AI chatbots will transform the way people travel, with voice dominating searches

AI allows organisations to customise solutions for an individual, recognising the highly unique preferences each of us has.

As digital technologies transform almost every aspect of our daily lives, as customers, our expectations regarding speed, convenience and customisation are constantly rising. We have grown used to entertaining, communicating and purchasing on mobile devices. To remain competitive, in the travel industry too, digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are being increasingly explored.

When developed well, AI-powered solutions in the travel services industry can provide a high level of customer value as they often leverage Natural Language Processing (NLP) engines to mimic human interactions with minimal error, high security and problem-solving capabilities.

It is not an exaggeration to say that AI has turned traditional business strategy on its head. What I mean by this is: most often, solutions were conceptualised at a demographic level, i.e. customised for a group of people in a similar age/interest level. But now, AI allows organisations to customise solutions for an individual, recognising the highly unique preferences each of us has.

AI chatbots will transform the way people travel, with voice dominating searches

Representational Image.

This transformation is steadily extending to government-to-citizen services as well, including the traditional visa processes space, defined by its very nature as having multiple layers of checks. For the visa processing industry and indeed the entire gamut of related travel services, the potential of AI use is enormous. Websites and mobile apps powered by AI can assist you at every step of filling up a visa application form or produce customised stay or flight options based on your past preferences, and help you navigate through foreign cities.

Today’s sophisticated chatbots have the ability to think two steps ahead – if you are trying to track your passport or visa, for instance, a chatbot can not only give you a status update but can also potentially provide information you did not ask for – such as, what are your pick -up or courier delivery options once the document is processed. Similarly, if you’re filling up a visa application form or a hotel booking form, and pause too long over a certain entry, a chatbot can automatically pop up and offer to assist you through the rest of the process.

The future is voice

Voice-activated searches, powered by AI and supported by natural language processing (NLP) engines, are becoming ubiquitous – most commonly found on many smartphones today. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa have been trail-blazers, helping you to book an Uber or a flight, tell the time, or find a recipe, all with a simple voice command.

Simply put, NLP engines can recognise contemporary language usages, accents, colloquialisms, translations and tonality so that the responses provided by a voice assistant are highly nuanced and as close to human interaction as possible. A simple example is if you ask “How are you today?” or “What’s up?” or “What’s going on?”, a voice assistant’s response would be the same, along the lines of “I’m fine”, though the phrasing is different.

No wonder then that in 2016, Google reported that 20 percent of its mobile app queries in the US were voice searches. By 2020, estimates show that 50 percent of all searches across the internet will be voice-based – a sign of how fast the voice assistant market is growing. Travel-related companies are already making technology investments in such apps and other AI-powered features as end users come to depend more on such services.

AI is already driving revenue generation by helping companies make changes in their web interfaces such that the most useful services appear more prominent to the browser, keeping in mind his/her preferences based on past online activity.

For the modern traveller perennially short on time, these solutions allow you to experience the joy of travel from ‘inspiration’ to ‘execution’, using technology to keep convenience at your fingertips, literally.

The author is the head - Digital and eCommerce at VFS Global

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