Travel-bots will take the business travel industry by storm

Travel-bots will take the business travel industry by storm
Bertrand Saillet, General Manager at FCM Travel Solutions Asia

The business travel industry is at a turning point. Digital technologies are transforming the industry at a rapid pace and opening business opportunities as well as man-machine interactions that were virtually unthinkable in the past. Companies are harnessing technologies such as chatbots (apps that use natural language to interact with users) to rewrite their business model.

This is even more crucial now as consumers’ demand enhanced digital services. According to a McKinsey report, Asian business travellers prefer to go digital and value the transparency of choice and information that autonomous digital booking channels provide. In fact, in many countries across Asia, business travellers increasingly prefer online and mobile interactions when booking their flights and hotels[1]. These evolving preferences are compelling businesses to implement new technologies, to suit their customers’ needs.

The possibilities of using chatbots are abound. From iPhone’s Siri to mobile messaging services, chatbots are providing seamless experience to customers via messaging platforms by augmenting human capabilities. One of the biggest advantage of the usage of chatbots is its ability to reach a wide range of people. In Asia Pacific, over 900 million users used mobile messaging apps in 2016[2], and this number is projected to reach 1.26 billion users in 2019.

It is clear that mobile technology is driving significant change in how we book and manage travel, putting more control in the hands of the traveller.

Travel-bot: The perfect traveller’s companion

Convenience is key for business travellers. A travel-bot is like having access to a 24/7 digital travel agent and advisor, at the touch of their fingertips. While many chatbots provide travellers with two-way communication, they might find the process cumbersome and not intuitive, just like speaking to a robot.

A travel-bot is one step ahead of chatbots as it blends artificial intelligence (AI) with the expertise of an actual travel consultant. It picks up on cues such as travel patterns and preferences, and updates travellers on their preferred messaging platforms, making the process highly interactive and very human.

The more a traveller uses a travel-bot, the more intelligent the travel-bot becomes. Based on the users’ preferences, the travel-bot can correlate the links and deliver a more personalized information, making it convenient for its users. With a human-like personality trait, and mixing personal travel data and functionality, this all-in-one travel-bot can become the perfect travel companion.

At each stage of the traveller’s journey, a travel-bot can easily provide relevant, organized and contextualized information to its user via notifications and messages on its native application.

Before the trip, the travel-bot will retrieve and provide the traveller with all the boarding information and anticipate the conditions that come with it: flight timings, boarding gate, and even destination-specific weather updates to help you pack. It even has ability to communicate across multiple supported platforms, such as Facebook Messenger or Skype, removing the hassle of accessing another app.

If we imagine a business traveller as Chris who has added Paris to his pre-planned destination, the travel-bot will automatically reach out to Chris with a prepared interactive guide about Paris: from currency information, tipping culture, things to see and do, and recommended restaurants near the central business district.

A well-designed travel-bot should also understand and deliver on the following demands:

·  How much would it cost to change my flight?
·  Where is my baggage located on arrival?
·  What’s the boarding gate for my flight?
·  How long will it take for me to get to the airport?

On top of that, if you happen to miss your flight, your travel-bot will help schedule you onto the next best option, all within your company travel policy.

In addition, a travel-bot can even allow travellers to book on the go. For example, if it’s the traveller’s first time in a city, they will receive more information and recommendations than if it a frequented destination. With rules and settings that can be customized to fit a company's travel guidelines, the travel-bot will send a reminder to use taxis over other transportation options if company policy so advises. In addition, they can send a prompt reminder to submit a lunch receipt or even help travellers to book rides easily.

With any new technology, it is important for the user experience to be as natural and as intuitive as possible. A travel-bot can also connect you to a live consultant 24-hours a day for any live assistance, assuring any doubts you might have or to double-confirm all information instantaneously.

We are already in the future

With an army of chatbots disrupting the travel industry, many companies are already tapping on chatbots for all stages of the travel funnel. The speed and innovation of chatbots, present many opportunities for business travel companies to provide cutting-edge innovation to its travellers. It is only with these types of highly contextualized interactions that chatbots will be adopted by travellers to bring true value to their trip and enhance their travel experience. Travel-bot is always on, and will lead the way.

[1] McKinsey&Company, Asian Business Travellers: Five Things You Need To Know, 2015

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