We are currently amidst the bleakest period the travel industry has ever experienced.
NB: This is an article from Innovation & Tech Today
There continues to be tremendous pressure on the entire travel supply chain to reduce operating costs and labor while demand remains devastatingly low. Even with the positive progress on vaccines and stimulus, this cost control pressure will not subside for the foreseeable future. There is an industry-wide need to provide an easier travel planning experience that is not labor-intensive.
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Answers may lie in Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP is a subfield of artificial intelligence focused on the processing and analysis of both spoken and written languages. An NLP application could provide the mechanism for planning and booking a full travel experience. Only with exceptions and errors being sent to an experienced travel agent for analysis and discussion.
NLP technology is not new. Grammar checkers, autocorrection engines, and email spam filters using NLP have been mainstays for years. Voice assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, are also examples of NLP coupled with speech recognition technology. Like Uber and Disney, each of these solutions has changed our behavioral norms, many of which we now take for granted. NLP provides both the strategic direction and a means to change the traveler booking experience permanently.
In 2020, major milestones were achieved in NLP. Microsoft, Google, and OpenAI all made significant progress this past year with understanding and interpreting conversational language. Natural Language Processing has recently shown the ability to correctly complete sentences, summarize documents, and provide direct answers to complex questions. Just this fall, OpenAI’s GPT-3 language generator platform wrote a 500-word op-ed to convince all of us that robots really do come in peace.
Here are a few areas where NLP could significantly change the travel planning experience.
Agent assist for complex itineraries
For the more challenging travel planning, NLP could assist experienced travel agents, reducing the time, errors, and cost associated with planning.
Take, for example, a multi-country European business trip that includes air, rail, ground, and lodging, each with negotiated corporate rates. NLP could support the agent by listening to the conversation and recognizing key search parameters, like destination, date, and preferences. The agent would receive relevant search responses and options, with any corporate travel policy applied. This reduces time and removes any data entry errors. It also allows the agent to focus their energy on making recommendations and recognizing either risks or better alternatives within an itinerary.
Conversational chatbots for planning
Conversational chatbots have been used in many customer service industries, but they are not pervasive within travel planning websites.
There are already great travel research and review websites, such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, for determining what experiences are available within a specific city. But they do not include a conversational aspect. With NLP’s prediction modeling capabilities, the conversational chatbot could inspire a unique experience during the travel planning process.
For this example, take a leisure traveler thinking about a Caribbean vacation. Within the initial dialogue, an NLP-enabled chatbot could offer up the typical questions a travel agent would ask regarding this region of the world, such as interests in activities like SCUBA or snorkeling, culinary interests, or cultural attractions. By just asking one or two probing questions, the chatbot could inspire new ideas or interests.
Say I am interested in snorkeling, but not SCUBA. The chatbot could ask a simple follow-up question, “Why not SCUBA?” My answer may be that I have never been trained. With this input, the chatbot could then suggest that I easily get certified on the same vacation with just a few hours of training my first two days, including my first dive.
Take this single example and now multiply it across every choice made during vacation planning. While many decisions may lead back to the originally stated desire, the opportunity to prompt thought around new and unexpected experiences can make vacation planning more inspirational.