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ARRIVALS SPEAKING OUT

The future of chatbots Ending an industry hiatus There’s much hype surrounding the rise of chatbots, but is 2018 the year of widespread adoption? Mezi’s Johnny Thorsen puts forward the case Until now the travel industry hasn’t been able to take advantage of the unlimited number of customer interactions processed via online travel solutions. In fact, all we knew about a user when they booked via a browser-based or mobile app is who they were and what they bought (or at least what they searched for). Travel planning lends itself perfectly to the automation and personalisation that artificial intelligence and machine learning can provide. AI can help understand the traveller’s preferences like a human travel agent can, while machine learning can help finetune the

most personalised recommendations based on the traveller’s preferences and instant analysis of large numbers of similar conversations from the past. As a result, I expect to see chatbots representing 20% or more of transactions in the corporate booking world by 2020. So, what does this mean for human jobs? As the presence of chatbots increases, so does the fear that AI will replace many jobs. However, AI will never replace human expertise completely. AI, machine learning and algorithms are developed to do specific tasks, but cannot think on their own or beyond what has been programmed to be processed. The technology does not have the complex systems of a human mind. While job functions for humans may shift, or new jobs may be created due to AI, robots will never completely take over. For instance, there will be scenarios in which it fails to understand the traveller’s need accurately and assume the wrong preferences. In such scenarios, it's important requests are seamlessly transferred instantly to a human travel agent so that the service never fails even if the AI fails. Currently, with Mezi, 60% of requests are handled without human intervention and we hope to shift that to 80% looking ahead to 2018. With these uncertainties looming, who will embrace chatbots? Frequent business travellers and millennials are drawn to booking tools that utilise

AI and machine learning because they provide convenience. The immediacy of the process is facilitated through a text message-style interface, which is how most people are used to communicating on a day-to-day basis. In fact, AI for travel provides a re-launch of the “personal travel assistant” back in the digital version. Millennials and very frequent travellers are used to heavy multitasking. To them, the idea of being forced to remain active in a travel search for multiple minutes to avoid a “session timeout” is very frustrating. Chat technology removes the requirement as conversations can remain active for

While job functions for humans may shift, or new jobs may be created due to AI, robots will never completely take over” hours and even days making it far more compelling to use in a multitasking environment. Despite the arrival of smartphones some ten years ago we haven’t really changed the process and workflow associated with travel searching and booking. AI chatbot technology makes it possible to finally create a truly personal end-to-end travel experience. Once users realise that they actually get a more personal service based on their past behavior and decisionmaking they will find it increasingly hard to go back and use a service which doesn’t offer this capability.

JOHNNY THORSEN Johnny Thorsen is VP of Travel Strategy and Partnerships at Mezi, an AI-powered personal travel assistant. He has over 20 years of experience helping usher in new technology that has changed the corporate travel landscape.

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Speaking out.indd 14

1/26/18 09:53 AM

The Business Travel Magazine February/March 2018  

The multi-award-winning publication written and produced for bookers, buyers, arrangers and managers of business travel and meetings. This i...

The Business Travel Magazine February/March 2018  

The multi-award-winning publication written and produced for bookers, buyers, arrangers and managers of business travel and meetings. This i...