Cutting edge technologies such as voice and AI dominated the discussion at the EyeforTravel North America Summit earlier this month.
Two weeks ago the industry elite gathered in Las Vegas for the EyeforTravel North America Summit. The last vestiges of the Route 91 country music festival were a stark reminder of the terrible tragedy that had shaken this beloved city. With this atrocity at the forefront of our minds, the leaders in travel rallied round and came in their droves to show their support at the Mandalay Bay. A heartfelt opener from Chuck Bowling, President and COO at Mandalay Bay followed a minute’s silence for the victims. He expressed his gratitude to the crowd saying, “You coming here to support this destination is meaningful.” He went on to explain how travel is so important for the city and how it was down to us to spread the word that Las Vegas is still open for business.
Without a doubt, the key message that came out of the event is that voice, personalisation and AI are set to transform the travel industry. And, not surprisingly with this type of digital disruption, the expectations of consumers are increasing, especially as touch points with brands increase and diversify. In a recent study by business management consultant, Accenture, an astonishing 84% of 14-to-17 year olds currently use or are interested in using the voice-enabled digital assistant in their smartphone. Stats like these just highlight the necessity of travel companies to be prepared to communicate with their customers in a way they are familiar with. As if to support this proposition, Sagar Desai, VP Acquisitions and Development at Viceroy Hotels claimed that for hotel companies to grow in the next 5-10 years they need to become tech companies.
“The New Canvas is Conversation. Human language is the new UI, bots are the new apps and digital assistants are meta apps”
Stuart Greif, Senior Executive - Travel/Hospitality, OSR & Transportation Industry Solutions, Microsoft
The message regarding the power of digital in travel resonated in a fantastic presentation from Stuart Greif, Senior Executive - Travel/Hospitality, OSR & Transportation Industry Solutions at Microsoft. He talked about how AI is not just machine learning - it is both visual and digital. He explained that nearly two thirds of consumers are regularly placed on hold by a call centre, leading the large majority to hang up and be left with that bitter taste of feeling undervalued. However, Greif revealed that there is a solution - conversational bots. According to Gartner, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with business without ever interacting with a human. Juniper Research predicts chatbots will be responsible for cost savings of over $8 billion annually. So it seems the supporting facts and figures are there and the consumers are well versed (42% of consumers already use digital assistants say PWC), so what’s holding the industry back?
Another travel innovator, Hotel Tonight (a mobile app that helps users book discounted hotel accommodation) have been implementing AI to help improve their customer experience. Sam McDonnell, CTO, explained that getting mobile right is hard so they’ve been using machine learning to look at all their data and translating it into the best 15 hotel results for each of their customers. He added that “it may seem obvious but these are highly personalised”. Implementing this accurate modelling means that the company can serve customers equally well, regardless of whether they are repeat customers or first timers. McDonnell hastened to add that “machine learning is not the silver bullet” and that AI should be used very wisely before replacing the human touch.
Returning to the question of inhibitors to progress, of course concerns were expressed about robots taking over Terminator-style. In fact Utpal Kaul, Head New Product Incubation at Carlson Wagonlit even stated that AI will eliminate the need for front desk staff at hotels in recent years, fuelling fears of job losses. Furthermore, Pew Research recently reported that 70% of Americans feel wariness or concern about a world where machines perform many of the tasks done by humans. However, I think it is clear that we are not replaceable. Our job functions may differ in the future but a machine can’t replace the real human flair. That’s why building humans into the loop is an essential part of this transition to digital. The risk of not adopting such technologies is a surely greater risk to a company (and thus their workers’) survival.
The Startup Awards
Aptly, with all this discussion about the role of voice and AI, the event set the stage for the 2017 Startup Awards, when ten startups battled it out to take home the crown. These newly born travel technology companies are at the forefront of this digital takeover and leading the way in innovation. Their solutions provide hotels, airlines and other enterprises to overcome some of the key challenges that they face around cost cutting, customer service and efficiency.
In a nail biting final, Dazzle by Lola Tech claimed victory over Bizly. The UK based company is the epitome of bleeding edge travel technology, as it improves the communication between guest and hotel through the use of voice, AI and chatbot functionality. It is just one of many exciting new businesses that are set to overhaul the travel industry in the years to come.
This enpointe event opened my eyes to a whole new side of the travel industry. We are in the midst of a truly transformative era and I’m excited to see where we are heading. Digital disruption may indeed incite fear but it is crucial to bring about the next level of hospitality.
About the Author
Sophie Farrow is marketing and events lead at Lola Tech. Lola Tech is a pioneering airline software business leading the field in travel tech innovation. Supporter of Dazzle, a voice activated personal assistant for the hotel industry.
About Lola Tech
Lola Tech is a pioneering airline software business leading the field in travel tech innovation. With big-name clients across the world, it helps airline and tourism operators become more competitive with stronger, more scaleable systems and ground-breaking interfaces.
Dazzle is a voice activated personal assistant. It sits in the hotel bedroom, incorporating voice and chatbot technology it uses a hybrid of Artificial Intelligence and hotel staff to deliver guests information or lodge requests. Dazzle solves the issue of lodging non time critical service requests from a hotel in or out of your room and automating the delivery of location specific information. Please visit www.dazzle.ai for more information.