With a variety of sessions on the subject, topics ranged from major players describing ROI on current AI-powered solutions to panel discussions on the basics, like “what is a chatbot.” With mentions of great AI-driven solutions already on the market, it’s obvious that the consumer world is creating expectations for conversational interfaces, like Alexa, as well as proactive reminders and suggestions. For example, Google can now tell you what time to leave for your doctor’s appointment.
But taking a closer look, we see that for business travel the reality is that artificial intelligence is still in its infancy. Not everything new is powered by AI. In fact, many solutions linked to AI are in reality an automation of repetitive tasks rather than true machine learning.
Predictive intelligence: How AI can actually help the industry today
Despite the extreme variation on a theme, one common question was to ask, “How do technology solutions either powered by AI or by “Actual Intelligence” bring real value to the traveler and the travel manager?”
One panelist made the case for more predictive analyses for procurement strategies rather than only reactive solutions. This is precisely where AI can provide value. It can analyze huge amounts of data – much more than humans could – to determine patterns that can then be used to improve any process, including travel procurement.
For example, at Egencia leveraging travel data from both online and offline bookings made within a mandated program gives a very rich data set that can then improve the algorithms that serve up travel options in a booking platform. This rich data can also be analyzed to help travel managers improve their travel program – predicting where negotiations will be needed, or special policies for a certain type of traveler.
When it comes to traveler satisfaction, personalization is key. This was a pervasive topic at the conference. Business travel experts agreed, travelers are expecting personalization and looking to suppliers, travel management companies, and travel managers to provide it.
While companies like Egencia use AI to help constantly improve technology through a test and learn process of scientific discovery, some tech giants such as Microsoft and Google use a more low-tech program of listening to the travelers, collecting feedback into a database and using that feedback to tailor innovative, sometimes controversial travel programs.
AI, Google, and open booking
When asked about the challenges related to the open booking portion of their program, Google’s global travel manager pointed out that it obliges them (for the moment) to turn to a more manual data collection process to capture all travel behavior, which doesn’t sit well with busy business travelers.
While we have seen rapid technology transformation in other aspects of our lives – consider that only 10 years ago, we used mobile phones mainly for making phone calls – innovation that caters to the traveler still needs to catch-up with the innovation that has until now catered mostly to the travel industry itself.
With AI, we are picking up the pace. We are already using it to enable a range of apps, bots, and software that make the entire travel process easier. For business travel, this will mean more effective and satisfied travelers and a better travel investment for companies. But we are still only scratching the surface of what AI can do.
As the conference attendees discussed AI, robotics, and good old-fashioned data entry, we were constantly reminded that these technics will not enjoy massive adoption unless they bring value and satisfaction to the traveler.
Travel is a deeply emotional activity. While we may be happy to have a robot perform a repetitive task, we are increasingly attuned to the possibility of AI to enhance customer service, provide insights on effective traveler satisfaction strategies and generally improve the traveler experience.
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