The internet changed travel planning for most people years ago, but even a high-powered search engine has its limitations when it comes to plotting out the perfect weekend getaway or lengthy European excursion.
Yes, an online search provides plenty of travel options. In fact, it may be too many, so that the would-be traveler is drownin g in information and tempted to settle for the hammock in the backyard.
Online travel planning can be time consuming and impersonal. Travelers are forced to search through dozens of results before finding an offer that matches their needs.
But add a touch of artificial intelligence — or AI — to that search, and things change. Artificial intelligence is essentially a computer system that can perform tasks that normally would require a human, such as voice recognition, visual perception and decision making.
Bringing AI into travel planning means those searches won’t just pick up random key words. AI can figure out the kind of experience a traveler is really after and home in on the best matches.
In other words, artificial intelligence won’t just help you land the lowest rate for a hotel or assist with airline reservations. It also can provide the inspiration for just what kind of adventure you want.
This isn’t quite like hiring C-3PO as your travel agent, but it’s a step in that direction, minus the shiny humanoid form and British accent. In fact, travel agents themselves are able to rely on AI to give their customers better service.
There are plenty of reasons artificial intelligence will transform the travel-planning process. Here are a few:
Machines can learn. A computer program doesn’t exactly learn the way people do, but over time it does detect patterns in the data it collects and makes adjustments in its “knowledge.” So every time a traveler searches, the AI system gets a little smarter. The result is a recommendation engine that understands travel like an expert, factoring in both context and search intent to the results a traveler gets.
A photo finish. Online searches typically involve keywords that need to match words on websites. But artificial intelligence can “look” at a photograph and match it to what you’re searching for. For example, those artificial intelligence algorithms will figure out that a photo of a couple on a beach matches your interest in a romantic anniversary trip.
AI is conversational. With searches assisted by artificial intelligence, travelers don’t have to type the exact right words to get the desired results. They can search in their own words and AI figures out how to get them what they want.
The travel industry hasn’t always kept pace with technological advances. Part of the reason may be that the avalanche of information a typical online search provides is a pain for consumers, but not for the brands themselves. But hotels, tour operators and travel destinations of all sorts may be missing out on business because of the travel-search overload that becomes a game of “Where’s Waldo” for the traveler.
A lot of brands are figuring out that customers want a better experience in the planning stage — and the vacation-inspiration stage — and want to help them. If they can do that, and provide a more pleasant experience every step of the way, then those customers are going to be a lot happier.
Terry Jones is the Founder and chairman of WayBlazer www.wayblazer.ai, a travel technology company. He also is the Founder of Travelocity.com and Founding Chairman of Kayak.com. WayBlazer provides machine-learning technologies to travel companies to help travelers find the best products more quickly and improve shopper conversion.
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