Virtual agents and chatbots are expected to be the top consumer application of AI over the next four years, according to TechEmergence, an AI market research firm.1 Enabling instant, personalized and data-driven interactions, these smart technologies are capable of enhancing customer experiences from online planning to digital concierge services. Many of the major hotel groups, online travel agents (OTAs), airlines and event ticketing companies are now looking for ways to advance the technology as capabilities and ROI increases.
At the Skift Global Forum in New York last month, Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel spoke of his vision in which AI is used to automate rebooking when customers encounter travel delays or cancellations.2 For example, today when travelers get a call or text notification of a flight cancellation, they’re presented a problem, but not the solution. An AI-powered tech platform could intelligently rebook the customer’s flight and adjust their entire travel itinerary, including reservations for their hotel check-in, car rental pickup and restaurant seating, to accommodate the new schedule. Current technology isn’t there yet, but it’s not as far off as you might think.
While chatbots were the new craze just a couple years ago, they’re being successfully integrated inside many web-based applications across travel and event ticketing. Tech innovators like Priceline and Kayak have integrated chatbots that assist with online trip planning on popular platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Skype and Amazon’s Alexa. A decade after the airline industry’s first chatbot was launched, many U.S. airlines today utilize bots to answer common, simple questions on Facebook Messenger.3
This past summer, Ticketmaster was one of several online ticketing sites that launched chatbots on Facebook Messenger. One company reported that ticket sales from the platform showed higher ticket values than other channels.4 Chat services can be useful for learning about customers’ habits and desires at the consumer’s pace. Tapping into Facebook Messenger’s 1.2 billion monthly users, the new Ticketmaster Assistant chatbot helps fans easily learn about upcoming events, share links with friends, and click through to a seamless mobile purchase path.
Consumers' growing adoption of voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Home suggests that the trend is shifting from typing to talking. “I think chat bots are here, the shift to voice is underway,” said Stuart Greif, a senior executive at Microsoft. At Eye for Travel this past spring, he reported the company is investing heavily in R&D for voice recognition technology. In some instances, they found it could outperform humans.5
Our company is also exploring these virtual assistants to further enhance travel protection services. While customers can chat with a live assistant when comparing insurance plans and filing claims online, job seekers may interact with Allie, a chatbot that helps match talent to open positions on the company’s U.S. careers site. Additionally, we’re developing automated SMS messages to notify customers of claim status updates via their mobile phones.
Looking ahead, we envision voice-based virtual assistants that help manage the claims process and enable travelers to purchase custom-tailored protection plans when booking their trips online.
IHG claims to be the first in the industry to use a bot on Facebook Messenger. It began testing Facebook Messenger with a chatbot as a digital concierge at a handful of Hotel Indigo properties over a year ago.6 Many of the major hotel groups, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Starwood offer messaging services to fulfill guests’ instant requests through an array of platforms, from Facebook Messenger to WhatsApp, as well as using their native apps.
Hotels are “realizing the importance of messaging to building loyalty, increasing guest engagement, and enhancing the overall guest experience,” reports Skift.6 Since launching its WhatsApp and iMessage request services, Starwood reports a rise in revenue, and in particular, higher bookings of on-site restaurant reservations and spa treatments.
As digital self-check-ins become mainstream, hotels are looking to expand on their ability to customize guest communications and anticipate their needs. One approach is to send rewards members personalized messages that include self-service links, enabling them to take control of their own booking, check-in and on-property experience.
Expected to launch later this year, Marriott’s redesigned app will include real-time messaging called mPlaces, which will greet members with personalized hotel information and offers at the right time and place during their stay.7 For instance, when Marriott recognizes a rewards member typically works out during each stay, it could message the guest upon check-in telling them the location and hours of its fitness center.
Over the past 18 months, chatbots have made big advances in travel and event ticketing, and further development will enable them to handle more sophisticated and diverse tasks. Servion Global Solutions predicts that by 2025, “AI will power 95 percent of all customer interactions.”8 As 2018 approaches, two big tech trends to watch are a rise in the use of AI voice interfaces and more advanced, integrated deep learning capabilities. Together, these will help brands start to interact with their customers instantly in a more personal approach that reflects consumers’ preferences.
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Insurance benefits underwritten by BCS Insurance Company or Jefferson Insurance Company, depending on your state of residence. Plan(s) only available to U.S. residents and may not be available in all jurisdictions. Allianz Global Assistance and Allianz Travel Insurance are brands of AGA Service Company. AGA Service Company is the licensed producer and administrator of these plans and an affiliate of Jefferson Insurance Company. The insured shall not receive any special benefit or advantage due to the affiliation between AGA Service Company and Jefferson Insurance Company. Non-insurance benefits/products are provided and serviced by AGA Service Company. Consumer may be responsible for charges incurred from outside vendors for assistance or concierge services. Contact AGA Service Company at 800-284-8300 or 9950 Mayland Drive, Richmond, VA 23233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. “Smart assistants and chatbots will be top consumer applications for AI over next 5 years,” VentureBeat, 2016
2. “Priceline CEO Glenn Fogel on How Artificial Intelligence Will Make Travel Seamless,” Skift.com, 2017
3. “Airlines Put Facebook Messenger Chatbots to Work Answering Easy Questions,” Skift.com, 2017
4. “StubHub ‘Encouraged’ by Chatbot Returns,” TheTicketingBusiness.com, 2017
5. “Booking partnerships, Google and chatbots will define the future,” Eye For Travel, 2017
6. “How Smart Hotels Use Messaging to Connect With Guests,” Skift.com, 2016
7. “Marriott Reimagines Its Mobile App…,” Marriott.com, 2017
8. 2017 Radar Report, Sabre Labs
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