Chat Bots: how could they impact the travel industry?

Dany Agostinho

Innovation Senior Specialist, Amadeus IT Group

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Facebook once again managed to capture the tech scene's undivided attention at its F8 conference earlier this month. Mark Zuckerberg succeeded in fuelling everyone's imagination with his 10-year plan for the company, but this year's piece de resistance was undeniably the announcement of Messenger Bots.

Chat Bots: how could they impact the travel industry?

Bots are little pieces of software with pre-programmed interactions allowing you to communicate with them in a very natural way. In Facebook's case, the Bots would be implemented within Messenger and would act as personal virtual assistants. Looking for the latest headlines? Just ask the CNN bot to send you the links to the trending articles. Feel like listening to a song? There's also (probably) a bot for that. The natural language processing behind bots is impressive. But what’s even more exciting is their capacity to learn from each individual interaction with a human being. Bots aren't a thing of the future: they’ll be here very soon.

As is often the case with "new" technology, it all depends on how useful the bots really are. Asking a bot for the weather forecast when you're just a tap away from an app offering just that might not be the best example. But when it comes to customer proximity, chat bots can do wonders. Just imagine being able to send a message to your bank to raise your credit card limit and get a response instantaneously from a bot. Or send a message to Amazon to track your parcel without having to type in the horrendously long serial number.

But is this technology useful in the travel industry? The answer seems likely to be yes. As a matter of fact, Amadeus has started to experiment with bots as a way to support both travellers and the businesses serving them. Here are a few insights on how chat bots could improve the travel industry as a whole.

Providing the perfect travel companion to the traveller

Chat bots might finally be the way of providing the long sought-after hassle-free travel experience for the traveller. A bot mixing personal travel data and destination content could become the perfect travel companion. At each stage of the traveller's journey, a travel bot could easily provide relevant and contextualized information to its user.

During the trip, a bot would retrieve all the boarding information when it matters: time of the flight, boarding gate, terminal and even information about the airport. A good travel companion should be able to understand and deliver on the following demands:

  • What’s my baggage allowance?
  • Where is the closest business lounge?
  • What’s the boarding gate for my flight?
  • How long will it take me to get to the airport?

A travel bot shouldn't be limited to providing airport and flight information. It should also be able to inspire potential travellers and even allow them to book on the go. Being able to give personalised destination recommendations based on the user's location or preferences could be pretty interesting for travellers.

Beyond answering the traveller's questions, a travel bot should anticipate needs and notify users when a flight is delayed or when it is time to check out from the hotel. It is only with these types of highly contextualised interactions that chat bots will be adopted by travellers and truly bring value to their trip.

Improving customer service for travel businesses

test If the value chat bots could bring to travellers is easy to see, the impact it could potentially have on the business side is often underrated. One airline's passengers can already receive their boarding passes and flight information through Facebook Messenger. Digital boarding passes are nothing new. But being able to chat with the airline's support team through the Messenger app definitely is an appealing feature... especially if the chat bot itself becomes smart enough to fill in for the human being currently replying to the traveller.

Indeed, customer service is one of the first areas that could benefit from chat bots. A good customer service bot could save travel companies money by automating tasks and unclogging call centres. In a day-to-day business scenario, bots could easily handle booking changes which represent a large part of calls received by airlines or travel agencies. In case of a flight disruption, a travel bot could pro-actively offer passengers a seat on the very next flight and handle the booking automatically, without the intervention of any human agent. Imagine just pressing a button and sending your bots to deal with the situation while seeing the process live from your control room.

Saving money and providing better customer service is great, but the next question would then be: could chat bots contribute to generate more sales revenue effectively?

Well, it is really by experimenting all these potential use cases that we will really be able to answer these questions. Stay tuned…