Though bots still aren't completely frictionless and can't think like a human (yet), they certainly offer a way for consumers to have a conversation with a brand during the booking process that wasn't possible before. And it is potentially a very cheap channel for the brands.
Since major messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and workplace-chat app Slack introduced bots earlier this year, four travel brands — Kayak, Skyscanner and most recently Expedia.com and Cheapflights— have launched bots of their own.
Bots are artificial intelligence platforms that use instant messaging as an application interface. Facebook Messenger and Slack users, for example, can add these bots to friends lists and send messages to bots just like they’d message one of their friends. But with bots, consumers are talking to a database or program and not actually communicating with a human.
Though bots have only been available to developers for a few months, more travel bots will likely come online as brands learn how consumers in travel and other industries use them.
Hyatt Hotels, which began using Facebook Messenger in November 2015 to answer guests’ queries, let them make reservations and check availability, uses its customer relations staff to help guests on the platform. Hyatt told Skift, “creating and deploying a Facebook Messenger bot is something that we will explore in the future.”
Along with Hyatt, at least five other travel-related companies, including KLM, Booking.com, Lola, Uber and Lyft have integrated with Facebook Messenger. With KLM, Booking.com and Hyatt’s Messenger accounts travelers are actually messaging a human customer service representative, not a bot, for those brands. And travelers can order an Uber or Lyft ride through Messenger by searching for either brand and tapping the car icon below the message field.
Following are descriptions of the four travel bots. We start with Expedia.com, the most recent travel Facebook Messenger bot that launched this week:
Expedia.com’s Facebook Messenger bot (video) lets travelers book hotels. They can search for Expedia in Messenger and then begin answering questions that the bot fields, such as the traveler’s destination, travel dates and how many nights. After answering questions the bot says it’s finding travelers “the best deals” and serves travelers “five of the most popular hotels for those dates.”
Travelers can then select a hotel to view more details and complete a booking themselves. Once a booking is confirmed the bot resurfaces to reconfirm the booking and provide itinerary information.
“We are still in the early experimental stages with the Expedia bot for Messenger, but we’re excited about the opportunity to engage with travelers over this new medium,” Expedia said in a blog post.
“The Expedia bot is currently available to Messenger users worldwide, however it only currently supports English. The Expedia bot will also send booking confirmations for bot conversations started from Messenger. We’re working to expand its availability and the ways you can interact with it in the coming months.”
Cheapflights’ Facebook Messenger bot (video) helps travelers book both flights and hotels. There is also an “Inspire Me” component in which the bot will suggest places to go based on the conversation a traveler is having.
Kayak’s Slack bot has developed flight and hotel search. Slack users can navigate here and add Kayak search to Slack. Once it is added, users can then perform a query like this: “/kayak flights from newark to paris france April 4 to April 11.”
Kayak will retrieve a handful of flight choices, but then the user has to navigate to Kayak.com or the Kayak app to continue the search for that flight. After that the user would have to choose whether to book the relatively small percentage of flights that are available on Kayak or get transferred to a third-party site to continue the search and complete the booking.
Skyscanner Facebook Messenger bot helps travelers book flights. Travelers search for the Skyscanner bot within Messenger and it asks for an origin and destination. It then yields results for the “cheapest prices,” according to Skyscanner, for flights to a particular destination. Once travelers select a flight they want to book the bot directs them to Skyscanner’s site where they can complete a booking. The bot currently only responds to queries in English.
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Photo credit: Kayak has a booking bot tool that can be used on Slack, the messaging and productivity platform. Skift