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Source: Forbes as of 20-04-2020

Businesses may view their prospects as a bit more precarious than they’d hoped just a few months ago. Amid fears sparked by the coronavirus, sagging oil prices and a looming economic downturn, it’s hard to believe that we’re barely a month removed from the Dow’s highest closing number in historyA natural response, in this case, is to look for opportunities to minimize costs and boost revenue. For some, reducing costs quickly could be necessary. The travel industry, for instance, is uniquely vulnerable to this combination of systemic shocks. As such, operators like airlines and OTAs should take this opportunity to review and identify strategies to increase efficiency. Artificial intelligence, for instance, presents some fascinating new applications for the travel space. AI enables businesses to create a much smoother, more efficient and interconnected process across multiple platforms. The result is a more cost-effective and secure operation with higher customer satisfaction.

Optimizing The Customer Experience

Customers place a premium on the value of excellent customer experiences, especially in digital channels. In fact, 71% of travelers said they viewed the quality of their digital experience as a key factor when booking travel. So, what does “quality” mean in this context? Well, that same study reveals that nearly half of travelers expect around-the-clock, instantaneous access to live service and to their travel itinerary from their mobile devices. And, even though the average traveler will use between 10 and 12 apps during the process, nearly two-thirds of buyers expect to be able to review their entire trip itinerary in one place.

Meeting customers’ expectations is difficult, but not impossible, with the help of AI technology. The first step is to develop a better understanding of customer pain points and preferences — and identify strategies to optimize those experiences. The IATA Global Passenger Survey identifies several key travel pain points for consumers, as well as ways to resolve them, including:

  • Giving travelers more personal control over their journey via mobile devices.
  • Using biometric identification to speed up travel processes.
  • On-demand baggage tracking.
  • Access to in-flight Wi-Fi.

Artificial intelligence touches on all these priorities to a degree. For instance, AI tools can quickly recall customer preferences to streamline bookings, check-in and security. Increasingly sophisticated chatbot technology makes it easier to expedite service and resolve issues. Armed with a better understanding of customer pain points and preferences, travel merchants can identify more opportunities for customer interaction. AI tools like chatbots are, by definition, not reliant on human interaction as a first line of service. Thus, chatbots can help customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, resolving many issues and directing more complex concerns to the right place in a quick, effective manner. That’s just one example; there are end-to-end applications for AI in the travel industry.

AI Can Help Prevent Losses

Artificial intelligence has applications for helping improve the customer experience. What about actually protecting revenue, though? Travel companies can employ AI to prevent loss in a few different ways. Take luggage, for instance; lost luggage cost global airlines $2.1 billion in 2016 alone. In response, some airports are now experimenting with AI tools to track bags and prevent lost items as customers travel. AI can also be an effective fraud deterrent when used on a macro scale. Identifying trends in fraud tactics and behaviors requires analyzing extensive datasets from multiple sources. This is a massive undertaking for humans, but AI can manage it much more effectively through natural language processing, machine vision and machine learning. Artificial intelligence systems can identify common fraud indicators and abnormal behaviors. Using these profiles, AI systems can score the risk of individual transactions and isolate likely cases of fraud.

There could be opportunities to leverage AI more effectively to develop a fast, accurate and reliable method of screening. Travel companies could deploy AI to develop dynamic friction. This would allow for better service while reducing costs and minimizing risk. Of course, no technology is perfect, and AI still has its shortcomings. For instance, it has minimal practical application for post-transactional fraud threats like friendly fraud. Machine learning technology can be used to identify trends, but it is not helpful on an individual basis because these threats only appear after a transaction is complete. As a result, it can be hard to collect reliable data. With AI, we’re building a strategy based on historical data, but if the technology misidentifies chargeback sources, then the data will be inaccurate. This creates a feedback loop, leading to increasingly mistargeted technology.

There’s A Place For Artificial Intelligence

AI is predictive, but only to the extent that the historical data powering it is predictive. Times of upheaval can disrupt that process, making AI less reliable. It’s a tool in the arsenal — but just one of many. Using AI to provide better recommendations to customers is great, but it requires granular data analysis to profile risk. The tools can’t achieve these on their own; we need humans — either internal or third-party — who can collect and analyze data, while ensuring ongoing security against breaches.

The bottom line is that artificial intelligence is a fantastic and revolutionary tool, but it should be just one part of a larger strategy. What the travel industry really needs is comprehensive solutions that leverage powerful tools and human expertise. For most, I recommend seeking help from third parties capable of providing the technologies, as well as the support necessary to make the most of them. Instead of building out an internal system, which can take more time and money than you’re willing to invest if you don’t have a unique enough use case at hand, travel merchants can turn it over to subject matter experts who seamlessly integrate it into existing platforms. I’m confident we’ll emerge stronger than ever before when these systemic shocks finally abate. Now is the perfect time to look at how we implement many of these tools we rely on — and how best to leverage them going forward.

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