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Regardless of what Covid-19 has in store this winter, the travel industry is looking ahead to 2022 and remaining hopeful for a robust recovery. But even as travel bounces back, it won’t come back the same as before. In a time when many have grown accustomed to living on their own schedules and their own terms, the travel industry can expect a shift in patterns, tastes and trends. Preferences will be as diverse as travelers themselves, and everyone will expect a booking experience tailored to their needs. To create it, booking platforms must look to artificial intelligence.
Covid has been a great accelerator of technology adoption across nearly every industry — speeding up the digital transformation by seven years, according to one McKinsey study — and artificial intelligence has been at the forefront of these developments. A majority of large companies are now utilizing AI for product enhancements, and studies show that AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. In virtually every industry, customers will come to expect the convenience and personalization that AI brings. Travel and hotel bookings are no exception.
Technology can help consumers sift through their travel options
My 20-plus years in the industry have taught me that technology is the best way to help consumers sift through the enormous number of travel options available to them with the speed, convenience and accuracy that they expect. At my own company HotelPlanner, we have set artificial intelligence as the next frontier in our technology development because it allows us to enhance our existing capabilities to make our booking process smarter, more seamless and more personalized and customized than ever before.
AI can start by addressing the current pain points for consumers. With cost and flexibility ranking as the most important factors for travelers today, they are understandably frustrated by the confusing patchwork of cancellation and refund rules and the lack of effective tools to compare prices and policies across platforms. Adding to the uncertainty are inaccurate recommendations and a lack of custom search options, leaving customers lost in a sea of browser tabs as they seek the one best option for them.
AI offers a solution that can be continuously refined and scaled
AI is an appealing solution because it is a single capability that can be continuously refined and scaled. User data paired with carefully tuned algorithms can create a personalized and deeply intuitive experience for every customer — one that is fast, simple and constantly improving over time.
For example, in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, my company launched a global gig-economy-based travel-concierge model that uses AI-enabled VOIP to connect customers to the best gig agent who resides in the traveler’s desired destination to provide localized advice. And more recently, we launched an Alexa-enabled booking feature, so booking a hotel stay is now as simple as saying “Alexa — ask HotelPlanner to make me a new reservation.”
Imagine a travel booking site that knows you as well as a longtime travel agent might. It knows your interests, your budget, your previously booked trips and the activities you enjoy. Enter a query into the search bar, and it delivers not just the same smattering of hotel options that every other user receives, but personalized options based on your unique preferences. Better yet, imagine you don’t even need to type your query, but can simply speak it into your Alexa device or the Alexa app on your phone via the Alexa app, and one of our gig-based travel agents will call you within 30 seconds to complete the booking. From start to finish, the experience feels like it was designed just for you.
This is the future that AI can and is bringing across the industry. Access to increasing amounts of data is transforming the customer experience for online booking, allowing for smarter search functionality and better tailored results. AI-driven advancements in natural-language recognition are making voice search the industry’s next big trend.
Better price accuracy and more real-time options to suit any budget
As for the top consumer concerns of price and flexibility, the solutions brought by AI can lead to better price accuracy and more real-time options to fit any budget. And if your trip needs to be cancelled, AI can offer more than just a refund. It can allow for easy exchanges by presenting recommendations for new destinations and entirely new itineraries based on your interests and travel dates.
As we look toward a post-pandemic world, AI-led solutions can pave the way for the travel and hospitality industry’s recovery and improve the ways customers experience booking platforms. My experience has taught me that technology is a traveler’s best friend. Now, AI allows that friend to know you better than ever, leading to an easier, more affordable and more personalized booking experience.