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How Soon Will We See AI-Assisted Travel Planning?

Written by GoodData Author  | 

How Soon Will We See AI-Assisted Travel Planning?

This summer, I spent plenty of time traveling both for work and for vacation. I wasn’t alone; the sharing economy, rising household net worth, and airfare sales led to a record-breaking number—more than a quarter of a billion—travels this summer. And with more people traveling, and as more people come to expect the same kind of personalized experience that they’ve come to expect in the rest of their lives, I think the travel industry is poised to transition to AI-assisted travel planning.

Once used primarily for chatbots and robotic concierges, AI’s use has expanded to services like Netflix and Amazon, where customers receive recommendations based on previous behavior. Consequently, Deloitte has found that today’s consumers are starting to expect personalization and removal of friction throughout the travel booking process.

That’s a tall order when you consider what a manual—and time-consuming—process making travel arrangements is today, but some online travel agencies are already reaping substantial benefits by introducing AI or other machine learning capabilities. By learning customer preferences, AI systems can help travelers find the best routes, cheapest flights, or most exciting stopovers, manage itineraries, and plan travel to maximize rewards points or miles.

AI will help travelers find the best flights for them

Let’s start with an example. I live in San Francisco, and I often travel around the country and around the world for work. On my return trips, I like to find flights that have layovers in cities where I can stop in and visit family. For added difficulty, let’s also say that I prefer to fly American Airlines and that I refuse to book flights that take off before 8 am. With AI to assist me, I’d never even see those flights that don’t meet my exact criteria, unless I set a threshold for how much cheaper a flight would have to be for me to stray outside of my preferred parameters. Compare that to today, when I have to manually search for a flight and then individually check the box for each of my preferences for flight times, layovers, layover airports, or airline.

AI’s personalized recommendations can evolve with you

Because of its continuous learning capabilities, an AI system can evolve and improve its recommendations as your tastes change. Maybe when you were in your 20s, you booked the cheapest flight possible, regardless of time or the number of layovers. But as you get older, you probably find that you prefer to spend a little more for a more comfortable, enjoyable flight experience. As your preferences start to change, the AI will adjust what flights or itineraries it prioritizes to show you what it thinks you’ll be more interested in.

Not only that, but this ability to learn and adapt, paired with natural language understanding (NLU), means that you’ll be able to give an AI system a verbal instruction and receive a recommended itinerary based on your individual preferences and the situation at hand. For example, saying “My sister just had a baby. Book me a flight to Boston this weekend" will result in a different set of itineraries than "I’ve been thinking about visiting my friend in Seattle. Give me a list of options for visiting her in November."

While this would be a huge benefit for us as consumers, companies also stand to gain significant ROI by introducing features like these. McKinsey found that 35 percent of what consumers purchase on Amazon comes from product recommendations based on algorithms and predictive models. Assuming the same percentage for online travel sales and considering that 2016 saw online travel sales cumulatively reach $564.9 billion, this is a huge opportunity.

Many other industries have transformed over recent years thanks to AI and machine learning, and the travel industry will be no different. How soon—and how well—companies integrate these technologies into their offering will become a key differentiator in the near future, so online travel agencies should be taking action now to stay ahead of competitors.

Written by GoodData Author  | 


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