Tour operators

Special Report: Innovation through collaboration

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Special Report: Innovation through collaboration

US start-up Utrip has struck a partnership with Tui to ‘supercharge’ the travel giant’s personalised trip-building service

Seattle-based Utrip is an example of a new entrant in travel with a specialism in artificial intelligence-driven personalisation that is making a name for itself.

It came to the attention of Tui Group, Europe’s largest travel company, through membership of Californian start-up accelerator Plug and Play.

The two firms have started work on a pilot project that will generate personalised trip planning recommendations to Tui clients who have already booked their holiday.

Using Utrip’s 100 million travel preference data points, the collaboration aims to generate relevant in-destination itineraries for Tui customers in seconds.

Gilad Berenstein, founder and chief executive of Utrip, says by partnering with a start-up such as his company, a corporate like Tui could benefit from its experience of fine tuning its recommendation
engine over the last five years.

He says: “They are able to super-charge their efforts rather than start the long and complex process of building their own recommendation engines and tuning them over time. No matter how brilliant your engineers are, what you really need is years of data usage.”

Berenstein added: “We use AI to take information about the user and begin to extrapolate and make recommendations based on over 100 million travel preference data points in our database.

“As the traveller engages and says ‘this looks interesting, I would love to learn more about this’, we get to know them better and better and the recommendations continue to be enhanced through the experience.”

Inspired by his father who worked in artificial intelligence in Israel, by a psychology major college friend and by his experience of a trip around Europe, Berenstein has set about applying AI to travel and human decision-making.

“Most of our partnerships are at the top of the funnel where someone is dreaming about their next trip or holiday” he says.

“Dreaming is an incredibly important part of the lifecycle in travel. This is where everything is possible, where you have the ability to influence the consumer, to help them dream of the experiences they want with you in mind.

“If you go back to the psychology, it’s the ability to match someone’s expectations with the experience. “We all have certain levels of expectation, and if the experience does not meet them we feel disappointed, even if the experience is great. So we try to understand what customer expectations are.”

Tui’s work with Utrip reflects a trend towards firms looking to provide customers with a full package oftravel product, exploiting the increasing digitisation of product that can be bundled together online.

Berenstein says there are many convenience and cost benefits to offering package deals, but this must be done in a dynamic, relevant way to ensure they meet the unique, individual requirements of increasingly demanding travellers.

“Brands are asking ‘how can I offer compelling experiences to my customers that go beyond just selling the inventory?”‘ he adds.

“It’s about storytelllng, owning the customer lifecycle. Trip planning today is this enormous undertaking because you have to visit so many websites and resources.

“But these can be integrated into a familiar experience so you can suggest when is the best time to go to get the best deal.

“This kind of integration and personalsation is really where consumers want us to go to.”

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