More travel companies are investing in the potential for an AI-powered overhaul of both customer sales and internal operations.
Amazon Web Services had a weeklong conference last week, where it shared a slew of updates to services that travel companies are using to build tools powered by generative AI.
News from the week included details about AI projects from Delta Air Lines, IHG Hotels and Resorts, and Choice Hotels. And Trip.com Group named AWS as its strategic cloud partner in a multi-year contract.
But there were also developments from a wide range of travel companies, including Accor Hotels and Cathay Pacific Airways, and Booking.com.
Here’s what we learned:
Accor Hotels: AI Trip Planning Assistant
Accor Hotels said it is releasing a new AI trip planning assistant powered by generative AI, with plans to integrate it into the company’s booking platform, ALL.com.
The chatbot is meant to help users find rooms based on unique prompts. Beyond recommending rooms, Accor said the tool will also make special offers and make recommendations for other parts of a trip, like ticketed activities, wellness experiences, and food and beverage options.
Built around the machine learning tech from AWS, Accor said the chatbot will make recommendations based on access to personal preferences and past customer reviews. Accor said this will allow the assistant to accommodate guests with complicated needs, such as those looking to combine business and leisure into the same trip.
Another motivation for Accor is to guide users to its direct booking channels, the company said.
“The technology will streamline the booking process down to a matter of minutes, while increasing conversion rate and revenues and reducing call volumes at Accor’s contact center,” Accor said in a statement.
France-based Accor says it encompasses more than 40 hotel brands totaling 5,500 properties in 110 countries.
Cathay Pacific Airways: AI Tools for Operations
Cathay Pacific Airways, the largest airline in Hong Kong, said last week that it has named AWS as its “strategic cloud provider.”
The company plans to establish the Cathay Machine Learning Innovation Hub to develop technologies to enhance certain operations. The company said it has hundreds of ideas for AI and is already trialing more than 50 of them.
So far, those projects have included a tool to predict demand for inflight meals, meant to help minimize food waste. The company is already working on a tool to automate the classification of customer feedback from online and offline channels, meant to improve service speed and response.
For its Cathay Cargo subsidiary, the company is developing a revenue management system meant to help the sales team adjust prices based on demand and availability.
Long-term, Cathay plans to sell the products it develops to other commercial airlines.
Cathay is also developing a tech training program with AWS, with plans to train 1,000 employees, including senior managers, in the next three years.
As part of the deal, Cathay plans to move the majority of its IT systems to the AWS cloud. The company said it has migrated more than half of its older systems to AWS, reducing costs by 40%.
Booking.com: AI Trip Planner
Booking.com in July shared that it would be releasing an AI trip planner chatbot starting for users in the U.S.
Rob Francis, chief technology officer of Booking.com, shared more details about the project during a session at the AWS conference.
The trip planner is a chatbot meant to make personalized recommendations, bookable through the Booking.com app, based on natural language prompts.
While this technology is still in development, experts have said that large companies like Booking are more likely to have success with these types of AI planners because they already have access to large swaths of data.
Francis said during the AWS conference that the AI planner was built in collaboration with an AWS product that allows the AI to make recommendations by accessing customer data about past experiences. It also has access to years of data from customers reviews, which helps inform the AI about bookings that more closely match what the customer is looking for.
Francis has been talking about the potential of AI capturing a user’s “intent” since shortly after the first generative AI models were released. As he said during Skift’s Future of Lodging Forum this year: Someone may type in that they want a “cheesy” property. Booking.com wouldn’t necessarily create a filter for that world — but machine learning could find the type of property they’re looking for.
Francis previously said that he expects the nature of search to change in the future, with uniquely rendered homepages based on the intent and habits of individual customers.
Booking.com manages 150 petabytes of data, Francis said, and began working with AWS in 2021 as a way to improve data limitations and embrace newer technologies. The booking platform connects to 28 million lodging accommodations, flights to 54 countries, 52,000 rental car locations, and thousands of ticketed attractions.
The team at Booking.com is now exploring other ways it can build products for customers and travel product suppliers.
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Photo credit: Pictured: A jet from Cathay Pacific N509FZ / Wikicommons