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Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel recalled finding himself at an airport recently and receiving a notfication that his flight was delayed. But there was a personalization aspect that was totally lacking because there was no connection to the other parts of his trip that day, such as his car hire, hotel check-in time, and what beer he wanted in his hotel room minibar when he arrived.
In other words, artificial intelligence – which many travel companies are experimenting with to solve dilemmas like Fogel’s – hasn’t yet become effective and helpful in solving challenges while travelers are on the road.
Fogel, while speaking at Skift Global Forum on September 26 in New York City, said that artificial intelligence is huge and that a lot is happening right now with Priceline investing in the technology. The company, for example, recently acquired an Israeli company, Evature, which specializes in chatbots and artificial intelligence.
“Our vision down the road is to have a system when we’re not like the travel agent down the road who always knew you,” said Fogel. “Our new system will get to know you better. Right now when you’re at the airport, you get a notification that you have a problem but you’re not helping me solve a problem. But how close are we to getting there? We’re not so close.”
Fogel’s Not Worrying About Blockchain Yet
Artificial Intelligence is only one tool that travel companies want to use to disrupt their corners of the industry, but there’s no doubt it’s currently one of the biggest tools they’re working on developing. Other technologies like blockchain, for example, are much lower on Priceline’s list of priorities, Fogel said.
That’s because blockchain technology is complex, said Fogel.
“I don’t have any excellent knowledge of how it’s actually going to work at all,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot longer than anyone thinks. Maybe it’ll be helpful and maybe it won’t but we’re going to keep an eye on it.”
Some companies, such as European tour operator TUI, are already using blockchain, and its CEO argues that the new database type will imperil intermediaries and distribution leaders such as the Priceline Group and Expedia.
“We’re not going to be worrying about it tomorrow or pouring a lot of investment into it. Of course our engineers are curious. But from my understanding, they’re saying ‘there are other things you can panic about.’”
Becoming A North American Household Name
Fogel quipped that Priceline’s progress towards making artificial intelligence actually intelligent has been more of a crawl than sprint.
From a marketing perspective, Fogel also admitted that the Priceline Group also needs to do more to make its brands top-of-mind across North America.
“We’re aware that in places like in North America, we’re not top of mind,” said Fogel. “But one way we’re different than our competitors is that we’re not charging travelers any fee [for vacation rentals or alternative lodging generally]. We need to do a great job so that the American consumer is aware of how great our product is, as anywhere else in the world.
How else will Priceline reach travelers in countries like the U.S. and Canada? Meeting travelers where they likely go every day – such as Facebook and Google – is increasingly important, but the latter still dwarfs Facebook in source traffic, said Fogel.
“With Facebook, we’re continuting to work with them to reach out to their customers to get more people to come to us through Facebook,” he said. “But it’s no secret they’re nowhere near Google when it comes to providing customers.”
Like Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and whatever other popular technology comes next, messaging isn’t as big a part of consumer behavior in North America as it is in other regions, Fogel said.
“But that’s also an area the company plans to experiment more with, said Fogel. “People in America aren’t thinking about messenging platforms when they’re going to travel, but they will down the road.”