Checking the AI hype against reality in travel


While artificial intelligence (AI) has made headlines in the past year, some members in the travel circle believe that the platform is “overhyped” and should not intimidate smaller travel players.

“It’s still okay if your company has not adopted AI yet. It’s just computers making sense of data,” expressed Jonathan Hardy, managing director, Asia Pacific, ADARA, speaking at Digital Travel APAC in Singapore yesterday.

Chatbots have risen in popularity in recent years, but it is not a one-size-fits-all solution

Due to the “huge range” of functions of AI that allows, Hardy suggests that greenhorns can get familiarised by starting with simple programming and side-personalisation.

Another easy introduction to AI applications is the chatbot, which has proven popular in recent years. However, industry players are cautioning against careless use of this solution.

Stephan Keschelis, vice president ecommerce & digital transformation, NH Hotel Group, shared: “Chatbots are good for improving usability, and you can access chat logs to see areas of improvement. However, hotel bookings come with a lot of fine print that can be hard to throw at the customer with just a bot.

“We have to be very sensitive, especially when the customer wants to compare rates that are not comparable – such as room types, and rooms with and without breakfast,” he remarked.

“Bots are useful for standardised processes, but it doesn’t substitute human agents.”

Timothee Semelin, corporate director digital marketing and transformation, Rosewood Hotel Group, shared that the group is only looking at chatbots for select brands such as Pentahotels and not for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, as it does not fit the luxury brand profile of the latter.

What is also lacking, opined Hardy, is awareness outside of industry forums about data privacy and how data works. He said: “There needs to be massive education and awareness about how to use it. There have to be expectations about consent and guidelines, with a model that can be rolled out across different markets.”

Drawing from Delta’s recent hacked chatbot – which released its customer data to a public domain – Hardy advised companies to “make sure your chatbot vendor is robust enough”, in order to avoid turning the positive feature “into a negative in just moments”.

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