Adoption of artificial intelligence will help travel brands provide better search results, customer service and product experience, but firms must retain human input.
Joel Brandon-Bravo, vice president travel and digital solutions at translations.com partner TransPerfect, told the Travolution Summit successful brands will optimise AI in their businesses.
He picked out areas like content creation, personalisation, voice search, search results, chat, feedback analysis and facial recognition as key for streamlining the customer journey.
Brandon-Bravo warned against relying too heavily on machines in areas like translation and about regional or demographic bias built into AI.
but said the use of AI must be used to deliver better and more personalised search results for less qualified consumer queries and chatbots to deal with frequently asked questions.
“Travel websites are still very rigid and haven’t moved on that much in terms of forcing customers to know where they want to go specifically on what dates from what airports to get results.
“We tried to fix that back when I was at Travelzoo by offering a more semantic search. We tried to allow people to put in broad search terms like I’m looking for winter, summer anywhere.
“One of the challenges is you end up potentially not getting results, so what we’re going to develop is AI to look at search results, work out where people are searching and not seeing what they want.
“And then using AI to better tag content or even to drive what sorts of products we can put on our websites to fulfil the searches that people are doing and ultimately improve results.
“I think we can all agree the customer service car crash that’s happened this year would have been so much better managed if more travel companies had things like chatbots.
“We work with Review Pro who provide chatbots for over 700 hotel properties and what they’ve noticed is that 80% of questions get answered by the same 12 answers.”
Brandon-Bravo said natural language processing is one of the most advanced uses of AI and with international expansion one of the best ways to find growth it can help firms do this at speed.
“Towards the tail end of my time at Travelzoo it was obvious the deal space was getting quite crowded.
“Inboxes were getting full and Google was being selective and pushing promotions into another folder.
“Social media was becoming a place where people are spending more time and from the industry perspective the companies that did the highest volume tended to get the best rates from hotels.
“The companies with the best rates were then able to do drive the highest volumes. Therefore, to grow your business, you need to consolidate to drive the volume or go international.
“To go international you’ve got to personalise because 85% of people won’t buy from a website that’s not speaking their language.
“I knew from my time at Travelzoo that rolling out multiple sites into multiple languages is incredibly expensive and can be very painful.
“It’s a truism that businesses that grow, grow by being smarter than their competitors and it also seemed to me AI and machine learning, were going to be the smarts behind that growth.”
Brandon-Bravo said when it comes to translating into different languages it is not a dilemma between using a full automated machine or human translation.
“There are a whole range of different levels of translation in between,” he said. “I would never recommend using the raw machine translation…to then present content to your customers.
“I had a travel company approach me a couple of months ago because…they realised they’ve been trying to sell package holidays to chicken instead of Turkey.
“A raw, untrained machine translation engine is not going to know that Turkey is a country and not poultry.
“Now, we have travel-trained translation engines that understand that half board means meal included and not a piece of wood.”