Marrying rapidly advancing tech with the human touch is key, says Amir Segall, vice president of Global Supply at HotelTonight
There are few things more popular in travel right now than the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Living inside everyday devices streamlining simple tasks such as ordering food, setting reminders and sending messages, brands are embedding AI technology to improve online communications, customer service and engagement. As AI continues to gain momentum, what does the future of travel look like when balancing man and machine?
The most visible manifestation of AI has arguably been chatbots; virtual assistants that hold natural conversations with humans. Gone are the days of manual replies that came long after you needed assistance and instead stands a 24/7 front-end customer care service. For example, if a customer’s flight is cancelled, rather than getting an email alert, a chatbot can jump into action and offer the next available flight to the customer.
However there is a danger of chatbots removing any trace of human dimension in customer support. In fact AI has already completely replaced any human presence in some instances, namely the new ‘virtual host’ at a dozen Radisson Blu hotels. ‘Edward’ is able to report on hotel amenities, give tips, direct recommendations, deal with guest complaints and check customers in. So convincing, Radisson Blu said over 90% of guests think Edward is human and respond with heartfelt thanks and even try to leave tips. The kind of technology to provide this on-demand, hyper-personalised interaction is clearly impressive and makes for an exciting future within the industry.
At HotelTonight we’ve taken a slightly different approach to this, developing a product called HT Pros. Whilst it’s an AI-powered personal concierge service, it has a human sitting behind the chat so we can ensure more guests are served personal recommendations and have specific off piece requests dealt with.
A recommended, curated experience
AI has helped reinvent online travel for the mobile era, transforming the booking process from indirect bookings and suggestions to a curated unique experience. But getting mobile right is hard, traditionally mobile booking services use filters and customer feedback to offer lots and lots of recommendations that don’t always apply and certainly don’t feel personalised.
It’s crucial to present on mobile limited options to optimise the customer experience, so by incorporating AI technology into the search tools and online communications, it allows for a selective set of tailored possibilities. At HotelTonight we made sure to only show customers 15 search results no matter the destination or the amount of hotels available as we believe in the importance of utilising AI to create a more personable journey, giving better answers about destinations, more insight into prices and personalised recommendations when we want and need them.
With AI, travel companies have more data than ever before, the most prominent example is that of location.This presents a huge opportunity to improve the customer and hotel experience alike, because as many as two thirds of hotel rooms are unoccupied on any given night. At HotelTonight we recognised that opportunity and developed a unique feature for hotels called Georates, that allows for location-based discounts attracting customers both in the vicinity of hotels and other high-intent areas such as airports and train stations. This not only attracts customers to fill empty hotelrooms through incredible discounts, but also enables hotels to optimise revenue.
Man vs Machine
Whilst AI is rapidly advancing the travel landscape, technology is still developing and becoming more intelligent. There’s a long way to go before AI can truly transform the travel industry and it’s success will be down to incorporating artificial intelligence, not replacing human presence. It’s about working with technology to automate processes that enable for more efficient and strong customer experiences. The marriage between artificial intelligence and human touch is key, and we’re well on our way.