internet changed travel planning for most people years ago, but even a high-powered search engine has its limitations when it comes to plotting out the perfect weekend getaway or lengthy European excursion.
Yes, an online search provides plenty of travel options. In fact, it may be too many, so that the would-be traveler is drowning in information and tempted to settle for the hammock in the backyard.
“Online travel planning can be time consuming and impersonal,” says Noreen Henry, CEO of WayBlazer Inc. (www.wayblazer.ai), which provides machine-learning technologies to travel companies of all types. “Studies show that travelers on average search 140 travel sites 45 days before booking. And that’s not just bad for travelers. Hotels, airlines, destination marketing organizations, vacation-packaging groups and other travel-industry companies are losing potential customers due to an unengaging digital experience.”
But add artificial intelligence – or AI – to that search, and things change. Artificial intelligence is essentially a computer system that can perform tasks that normally would require a human, such as voice recognition, visual perception and decision making.
Bringing AI into travel planning means those searches won’t just pick up random key words. AI can understand the kind of experience a traveler is searching for and find the most contextually relevant results.
“In other words, artificial intelligence won’t just help you land the lowest rate for a hotel or assist with airline reservations,” Henry says. “It can also provide inspiration for just what kind of trip experience you want.”
Here’s how Henry’s company, WayBlazer, makes use of artificial intelligence: WayBlazer partners with hotel brands, travel technology providers, destination marketing organizations and airline vacation packaging groups. The company’s platform is powered by a travel “recommendation engine” that enables suppliers to merchandise their inventory in a personalized manner for each travel shopper.
“The AI-driven digital experience is the beginning of a trend we’re seeing across all travel companies,” Henry says. “Brands are looking to quickly ramp up and they need a technology provider that they can trust.”
There are plenty of examples of how artificial intelligence will transform the travel-planning process for both the brands and the travelers. Here are a few:
- Machines can learn. Over time machine learning detects patterns in the data it collects and makes adjustments in its “knowledge.” So every time a traveler searches, the system gets a little smarter. “The result,” Henry says, “is a recommendation engine that understands travel like an expert, factoring in both context and search intent to the results a traveler gets.”
- A photo finish. Machine vision can “look” at a photograph and match it to what you’re searching for, Henry says. For example, a traveler searching for an anniversary trip should be seeing images of romance: whether its couples on the beach or enjoying a candlelight dinner. Showing the right image dramatically improves engagement.
- AI is conversational. Online searches typically involve keywords that need to match words on websites. However, with natural language searches, travelers don’t have to type the exact right words to get their desired results. Natural language search, especially when searching for multi-faceted trip experiences, gives travelers much more flexibility when searching through a brand’s products. And travel agents are also able to rely on AI to give their customers better service and do it faster.
Henry says the travel industry hasn’t always kept pace with technological advances. Part of the reason may be because of the avalanche of unstructured data and user generated content, such as images, reviews, and videos. But companies have a huge opportunity to leverage that data intelligently with the right technology.
“A lot of brands are figuring out that customers want a better digital experience in the planning stage – and the vacation-inspiration stage – and they can help travelers,” she says. “If they can do that, and provide a more personalized experience every step of the way, then those customers are going to be loyal to that brand.”
About Noreen Henry
Noreen Henry is CEO of WayBlazer (www.wayblazer.ai), the travel AI company. Henry has more than 25 years’ experience in both startup companies and large corporations that provide technology and distribution solutions across North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. She has held leadership roles at DHISCO, Intent Media, Travelocity, Sabre and Netscape. WayBlazer provides machine-learning technologies to travel companies of all types (hotels, tour operators, destinations) to help travelers find the best products more quickly and improve shopper conversion.
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