First of all, what are bots and how do they work?

A bot is a piece of software which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to mimic human interaction. In doing so, it can respond to natural questioning in a manner that belies its pre-programmed, digital brain.

Facebook, among others, is betting big on bots, because it knows the importance of delivering technology that makes the lives of consumers easier. In April 2016, Facebook launched a series of tools that enabled developers to build intelligent virtual assistants into their popular Messenger platform, kickstarting the ‘chatbot’ revolution.

Research suggests that over 45% of consumers would prefer to use messaging platforms over email when contacting businesses, but how useful is this technology in the travel industry?

The perfect travel companion

The travel AI & Bots of today provide assistance with rudimentary aspects of travel. They can usually undertake the following tasks:

  • Availability and rate search (“How much should I expect to pay for a hotel room in central London on fifth of May?”)
  • Hotel bookings (“Please book me a room for two nights at the Crown Hotel on tenth of October”)
  • Change of plans (“I’m running late for my flight. Please rebook me on the first available flight tomorrow morning”)
  • Ground transportation (“I’ll need a taxi on arrival, please”)

Bots excel at information delivery, because they combine the ability to process natural questioning and inference with access to vast arrays of data that range from hotel availability to detailed destination information.

Chat bots may finally represent a way of delivering the hassle-free experience so many business travellers desire; if a bot can mix personal travel data with destination content, it could become the perfect companion.

For instance, at each stage of the traveller’s journey, a travel bot can provide contextualised, relevant information in response to questions asked. And because bots are usually accessible from any device, the traveller will only have to turn to their smartphone when they have a query.

The role of artificial intelligence

Travel chatbots will get smarter as artificial intelligence (AI) technology improves, and AI is developing at a rapid pace.

Despite this, AI still needs to work from a predefined set of rules, and in travel that means relying on a number of data sources. For example, for a bot to work effectively, it needs access to a traveller’s profile and preferences, their transaction history and the rules set out by the travel vendor.

Once an AI-driven system such as a chatbot has access to such data, it can deliver a service that is best for both the traveller and the business they’re contacting.

How to make the most of bots and AI for your business travel

The key to making the most of bots for business travel lies in empowering employees to research their own travel arrangements and seeking opportunities to engage directly with travel companies.

Bots can be found within online messaging systems implemented on hotel and transportation booking websites, and if travellers know they’re free (within reason) to engage with such services in order to find the most cost-effective routes and fares, the business should see the results in lower costs and fewer expense claims.

An open booking policy will increasingly become a prerequisite for businesses looking to take advantage of chat bots to satisfy their travellers.

The future of travel bots

We’ve learned that bots and the AI driving them is advancing at a rapid pace, but what does that mean for the future of travel booking?

The next wave of travel bots is expected to get increasingly self-sufficient, by drawing on advanced AI to predict booking requirements, build traveller profiles, assist with disruption avoidance and increase the uptake of loyalty programs.

This should result in a super-fast booking process and travel arrangements that are hassle-free for the employee – delivering tangible cost savings for the business and increasing employee satisfaction.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that future?