Expedia today unveiled a rather smart, rather simple little bot for Facebook Messenger. The bot is designed to do one thing and do it well: It helps travelers book hotels. What’s more, the bot is extremely intuitive. As in easy-to-use.
For the tech savvy, this may seem like a big “duh,” but simplicity matters given that bots are still in their infancy and Expedia’s customer base spans all walks of life: the company owns more than 200 travel booking sites from Orbitz to HomeAway to Trivago to Hotels.com.
While the bot took only about 5 weeks to develop, Expedia got a head start in making it so smart.
“Our work with natural language processing and machine learning – the tools that helped get us here – have been going on for years,” said Tarran Street, senior public relations manager. “For us it’s all about experimentation to better understand travelers’ needs. The rise of mobile means people are starting to move away from the mouse and traditional keyboard, we want to be sure our products are available wherever travelers are searching.”
In a blog post on the company web site, David Fleischman, vice president of global product, described the bot’s use of natural language processing, “The bot operates on a structured conversation flow: it analyzes information provided and prompts the user to input other relevant data points to complete a search.”
Expedia’s bot for Facebook Messenger is a marriage of giants. The travel company booked more than $60 billion of travel for its customers across 282,000 hotels, 475 airlines and dozens of car rental companies.
Facebook Messenger, meanwhile, has 900 million registered users; Expedia has 5.9 million followers on Facebook. It’s likely that booking hotels is just the beginning of a broader more comprehensive messaging strategy.