Are you leading the cognitive travel revolution?

Are you leading the cognitive travel revolution?
By: Kenny Hay, Director Cloud, IBM ASEAN

“I would like to book a kid-friendly hotel in London which is close to the entertainment park and has a good view of the city.”

“I am looking for a hotel in San Francisco which looks over the beach and is near the main street.”

Yes, it’s that time of the year where travel bookings spike, and travel consultants are stretched to their limits in meeting flight and accommodation requests. Travelers today have access to more hotels than ever before, but they are often overwhelmed by too many choices, limited in their ability to find the perfect room, and compelled to check multiple sites before making a decision.

Did you know that consumers visit at least 38 sites before making a booking?[1] 81% of consumers also typically abandon their online bookings midway through, citing reasons which include long and complicated booking processes, payment issues, technical issues and the need to compare prices elsewhere.[2]

You can’t help but wonder if more can be done to make travel bookings easier for your customers. According to the cognitive study by the IBM Institute for Business Value, Beyond Bots and Robots: Exploring the Unrealized Potential of Cognitive Computing in the Travel Industry, 36 percent of cognitive travel leaders expect to have four or more cognitive projects underway in the next two years, compared with just 18 percent of all other travel industry survey respondents. The study also found that travel companies can create cognitive programs that improve the travel experience, streamline travel operations, or both.

For the most part, travel companies are already leveraging cognitive solutions in the form of chatbots to provide interactive support functions.

Take ZUMATA for example – a travel technology company that is using Watson to enhance the booking experience for customers. By training Watson with ZUMATA’s own database including an inventory of hotels, ZUMATA can recommend hotels that match customers’ requirements. Watson’s machine learning and natural language features also enable ZUMATA to process massive amounts of unstructured data including reviews, blogs, news articles, press releases, images, and more, as well as accurately determine the intent of customers’ questions and quickly return high-confidence answers. As a result, ZUMATA was recently featured by Disruptor Daily as one of the top 10 companies disrupting the travel industry in 2017.

But it’s not just the travel companies that are embarking on the cognitive technology. Travel insurance companies too are creating similar cognitive-driven chatbots that can respond to customer queries quickly and more importantly, provide the right answers. Those I have worked with shared that their customers now experience shorter waiting times, and service call durations have shortened from 20 to 30 minutes to under three minutes.

That said, not all travel companies are aggressively leading the way in cognitive computing. Some may prefer to adopt a wait-and-see approach to this rapidly evolving technology, only implementing proven solutions thoroughly tested by other companies.  

The question is, do you want to become a leader in the cognitive travel world, or are you content with conducting small-scale, low-risk projects?

Travel executives who believe their companies can get more from cognitive computing will do well by asking themselves three fundamental questions:

  1. What aspects in my business can I make cognitive?
  2. Do I have a strategy in place to take my business cognitive?
  3. Do I have skills to start my cognitive journey?
While we don’t know when cognitive computing will fully proliferate throughout the travel industry, we can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before more businesses explore the potential it has to transform the travel experience.
The question is, will you take the lead, or play it safe?

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