Which is better? Human or machine intelligence?

Rashesh Jethi

SVP of Engineering & Head of Innovation for Airlines, Amadeus

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Experts from Amadeus are diving into detail on travel trends for 2020. Learn here about the balance between human and machine intelligence.

Human progress has long been intertwined with intelligence, whether our own or borrowed from others. From the oracles in ancient Greece three thousand years ago, to the science of Operations Research in the last century, we (fallible) human beings regularly seek the counsel of external data to improve our decision-making. 

As such, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) from a decades-long winter of reduced funding and academic focus was not surprising for those of us who follow it closely. The rise of ubiquitous networks, declining computer storage costs and increasing processor speeds mean that AI is back, and with a vengeance. And we can only watch agape at the amazing advances in quantum computing and 5G networking to imagine what tomorrow can bring.

And what the ‘morrow will bring, specifically for those of us in travel tech, is the ability to take ginormous amounts of data from multiple sources, and applying real-time algorithms to discover  actionable insights that help deliver highly contextual and personalized traveler experiences.

AI is the future of customer engagement

In some ways, the future is already here…it is just not evenly distributed.

While aspects of AI, like machine learning, continue to develop and proliferate rapidly into core systems that underpin many travel technology solutions, other facets of AI like natural language processing (NLP) are already offering travel providers the ability to deliver fast and personalized experiences. Increasingly, sophisticated airlines are using passengers’ explicit preferences to offer smarter booking options, and NLP-powered chatbots are providing always-on, intelligent customer communication capabilities. The best part is how these tools can learn from each interaction and improve future interactions.

Additionally, with mobile devices transforming the way we communicate, many airlines have started enabling AI-powered direct bookings and customer communication via text and messaging channels such as WhatsApp. For example, 80% of Booking.com customers prefer to handle their entire booking on their own, and AI helps power this autonomy. Hopper, a mobile-only travel app has 25% of bookings that are made completely by what the app recommends via AI.

On the customer service side, many travelers do not tolerate staying on hold for a call-center queue to open up – they expect instant responses on mobile and online platforms. AI allows businesses to deliver that always-on connection. Major airlines share real-time updates with travelers through automated push notifications and chatbots. KLM has been using its app, Dialogflow, since 2019, and has automated conversations on Facebook Messenger. Amadeus has joined up with Malaysian Airlines to launch MHchat, a new capability that uses AI to allow travelers to book flights and pay through Facebook Messenger.

AI is also starting to show up in travel agency offices. Our travel agency chatbot, Amanda, is a perfect example as it answers more than 1,000 questions on an average day by responding to our travel agency customers quickly, even when a customer service representative is not immediately available to assist.

Machines can replace the human touch… Or can they?

London Heathrow Airport has demonstrated how AI can relieve us of the boredom of mundane, repetitive tasks, while increasing operational efficiency. Its GBP 50 million investment in facial recognition biometrics for departures in summer 2019 creates a seamless traveler experience, reducing the journey time by up to a third, while self-service desks at check-ins and automated baggage drops reduce waiting times by 30%. This frees up agents to provide high-touch assistance in non-standard situations.

While technology continues to provide unprecedented tools to travelers by predicting behaviors, anticipating potential problems and offering proactive solutions, people often still prefer to deal with other people. The IHG/Amadeus Drivers of Change Hospitalityreport revealed that in every area of the travel experience – from booking a taxi to making a complaint – travelers still prefer to have the option to interact with hotel staff over a self-service option or chatbot.

This is where humans come back into the picture. The empathy, intuition and ability to look beneath several layers of data and systems, and to appreciate the problem another human is struggling with, is oftentimes the real business intelligence that provides superior traveler experiences. The most successful travel brands will be those that can empower their front-line people who are delivering this human touch, with technology-enabled capabilities to offer personalized, memorable experiences. 

Click hereto know more about how technology is changing travel and about Amadeus’ travel trends for 2020.

machines can't replace human touch - travel trends 2020

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Chatbots, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data