I recently attended Travel Technology Europe in London and listened to a talk by Thierry Gnych from IBM on whether 2020 will be the year for AI in travel. Thanks to the variety of tech-focused clients that we work with at Flagship, I thought I was pretty clued up on how AI is being adopted in many industries. But to my surprise, it seems that some companies in the travel industry are way ahead when it comes to using AI to solve some of the biggest challenges being faced by both consumers and businesses.
Here are a few of the key takeaways that I wanted to share with our clients:
1. B2Me not B2C
Consumers are looking for a hyper–personalised experience that reaches out to them through the channels of their choice, whether that’s Instagram, Siri voice command, smart speakers or other. This applies to everything from the booking process to in-resort experiences and customer service.
For example, AI should enable organisations to anticipate a customer complaint before it even happens. By integrating data on disruptions and potential pain points, the business can identify possible issues and proactively contact the customer to send them a personalised offer for a rescheduled flight, alternative hotel room or whatever is needed to keep the customer happy. This avoids the need for the customer to spend their own time contacting customer services and explaining the situation, and could even provide the opportunity for upselling of a more expensive product or service.
The travel providers that manage to predict customer behaviour and offer an individual experience are the ones that stand the best chance of success in 2020 and beyond.
2. Augmented, not artificial, intelligence
We were told how IBM refers to augmented intelligence, not artificial intelligence as we often call it. The business believes that AI should always be an assistant to humans, particularly in times of crisis or increased demand. Despite headlines about robots replacing humans and stealing our jobs, IBM stresses that AI should not replace people but work with them to deliver a better experience for the business and in turn for the consumer.
3. The second wave of Digital Transformation
While the first wave of digital transformation in travel focused on the front-end user experience, there is now a need for organisations to shift their focus towards how they can improve the back-office systems that drive their operations. In doing this, they can match the appeal and usability of their front-end platforms with the functionality and efficiency of their systems.
4. ‘Travel outperformers’ are leading the way
While the majority of businesses are evaluating how they can use AI to improve their business model and user experience, a number of companies are already implementing or piloting the technology. Most importantly, however, is the fact that these ‘travel outperformers’ as IBM calls them are seeing positive results from their trials. He listed several travel-based AI initiatives that IBM has worked on that have seen increased direct bookings, increased revenue and better customer engagement. One scheme that stood out was the use of multi-model e-tickets, or in other words, giving the customer a single ticket for their entire end to end journey, from flights, trains, hotels, taxis and more. This technology, which is enabled by blockchain, is being piloted in Germany and IBM plans to extend this to wider Europe later in the year – I for one am very excited to see this come into fruition!