Ohio-based ATG Business Travel Management plans by mid-2020 to release a voice-powered booking application thanks to a strategic partnership with IBM. 

Backed by historical travel and expense data, business traveler profiles and company policies, the new booking function will be “more than a chatbot,” according to Tammy Krings, CEO at ATG Worldwide. Krings claimed that essentially “nothing has changed” for online booking tools since their introduction 25 years ago. 

“They have outlived their usefulness,” she said. “They’re no longer helping employees be productive. We’re seeing travel arrangers taking the order internally and then making the booking.

“Instead of having travelers walk through menus, we can offer them the most likely, policy-compliant option,” Krings said during a Monday interview. “People are used to doing work on their phones, and they’re used to talking to Siri. I’d love to tell Siri, ‘I need to be in Boston on Tuesday,’ and have a trip booked based on the knowledge that when I go to Boston, I like the first flight out, an overnight stay, the 5 p.m. flight home, and no rental car but instead a preferred car service. Essentially, ‘The same trip as last time?’ and I say, ‘Yes.’ ”

ATG Worldwide CEO Tammy Krings

The voice booking solution first will accommodate English, followed by German, French and Spanish.

Krings has multiple pricing models in mind, but did not detail them. “Clients are willing to pay for something better,” she said. “This is an opportunity to have a conversation beyond a transaction.”

A later phase would address en-route servicing and disruption management. “You pick up the phone and say, ‘I have an emergency,’ and it knows where to call,” Krings explained. 

The company moved the hosting of some of its software, including data reporting, to IBM’s Cloud Kubernetes platform. ATG uses Microsoft Azure as well. The two clouds back up one another.

Kubernetes is an open source tool that helps manage cloud applications. The planned travel booking app uses artificial intelligence from IBM’s Watson Assistant. Watson Assistant helps users build conversational interfaces on any application, device or channel. The IBM partnership also allows ATG to take advantage of programming help through IBM Garage. 

Loads of players are attempting to create new ways for business travelers to make bookings and interact with agents. HelloGbye partnered with American Express Global Business Travel to streamline email requests. FCM Travel Solutions uses natural language and artificial intelligence technology from 30SecondsToFly in its Sam app. Serko created a visual digital assistant for bookings and changes.

ATG Worldwide provides services in more than 80 countries, according to its website.

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