The business travel industry is in the throes of a new era of transformation as it gradually evolves into a technologically-equipped sector. Dynamic growth in business travel due to a recovering global economy and increasing customer expectations are important factors driving this change.
Companies are striving to harness emerging technologies to enhance operational efficiencies in travel and expense management while delivering unparalleled user experience. Not only are they inclined towards technology innovation and proliferation of devices, applications and capabilities, but also towards experiences that will drive real value. Customised travel solutions offering new sources of revenue and growth, and streamlining of budgets through a uniform experience across platforms, are the need of the day.
Disruptive technological tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are at an evolutionary tipping point and reaching new levels of maturity. They are transforming how consumers plan to travel while offering companies a cut in operating costs.
Companies are utilising machine learning to gain more visibility into travel and expenses, which in turn has a positive impact on savings and offers greater benefits to travellers. Used in conjunction with predictive analytics, machine learning actively helps companies anticipate the future. It enables them to understand behavioural economies and gain better insights into business travel behaviour, spending patterns and more. Machine learning also helps reduce traveller stress through applications such as predictive pricing, forecasting potential for flight delays and rebooking flights after tickets have been purchased.
Business travellers today interact across a number of touchpoints, including smartphones, desktops, wearable apps, and over the phone. Companies that make an effort to infuse elements of on-demand functionality, personalisation, and authenticity into business travel, are faring much better. Experience is now integral to core business travel and expense.
With machine learning, companies can help ensure employees secure the travel vendors they want while increasing traveller satisfaction, maintenance of compliance and cost savings. Such advancements allow travellers and companies to make smarter travel decisions. Machine learning and AI is becoming ubiquitous as it turns static travel policies into dynamic policies while building an incentive component that works for both the company and the traveller.
Benefits of AI in the travel industry
Big Data, AI and Personalisation
Artificial intelligence helps companies create highly-tailored plans based on customers’ needs and preferences. Past behaviours are fed into AI computers to predict future purchase actions. Deep learning algorithms help make the most out of their customer’s online activities. AI-based personalised plans also increase conversion rates while ultimately improving traveller experience. AI brings customised suggestions during the trip based on a traveller’s profile, location, time, and other data based parameters. With AI, the output of these technical processes can bring a more natural experience to the traveller. AI technology dedicated to travellers also helps companies in decision making, managing predictive maintenance, and handling disruptions like weather conditions.
Chatbots and Virtual Assistants
The most popular use case for consumer-facing AI within travel is virtual assistants and chatbots. These are embedded in T&E platforms, with the vision to remove friction in online travel planning and booking when travellers want to interact with them. The concept represents a dramatic shift away from traditional online travel planning.
Virtual assistants perform tasks for individuals based on user information and access from external sources such as flight schedules, hotel availabilities, country events, weather and traffic conditions.
In the near future, a virtual assistant could scan its user’s calendar to identify events that require travel and offer to book flights proactively, while taking into account the traveller’s preferences and past booking behaviour. Virtual assistants will change the way travellers make travel plans, mediating between travel players and travellers.
Based on Natural Language Processing, chatbots provide assistance such as, sharing information, booking a trip and so on. These computer enabled intelligent applications are able to understand human language and assess contexts of conversations to ensure relevant dialogue. Moreover, by combining context (location, time, language) with personal information (age and interests), chatbots are able to push relevant offers to customers with the help of AI.
Artificial intelligence is changing the rules for the travel industry and the ability to predict the behaviour of travellers is unlocking new revenue opportunities for travel players. Without a doubt, exciting times are ahead and AI will be at the forefront of this revolution.
To recap, developments and trends driving growth in the travel technology market are:
- Focusing on customer experience and pricing transparency;
- Building price and convenience orientated integrated solutions;
- Providing packed solutions that ensure cohesion with expense and invoice management
The integration of advanced analytics and machine learning will propel travel platforms to a new level that bridges the gap between virtual and physical, creating environments that learn and adapt to customer behaviour in real time. Companies need to conceptualise new platforms for new opportunity and growth, by realising the benefits of scaling across the travel experience. They will have greater visibility into the customer travel journeys and a better understanding of users’ preferences and behaviour. Companies are growing more willing to provide travellers unmatched travel experiences by leveraging awareness of customer expectations and re-imagining their technology strategy.
The author is the managing director, India and SAARC for SAP Concur Technologies.