A decade ago, if you had fancied a vacation to the Bahamas, it will take at least or half of it to plan and get the itinerary in place. Booking flight tickets required visiting multiple travel agents in person, comparing costs, and then fixing an agreement with the best of the lot. Then there was planning the itinerary, choosing the place of stay, mode of commute — all of which is not for those who take traveling lightly. Here are chatbots for travel and tourism — travel experience made better.
If you are someone like me, packing the rucksack, wait until a few hours before the flight takes off. Meticulous travel planning is not my cup of tea. Luckily for folks like me, chatbots are taking over travel planning. Along with it, they are also reforming travel and hospitality as we know it for good.
Here are some real-world applications that are out there right now. The next time you even think of planning a vacation, you might stumble upon them or their likes.
Real-world chatbot applications in travel and tourism
What can chatbots possibly do in travel planning?
Aren’t they supposed to be super-complicated software systems that only large enterprises use?
Well, this is one of the myths that has shrouded chatbots as a mystery technology. The fact is, chatbots are logic-based programs that can be used even for basic functionalities. That makes them a perfect fit for the travel and tourism industry, where the scale of low-priority and high-volume* transactions is high.
*Low-priority — frequently asked questions that can be easily addressed by a system without the intervention of a human agent.
High-volume — hundreds, thousands, or even more simultaneous real-time transactions.
1. Integrating instant messengers with chatbots
Instant messengers have literally replaced emails and text messages for quick messaging. They are fast, convenient, and save a lot of time. Imagine the convenience they can introduce to the travel and tourism industry?
Let’s take that convenience one step ahead. What if chatbots can converse through instant messengers. As you are reading this piece, there could be countless conversations happening on instant messengers that are being led by chatbots. In fact, WhatsApp, which has become the de-facto medium for instant messaging, offers chatbot integration. Other messengers like Facebook are also popularly used by travelers.
Business owners like tour operators, hotel property owners, travel aggregators, etc., can use chatbots to automate conversations with customers. The IM-chatbot integration makes it possible for travel businesses to have an always-available virtual assistant who can respond to guests through instant messages. In fact, airlines are already using IMs to send boarding passes and flight details to travelers.
Source: Airline Staff Rates
What benefits do integrating a chatbot with an instant messenger offer?
- It spares the business owner from having to initiate basic conversations.
- Standard or canned responses to frequent queries can be handled by the chatbot.
- The user gets a trail of information in an instant messaging app that they use the most.
2. Make ticket bookings based on real-time fare comparisons
Like I mentioned earlier, flight ticket bookings have taken the online route. Millennial customers have, in fact, moved to the mobile route where travel aggregator apps and flight booking apps make things easier than ever before.
However, there is one challenge that is still troubling travelers. Finding the best flight tickets. If you have tried booking a flight ticket before, you know how the ticket cost fluctuates with a mind of their own. It is complicated even for a net-savvy person to stay track of it. Also, it is almost impossible to comb through all airline websites to find the best fare.
Can chatbots help here? Of course, they can. Like how they facilitate booking management for travel business owners, chatbots can help travelers find the best flight tickets as well.
A chatbot can help determine how much each airline is charging for a flight cost from New Zealand to Copa on a given day. The search gives class-wise details that make it easy to book or look for alternative options instantly.
Skyscanner, a popular website for finding flight ticket prices, has already surpassed one million chatbot interactions (eConsultancy Interview with Filip Filipov, Skyscanner). If the user is not satisfied with the ongoing price, they can instruct the chatbot to set a price alert. The chatbot will notify the user when there is a price change. This is akin to having a personal travel agent who finds the best flight tickets at the nick of the time.
Image Credit: Chatbots Life
3. Facilitate web check-ins
Chatbots can help travelers initiate web check-ins for flights or hotels through a chatbot for social media, instant messenger, or a website. Sounds too futuristic? Well, the truth is most have already used the airline website for web check-ins. A chatbot can make the chore a tidbit easier by enabling you to do it from your mobile phone.
Image Credit: Engati
This has several benefits to it:
- You can check-in if you are stuck in traffic en route to the airport.
- If you don’t have access to a computer
- Or make use of premium member privileges that are available only on mobile.
4. Sketch a detailed travel itinerary
Until recently, there were two types of travel: business and leisure. But, millennials who value experiences more than material possessions are using their business travels for leisure as well. This has led to the formation of a new travel type: Bleisure.
Bleisure is travel where business matters and leisure activities are taken care of in the same trip. According to Forbes, Bleisure trips are growing by 20% since 2016. While leisure sounds great as a concept, it poses unique challenges for the traveler. To begin with, finding nearby attractions for exploration.
Of course, there are travel websites, blogs, and magazines that describe at length where to go, when, and how. However, they are usually written from a leisure travel perspective and do not consider leisure.
For millennials who want to make the best use of the opportunity, a chatbot based recommender system can help. The chatbot, which was probably used to book the flight ticket, can suggest nearby attractions. The traveler can plan the itinerary and also avail of deals for hotel bookings. In short, it is a win-win situation for all the parties involved.
Source: Chatbots Life
5. Customer Support— 24/7
Chatbots do not need recesses, holidays, or weekends off. They are always available. You can make them work on your website, mobile app, or even integrate them with the social handles of your business. That makes them perfect for donning the hat of customer support professionals.
In their customer service role, chatbots can offer:
- Real-time flight status updates
- Request for change in hotel arrival times
- Cab or hotel service requests
- Book restaurant tables
If you think about it, travel is a global phenomenon. Travelers are not always from the same time zone or destination. This can cause serious staffing issues in the support department of a travel business. A chatbot can fill the void by fending basic queries that come in large volumes from customers.
What’s more fascinating is that a single chatbot can handle dozens or more queries at the same time from multiple customers. Compared to that, a single customer service rep can handle only one customer at a time. That is a huge leap in productivity that we are looking at.
Travel is a personal and intimate experience. For the experience-driven millennial generation, it is one of the priorities in life. Like everything else, travel businesses must also take efforts to improve the customer experience with the aid of technology. Chatbots provide just the means for that.
They enable travelers to make quick travel plans, sketch out a travel itinerary, avail the best deals on hotel bookings, and much more. They provide the convenience of on-the-go lifestyle arrangements that mobile has made us accustomed to.
Still more, chatbots will enable travel business owners to maximize their productivity without shooting their own foot with hefty costs.
Be it for travelers or travel businesses; chatbots prove to be worthy virtual companions.