Skift Take

Voice-based chat was hyped years ago but faded fast. The latest gains in artificial intelligence could make voice-powered search useful at last. Marketers, take note.

Online travel company MakeMyTrip is rolling out a voice chat service powered by artificial intelligence (AI), becoming the country’s second major company after Tata-owned Air India to harness recent advances in generative AI. Last month, the airline said it is using GPT4 — the latest version of the revolutionary chatbot ChatGPT — to improve its FAQ section, pilot briefings, and more. MakeMyTrip will use Microsoft’s Azure Open AI technology for the chat, initially available in English and Hindi, the company said in a statement. The voice assistant will appear on the company’s mobile app and the front page of its travel site and is designed to help users book flights and holidays. “This Generative AI integration through our collaboration with Microsoft involves simple visual cues and voice commands in native Indian languages that will alter the landscape of travel bookings henceforth,” said Rajesh Magow, co-founder and group CEO of MakeMyTrip. The interface will analyze specific user requirements and sift through thousands of options to recommend more relevant holiday packages. For example, it can summarize hotel reviews and extract individual traveler impressions. The goal is to elevate the hotel booking experience by offering personalized and relevant information to the user without having to scroll through multiple reviews. 

Sri Lanka aims to attract 2 million Indian tourists this year, having welcomed 46,432 travelers to the country in the first three months of 2023 already, said Sri Lanka Tourism Minister Harin Fernando. The island country earned around $530 million in the first quarter of 2023, compared to $482.3 million in the same period last year. “We expect to generate a total of $3 billion in tourism revenue this year,” said Fernando. India has also regained the top inbound market for Sri Lanka’s tourism market after six months, as about 20,000 Indian tourists arrived in the island nation in April this year. “Sri Lanka features a varied range of attractions and offerings, including wellness and yoga, beaches, shopping, cuisine, adventure, and wildlife, in addition to its extensive legacy dating back 2,500 years. Furthermore, the Ramayana circuit, a religious travel initiative, is a strong draw for the Indian market,” added Fernando. 

Hotel operator Accor has opened Novotel Jodhpur ITI Circle in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. The 93-room hotel is located 2.5 miles away from Jodhpur railway station and 4.3 miles from Jodhpur’s airport. Last year, the French hospitality major announced plans to densify its portfolio in the country by adding nine new hotels across its midscale and economy categories — including brands like Novotel, Mercure, and ibis — particularly in tier-II and III cities. The Novotel network, with 22 operational hotels now, forms the country’s largest network of mid-scale hotels, with properties in key cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Goa, Jaipur and Hyderabad. Accor is also looking to debut Novotel Bhubaneswar Janpath Road soon.

Indian aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation has granted Less Paper Cockpit approval to low-cost carrier IndiGo. This means the airline now needn’t carry the heavy ‘technical paper manuals that weigh about 40 kilograms in its aircraft cockpit. The robustness of its processes, iOS ecosystem, and world practices followed, with trials and safety risk assessment were proving points for the regulator to authorize IndiGo’s Less Paper Cockpit program, the airline said in a statement. “By replacing paper manuals with iPads, we have taken a big step towards strengthening digitization and increasing sustainability. The initiative will not only further diminish the usage of paper but also help the airline to reduce its carbon footprint,” said Captain Ashim Mittra, senior vice president of flight operations at IndiGo.  

Club Mahindra, the flagship brand of vacation ownership company Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India, has announced the addition of 17 new properties and resorts in exotic locations around the world to its portfolio. Among the latest acquisitions, the India properties include the Courtyard Villa, River Villa, Isha Vilas and Orchard Villa in Goa, Bhanu The Fern Forest Resort & Spa Jambughoda in Gujarat, Dulwich Estate in Panchgani in Maharashtra, Yashshree Lachung in Sikkim and Starlit Suites Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. In March, the company announced its plans to add 2,100 more rooms in the next five to six years with an investment of around $220 million.

Indian aviation watchdog Directorate General of Civil Aviation has directed cash-strapped airline Go First to stop the sale of tickets with immediate effect till further orders, the regulator said in a statement. It has also issued a show cause notice to Go First for its failure to continue operations reliably. The regulator said it had asked the airline to submit its reply within 15 days of the receipt of the notice, further which a decision on the continuation of its Air Operators Certificate would be taken based on the reply submitted. Earlier, the airline had suspended the sale of tickets till May 15 and canceled flights till May 12 after its bankruptcy filing, blaming “faulty” Pratt & Whitney engines for the grounding of about half its fleet. 

Saudi Arabia has begun to implement an e-visa service for Indians arriving from India, eliminating the traditional visa sticker system on passports. Now only a QR code needs to be read to extract the visa details. However, the visa information is being sent to the registered email ID of visa holders, and the same can be printed on an A4 size paper to prove they are the ones who obtained the visa. In its first phase, the e-visa initiative came into effect on May 1 in India, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Earlier in March, India had restored e-visa services for Saudi nationals wanting to visit the country. Services were suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Homegrown hospitality company Suba Group of Hotels, a master franchisee of Choice Hotels India, has launched Clarion Hotel, formally known as Clarks Collection Dehradun, in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. The 27-room property is easily accessible by road, rail, and air via Dehradun airport. “The opening of the Clarion Hotel in Dehradun allows us to further establish our presence in North India. It’s our goal to keep expanding across the country’s most popular tourist destinations,” said Mubeen Mehta, CEO of Suba Group of Hotels. In July last year, Choice Hotels signed a 15-year deal with the Suba Group to transition from a direct franchise market to a master franchise model. Suba had then assumed the responsibility as the master franchise holder for 58 of its properties open and under development.


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Tags: accor, artificial intelligence, chatgpt, generative ai, india, indigo, makemytrip, microsoft, novotel, online travel agencies, saudi arabia, skift india report, sri lanka, visas

Photo credit: MakeMyTrip's voice assistant will appear on its app and the front page of its travel site. Source: Flickr Flickr / Flickr

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