana has propelled AI into the mainstream, where corporates are generating new business value by integrating voice into their technology, thanks to AI.

Essentially, Artificial Intelligence performs computing tasks that previously required human assistance, enabling computers to make relevant responses to specific questions or requests. AI and travel are the perfect fit because of the volume and depth of information travel companies –TMCs in particular – hold on travellers, their travel patterns and preferences. In a travel world where personalisation and Big Data are the mega-trends, Artificial Intelligence is the great enabler.

Travel suppliers are already using AI to interact with travellers before, during and after their trips. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines allows travelers to receive booking confirmations, check-in notifications, boarding passes and flight status updates via a Facebook Messenger bot. Hilton’s Connie is a robot concierge that answers guests’ questions about amenities, services and local attractions. The more guests interact with Connie, the more it learns, adapts and improves its recommendations.

As more brands launch these mobile travel assistants and expand their capabilities into non-travel recommendations, the biggest obstacles to be overcome are the complexities of business travel. The volume of data that the bots have to digest in a global managed travel program is much greater than in a single-country programs with more straightforward preferred supplier agreements. The bots haven’t licked this problem yet – but they will.

As well as enhancing the traveller experience, Artificial Intelligence could improve travel and expense compliance.  2016 research by US-based Oversight Systems estimated compliance could be improved by as much as 70% as, by leveraging advanced analytics, companies can focus on serial non-compliant travellers, cutting processing time and effort by half.

However the real added value of AI lies in the level of knowledge and real time advice it can impart without the time or cost of replicating this manually. AI simplifies complex travel decisions, shortens the buying process, cuts processing costs and delivers a much more personalised product or service.

Voice is likely to be the next big thing in travel technology after mobile because AI enables travellers to interrogate voice-based services to check itineraries, book and pay for their trips. The user doesn’t even have to be able to use a computer or a smartphone. Being connected to contextual and transactional data, these chatbots are even more powerful than humans so the traveller experience is taken to a new level.

There’s no doubt that Artificial Intelligence is here to stay in business travel. It is the key to licking the challenges of Big Data analytics; combining AI tools with travel data enables suppliers to transform the traveller experience.

As the chatbots evolve, the level of trip and program complexity to which they can be deployed will grow too. The term for this is natural language processing. But in the short, and even medium term, the challenge for the bots is to enable travellers to make decisions that are right for the business, and themselves, within the context of travel policy.

Where leisure travel goes, business travel often follows – although it usually takes a little longer. There are issues around data privacy and travel managers allowing their bookings to take place in one of the mega-interfaces Amazon Echo and Facebook Messenger. But as such services become more commonplace, consumer adoption will surely spill over into business travel.

If an AI bot can help travel managers to tweak policy and enable travellers to access their programs by just asking their home-based Google Echo a question, why wouldn’t corporates permit access? In five years’ time we expect that question to be long-since answered.