When it comes to business travel, expect the unexpected. But if a flight is delayed or the hotel cancels at the last minute, what typically happens?
Business travelers anxiously whip out their cell phones.
The phone lines of the customer service staff start to glow.
And of course, it becomes stressful for travel managers, too.
The truth is, fast, real-time travel updates are in demand - and chatbot technology is made for these scenarios.
What can it already do today? What are its limits? And how can bots support us in the future?
Join us on a journey where bots accompany us step by step.
Planning: support and relief for travel managers
For business travel to run smoothly, every step must go to plan. To be prepared for all eventualities, travel managers need up-to-date information on every step of the trip.
That's the theory - but in practice, travel teams are suffering the consequences of the pandemic. According to SAP, 84% of all finance managers surveyed confirmed that companies are not yet adequately prepared for the increase in business travel.
Fortunately, however, there are technologies at hand that can already help travel agents and travel managers: Data science, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are enabling data-driven business travel and travel policy design.
Using AI, travel managers can create travel policies based on company size, needs and projected annual spend. It's a comparative approach that can save a lot of time and resources, especially for smaller teams.
Algorithms support intelligent planning of smooth business travel: Advanced AI enables travel managers to consider dynamic pricing by travel service providers and run "what-if" scenarios in advance. However, even the best algorithm is only as reliable as the data that it’s based on.
Travel management platform providers have already recognized the importance of appropriately comprehensive global data sets. They're investing in solutions that know how to make the most of price fluctuations, local weather events and traveler behavior.
Encountering chatbots on the road
From the latest flight updates and hotel recommendations to AI-powered 24-7 support and real-time travel updates, chatbots and "virtual agents" can help us.
They answer routine questions and can handle multiple conversations at once (which humans can’t actually do yet!) They prioritize requests based on our itinerary. And with queries, they ensure that our request ends up with the right service agent. So not only do these programs help travelers, but they also relieve the "human agents" at the same time. And, of course, they're always available. They don't need to sleep or take a vacation.
However - when it comes to the right response in the event of a travel disruption, chatbots still have a lot of room to grow. Human agents can still do many things better, but the two already complement each other very well.
Bots in use: Saving waiting time, increasing efficiency
American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT), for example, relies on a virtual assistant to both reduce waiting times for travelers and increase efficiency. If a traveler indicates in the app that they are currently "under a lot of stress," the bot forwards this to an employee.
For information such as "my flight has been canceled," the bot connects directly to a travel advisor. In turn, to save the travel agent time and answer inquiries faster, the bot also asks travelers questions like, "are you still trying to reach your destination?".
A mix of automated and human agents is already in use at travel management company CWT. Proactively, the CWT bot sends messages with flight updates and asks if the passenger needs to rebook in case of a delay. If so, the answer lands directly with a human agent via the chat channel.
And finally, in the hotel
The hospitality sector is home to the hotel chatbot HiJiffy, which also takes on the role of virtual concierge at any time of the day or night. It can sense the sentiment behind a request and prioritizes it accordingly. It also offers the option of contacting a human agent.
So far, it works exclusively text-based, but voice recognition is under development. TOMIS (Tour Operator Marketing Intelligence Software) is also a bot that learns and evolves, connecting us with a human agent when we might miss an activity or event due to a flight delay.
But even for this bot - and the same for its peers - prioritizing several different questions on its own is still a major challenge. However, the tour operator, the TOMIS quality assurance team, and Google (whose platform they use), can provide feedback to the AI so that it can continuously improve.
Step by step toward the future
We can already see areas in which bot technology offers us clear advantages. AI and virtual agents - with appropriately meaningful data - can help us with travel planning and policies around the clock. They relieve the burden on human agents, helping to reduce staff shortages on the one hand and shorten waiting times during travel disruptions on the other, at any time of the day or night.
However, some query types are still too complex and can only be handled by humans. The full integration of these technologies into the trip planning process and into the trip itself will therefore probably take place step by step.
Until then, the focus will be on cooperation with human agents. The bots still have a lot to learn before they can provide a seamless travel experience. Everything ultimately stands and falls with the quality of the data that enables them to make correspondingly intelligent decisions.
An exciting journey together therefore still lies ahead. Interested in learning more? Subscribe now to our newsletter! We'll keep you informed about the latest trends, upcoming events and other AirPlus updates.