AI-powered solutions are being used to provide predictive analytics and recognise patterns of consumer behaviour, which can then be turned into targeted and actionable insights by retailers.
For the corporate travel management industry, AI is an increasingly enticing proposition. At the recent GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) convention, held in August in the US, several sessions discussed the tech’s potential, highlighting how travel managers and buyers can use it to better manage travel spend and better know their travellers.
Bindu Bhatia, managing director, Asia Pacific, at corporate travel management provider Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), believes AI will have a significant impact on business travel, improving both the traveller experience and the overall efficiency of corporate travel programmes.
“Business travellers today expect a booking experience that closely resembles what they encounter in their personal lives—one that’s highly personalised, intuitive and user-friendly,” she says. “Data science and AI are essential ingredients in achieving this. With information about travellers’ preferences and booking history, we should be able to present them with more relevant content and itineraries.”
That said, Bhatia adds that in business travel, each scenario is so contextual, with considerations such as corporate travel policies to be factored in, so there can be endless variables from one trip to the next.
AI-powered bots may also become a game-changer for business travel. Bots can help manage simple and routine tasks such as guiding travellers with their bookings and answering questions on issues such as the company’s travel policy, available flight times and baggage allowances.
CWT for example is currently piloting a hotel booking bot on WeChat in China. This type of tech can reduce the need for a traveller to call up or email a travel counsellor and have to wait for a response. It also frees up the travel counsellor’s time to deal with more in-depth requests such as booking complex itineraries.
Travel technology provider Sabre also announced an AI-powered chatbot pilot programme of earlier this year, which uses Microsoft’s Bot Framework and Cognitive Services. This focuses on how the tech can help travel agencies serve travellers better by fulfilling their most common service and support requests with smart tech.
“AI and machine learning are useful to help travel agents, airlines and hoteliers uncover anomaly patterns, enabling them to predict future scenarios based on previous shopping behaviour,” says Todd Arthur, VP, Sabre Travel Network Asia Pacific.
“It can help to facilitate the fine-tuning of their demand forecasting by leveraging data from airlines, trains and cruises, for example, and provide offers that reflect the parameters of a specific company policy. This in turn helps all parties involvedto be more efficient.”
Applications combining AI, big data and modern visualisations often offer predictive analytics and patterns; Arthur adds that these solutions can be scaled to all types of hotel properties, regardless of size, so that small or unique venues can also benefit.
From a personalisation point of view, Arthur adds that as consumers become increasingly connected, their expectations, preferences, and behaviours also evolve. The result is more informed and empowered consumers who don’t want to have to trawl through hundreds of listings.
“As favourite apps and networks evolve to personalise engagement, the standards for guest experiences rise,” he says. “This behaviour will only continue to advance.”
AI can also create value at the post-booking stage in the form of ‘price tracking’ tech, which CWT says is in the process of rolling out worldwide.
The tech continually monitors prices for flights and hotel rooms, checking them against existing bookings. Whenever it identifies savings, CWT cancels and re-books for less, providing clients with the best possible deals while delivering savings.
For hotel solutions provider HRS, AI technology is helping hoteliers reach out to a specific type of customer. Take for example a five-star hotel, with base hotel rates starting at US$300 – with AI, these hotels are able to look for a certain kind of customer more easily.
“If I’m a hotelier, I would like to fill my base rates starting from US$300—so I don’t have to consider customers with budgets lower than that,” says Kimi Jiang, vice president Asia Pacific at HRS. “We leverage AI to really save time on hotel leads acquisition.”
With even the simplest journey generating huge amounts of data, collecting, indexing and understanding that data—and how that understanding is applied to improve every traveller’s experience—is set to drive innovation across the entire travel spectrum.