Technology that has the ability to source the best travel deals, to curate relevant deals for every single customer and capable of being a virtual travel agent is coming to travel.
These are just a few of the examples of the types of developments travel firms interviewed by Qubit for its second annual Future of Travel report say they are working on and expect to roll out.
The report, officially launched at an event in London on Tuesday, sought the views of 23 travel brands about what they see as the evolving role of machines in travel.
It builds on last year’s Future of Travel report published by Qubit, a London-based personalisation marketing platform, which focused on exceeding the demands of the modern customer.
All the travel brands spoken to for the 2017 report expect machines to play an ever-greater role in travel, but all also agreed that for most firms maintaining a human element will be vital.
David Armstrong, chief executive of Holiday Pirates, said: “We will never get rid of the manual part because authenticity and direct connect with our audience is vital to our business.
“But in terms of finding and sourcing great value for money deals, that is something we’re building technology for. There is a lot you can do with data.
“Yes, build algorithms to have the system learn on its own. But we’re not building robots. That’s clear.”
Alex Francis, Love Holidays founder and chief executive, said it wants its technology to work unseen in the background to home the options it surfaces for its customers.
“Very much like Amazon has its customers like you looked at this mechanic, we have that in the background, but we don’t tell our customers that that’s what we’re doing because we don’t want them to know we’re thinking for them because that takes away some of the fun.
“We’re just trying to produce stuff that’s more relevant. That’s the hard thing.”
Other contributors to the report agreed saying they do not want to make the process of researching buying and experiencing travel more mechanistic but use machines to enhance the human experience.
Cheapflights managing director Andrew Shelton said: “For too long many digital businesses have not retailed in an intuitive way, creating lots of friction for the user.
“The companies which will win in the future are ones who make the whole thing personal, seamless and simple.”
Neal Sunners, Avis Budget Group chief information officer, international, said machines and automations are being used to address the stresses customers associate with car hire.
“We’ve looked at what the stress points are in our customer experience and made tremendous investments in automating that experience to remove stress and give the customer more control in a very simple and transparent way.”
For other travel firms artificial intelligence technology capable of machine learning are tipped to power chatbots of the future that can hold a conversation with customers just as real life agents do today.
And many firms see technology being used provide better customer experience when disruption happens during travel.
Mark Holt, chief technology officer of The Trainline, said: “I often use the term magic carpet ride. You want to look at our app and be guided through without having to do anything particularly complicated.”
A future in which the interplay between man and machine remains important throughout the customer journey was set out by upmarket tour operator and high street retailer Kuoni.
Dean Harvey, marketing director of Kuoni, said its ‘click and collect’ strategy was aimed at changing people’s behaviour so that the web drives personal interaction either face to face in store of over the phone.
“The customer, we feel, is becoming increasingly disillusioned with having to do the research and legwork up to the point where they commit to purchase.
“Web chat is available on our site. It is part of the journey. We need to have all of our channels open but ultimately it’s about linking human to human.”