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Let's Chatbot: Can AI revolutionize your travel program?

August 07, 2018


By Dominique Betancourt
Open Innovation Manager, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

Natural Language: Optimizing for the traveler will become more important

Artificial intelligence — and its growing list of uses — continues to improve life for consumers. Those same advances are also making life easier for corporate travel management programs, travel managers and travelers.

With AI applications such as machine learning, chatbot programs and natural language processing, travel management companies (TMCs) have an opportunity to rapidly advance the corporate travel experience.

And research tells us the business travel industry wants these innovations, too.

In a recent Business Travel News survey, nearly half of travel buyers surveyed saw high potential for self-booking chatbots, AI-enhanced program analysis tools and traveler experience personalization.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to simplify and streamline the traveler journey with new technology,” said Oliver Heckmann, Google’s VP of engineering for travel and shopping, in a recent report.

According to Google research, almost 70 percent of requests to its Google Assistant system are expressed in natural language, meaning that people are getting more comfortable having conversations with computers.

“Optimizing for the traveler will be even more important as people start to use more digital assistants across surfaces and speak in natural language,” Heckmann said.

But, we also know travel buyers have been slow to adopt AI-enhanced technologies. Only 7.6 percent of travel buyers report they’ve adopted AI-backed booking tools or chatbots and just 5.9 percent use an AI-enhanced travel management partner, according to the BTN report.

TMCs and AI: The perfect pair

AI technology has garnered a huge amount of attention and it can be difficult to understand the pros and cons. If your home device does not play the song you requested, that’s not a big deal. But if your travel app gets a travel request wrong, it can have significant implications. That's why CWT takes a measured and thoughtful approach to how we leverage the application of AI and implement it into our solutions.

This spring we launched a pilot program incorporating a natural language search interface into our proprietary reporting software. Clients can now ask anything — just like they’re using Google — and immediately see clear visual representations of their data.

Imagine any question and ask anything, from “Show me all of my out-of-compliant travelers in London” to “How much did my sales team spend on car rentals in July?”

The feature is a natural extension of what clients have been asking us: How can you make it easier to understand my data and — more importantly — how can you make my job easier?

That’s the power of AI.

And this is just the beginning. We know that travel management companies have a real opportunity right now to raise the bar higher in terms of what we can deliver for clients and their travelers using AI and its countless applications.

Chatbots and digital assistants give travelers what they want

Coupled with data on traveler tendencies and booking preferences, TMCs can drastically improve experiences for travelers.

Google and Phocuswright, in a joint study, found that one in three travelers across countries are interested in using digital assistants to research or book travel — and they’re already searching for everything from hotels to flights to things to do at their destination. And, nearly 80 percent of business travelers in the U.S. prefer using self-service technology to manage their travel, according to the Global Business Travel Association.

That’s where chatbot programs come in.

Like some of our TMC counterparts, CWT has also begun beta-testing chatbot travel programs. Travelers simply text the dates and locations they need — and our chatbot finds and books a preferred hotel.

While driven by powerful AI technology, these chatbot programs are incredibly simple and user-friendly — mirroring the market offerings already available to consumers and perfectly underscoring why AI is a serious boon for our industry.

These programs are just the beginning. As AI evolves, machines will learn and grow and continue to better serve travelers.

For too long, business travel companies trailed behind our consumer counterparts. But now, with advancing AI technology by our side, we can lead clients forward to a simpler, easier and better corporate travel program experience.

Read more about CWT Insights and innovation.


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