Skift Take

There’s a distinct whiff of nostalgia drifting through the swaying palm trees in San Diego, as corporate travel agencies plug chatbots at the Global Business Travel Association’s annual convention.

Cast your mind back six or seven years, and you’ll remember bots were all the rage in travel.

They’re essentially software designed to automate tasks, and were popular in customer service messaging apps.

Now they’re firmly back on the radars of corporate travel agencies, to help deal with heightened disruption and lighten the burden on consultants.

Several companies have launched new artificial intelligence tools at the Global Business Travel Association annual convention this week. The timing is perfect. Travelers are  almost twice as likely to be delayed this year compared with last year, according to data from the flight tracking app Flightaware.com.

New research also suggests 69 percent of frequent business travelers now expect travel disruption. And nearly three quarters are more likely to use digital tools like apps and virtual agents to help get those disrupted trips back on track, according to corporate travel agency Egencia, which surveyed 2,250 frequent business travelers across France, the UK and the U.S.

Stepping Up

Australia’s Corporate Travel Management used the Global Business Travel Association event as a launchpad for updates to its online booking tool, Lightning, this week. In come new artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, designed to power personalized search results for each booking.

Personalized recommendations into search results mean faster and more relevant results, and less need to make a phone call or send an email. Behind the scenes it has been overlapping algorithms to work with historical booking data, company policies, known preferences and other variables.

The technology is designed to help consultants as well as travelers.

“We’re providing them a similar workflow and functionality that increases their productivity and efficiency,” said Lehi Mills, CTM’s chief product officer, North America, at the convention. “We’re reducing the booking time by up to 30 percent.”

And the greater online adoption should also reduce the amount of labor, or agent transactions, that are typically associated with a travel program, he added. The agency also claims any new customers can use the Lightning’s artificial intelligence capabilitiesto scan data booked with their previous travel management company.

Another agency, American Express Global Business Travel, is also getting in on the act. It wants to “counter travel chaos” with its enhanced disruption management solution Proactive Traveler Care. It now automatically sends recommendations for alternative flights to travelers experiencing disruption, as it constantly monitors travelers’ trips.

Additionally, a new Insights Disruption Dashboard gives travel managers more details into the impact of disruptions on their travel programs.

The Amex GBT also lets travelers share trip changes with friends, partners, colleagues or clients, with a unique website link they send that shows their live tracking status.

Deciphering Emails

But perhaps some of the biggest gains can be made by getting these bots to scan cumbersome emails.

Gant Travel has partnered with tech company Aimendo, which uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing to automate written communication, such as emails and chat messages. It has a tool called Orchestrator that picks out critical information in email travel requests.

“Because of their unstructured nature, email service requests remain one area where agencies must employ significant manual labor to address,” the company said in a statement. “This aspect drives additional cost and productivity limits that can hamper agency efficiency and customer experience.”

Gant has now launched a pilot to “parse” emails to streamline booking and service requests.

Of note, Amadeus announced at the convention that it’s now teamed up with Aimendo to help its travel agency customers become more efficient. Aimendo just happens to be founded by former Amadeus execs Vic Pynn and Ray Pawley.

Aimendo’s natural language automation will be integrated into the Amadeus ecosystem through Amadeus Web Services, as well as the agency’s current ecosystem.

The platform can also calculate costs related to any changes, and charge or refund credit cards, using Amadeus Ticket Changer. Aimendo claims it has an 90-92 percent success rate when extracting, routing and processing requests.

“A travel agency’s biggest differentiator can be customer service,” Amadeus said. “Those who respond to travelers quickly, accurately, and efficiently have an advantage against the competition.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Proactive Traveler Care was a new tool, and that it offered insights, and was able to share trip details.

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Tags: amadeus, american express global business travel, automation, business travel, chatbots, corporate travel, corporate travel management, ctm, egencia, flight delays, labor shortages

Photo credit: More travel agencies are turning to bots to better cope with disrupted journeys. Nasik Lababan / Unsplash