Can cats fly and other questions for the travel industry to ponder

On Day 2 in Las Vegas, discussions centred on how smart bots and voice assistants could soon be the future of travel tech. Derek Walter reports

The computer interface as we know it is disappearing. Those searching for the next travel experience or already enjoying a few days away from home are swiping, clicking and tapping on their screen less and less. Instead, they are posing questions to an invisible 'genius' that delivers instant answers.

Such was the warning for attendees on day two of the 2017 EyeforTravel North America Summit in Las Vegas who heard that chatbots and integrations with voice technology are no longer in the distant future, but are already here today. What is more, the brands that ignore this new technology, risk falling behind, or even folding, when they can't meet the demands of travellers wanting answers to any query at all hours of the day, and in real-time.

An assistant in your room

One example was offered by Dazzle, a product of Lola Tech, which showcased an integrated chatbot that lives inside an Amazon Echo Dot in a select London hotel. During an onstage demo, Dazzle Technology cofounder Charles Cadbury revealed what a friendly chat would look like with an Amazon Echo Dot right inside the hotel room.

The audience was shown how the service could answer local questions and even perform useful duties, like arrange for a toothbrush to be brought to the room. This session also revealed how a hotel guest could communicate with a chatbot through Facebook Messenger to get answers that are sometimes buried on hotel websites, or in lengthy guidebooks placed in hotel rooms. With just a few short queries, the chatbot could, for example, book an Uber to take you to the airport.

If I want to know if I can take my cat onto an airplane, trying to get that answer from the airline is really hard

Charles Cadbury, Co-Founder, Dazzle Technology

According to Cadbury, this is just the beginning of a new and important way that travel brands can interact and deliver instant answers to their customers.

“If I want to know if I can take my cat onto an airplane, trying to get that answer from the airline is really hard,” he said. “You can dig through the website but it’s probably an infrequently asked question. With a conversational interface, if you provide the expertise of the brand in the right way, then you can ask really, really specific questions and get that specific answer back, which gives a much richer customer experience.”

Three taps and a swipe

The bot-driven ‘conversational’ world may be coming, but it is still early days, which means that traditional navigation methods on computers and smartphones shouldn’t be abandoned just yet.

This view is a viewed held by mobile pioneer, HoteTonight. Sam McDonald, the company's chief technology officer certainly isn’t ready to abandon its bread and butter. His argument is that today Artificial Intelligence (AI) can empower your services and bring additional insights, but it’s not at the point where it should replace processes or features that are working well. For this reason, the company’s goal that transactions should be completed with three taps and a swipe remains a top priority.

“There is a future where there is one search and a perfect return, but until then we’re sticking to our approach. Companies should use artificial intelligence wisely before replacing the human touch,” he says.

We all need buy in, and it starts from the top

Sean Brevick, Vice President, Marketing & Digital Services, Americas

For other companies, day-to-day operations remain an essential part of making more traditional computing methods work. In the case of Sean Brevick, Marriott’s vice president of marketing and digital services for the Americas, this meant bringing together some marketing teams that had a lot of information in silos. According to Brevick, the sharing of data and unification of marketing messages was an essential way to ensure that customers felt their interests were being looked after.

“We now have one vision united across digital and global marketing through an ecosystem that enables our guest-centric approach,” he said. “We all need buy in, and it starts from the top.”

Tapping and swiping isn’t going to go away overnight. But the travel industry, which has already been significantly disrupted by mobile technology and the growing trend towards personalisation, must be watchful of emerging trends, while remember to keep on top of daily essentials.

This was a point also made by Neil Roberts, head of digital at the European intercity train firm Eurostar, in a recent interview with EyeforTravel ahead of the Amsterdam summits next month. His view is that you need a two-pronged approach namely to lead with service design, while keeping an eye on the future.

So if you missed the Las Vegas Summit last week, why not join the EyeforTravel team in Amsterdam for the collated Digital and Data Summits (Nov 29-30)

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