Michael Jacques On How AI, Machine Learning And Chatbots Will Impact Managed Travel

From The FieldThere are lots of buzzwordy technologies coming to the fore. We use many of them in our everyday lives whether or not we realize it, and they are making their way to corporate travel. Some real-world applications already are in play while other use cases are just now starting to emerge. Lumo chief commercial officer Michael Jacques provides a primer on the 21st Century tech that’s helping to push innovation in travel.


There’s an evolution underway. Artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, machine learning and chatbots are here in our lives and there’s more coming. Before discussing how these technologies are used today and will impact managed travel in the future, let’s review some definitions.

Artificial intelligence: When technology performs functions previously done by humans

Machine learning: A type of artificial intelligence where software creates future predictions by learning from past behavior

Chatbots: A chat app or virtual assistant programmed to perform tasks and provide personal responses based on machine learning, using natural language processing (think Alexa or Siri)

Michael Jacques, Lumo
Lumo chief commercial officer Michael Jacques

Now let’s dive into the fun stuff. We are in a critical transformational period for delivering corporate travel services, one in which these technologies will be used to enhance the human experience.

During the Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego last month, I moderated a session on this topic. Those who attended received great information from a panel of experts including Microsoft travel technology manager Steve Clagg, Adelman Travel CIO Ivan Imana and Carlson Wagonlit Travel senior director Brandon Balcom. Here are just a few use cases for AI/machine learning and chatbots our panelists discussed:

AI

Having achieved cost-savings goals, many managed travel programs are moving to a more traveler-centric focus. Timely, relevant, AI-powered alerts improve the traveler/user experience in several ways. For example, AI can help travelers at the time of booking select flights that are more likely to be on time, showing the next logical flight alternative and providing consistent monitoring throughout the trip.

Predictive Analytics

Beyond sending push notifications on things that are happening in real time, predictive analytics give travelers insight into the future. For example, utilizing a combination of historical data, real-time data and powerful algorithms, travelers can now act in a proactive manner if the communicated risk of a flight delay or cancellation is high. We see this extending to other verticals in the industry, allowing travelers to feel empowered and “in the know” while avoiding annoying delays or disruptions. Wouldn’t it be great for travelers to get a push alert letting them know traffic is predicted to be bad between the airport and the hotel when they arrive at their destination (and suggesting alternate transportation methods, such as a train)?

Machine Learning

Despite all the talk of technological solutions, when the rubber meets the road nothing beats human assistance (yet). Call centers struggle to allocate proper human resources, however. Fortunately, applications powered by machine learning can now accurately predict peak periods and down time. This enables managers to staff properly, maintain quality and meet the requirements of service-level agreements.

Chatbots

Consider the last time you called an airline, hotel or car rental. Did you find yourself navigating a lengthy phone tree, finally shouting for an agent or representative? Customers like my son and daughter (in their late 20s and early 30s) don’t even think of calling a travel supplier. They prefer getting their information online via an app or chat.

Travel suppliers rapidly are embracing the benefits of chatbots. The next step is making the transition seamless so that the user can’t identify if a bot or a human handles the task. Based on recent innovations in this sector (see this Google Assistant video) we’re right on this doorstep of this becoming a reality.

The vast complexities within travel are even more so in managed travel given corporate policies and constraints from the TMC tech stack. That’s because there are so many choices and variables. Booking travel or getting information on a trip is much different than asking Spotify to find a rap song by Drake or the Billy Joel song whose title you forgot. Due to the level of complexity, we are just getting started leveraging these technologies.

Whether your goal is to increase cost savings, drive traveler satisfaction or a combination of the two, the technologies detailed in this article should be viewed with excitement, not apprehension. The programmers designing and the machines powering the technologies are working hard to achieve optimal results for all parties involved in our managed travel ecosystem.


Related
• Experts See Artificial Intelligence Boosting Travel Management Innovation
• Anant Kale On The Automation Revolution And Which Jobs Robots Will Take
• Prime Numbers Is Among Those Teaching Alexa About Travel Programs
• Predictive Analytics: Not Just For The Point of Sale
• Talking Approval And Expenses With Unit4’s Digital Assistant

Author: Michael Jacques

Michael Jacques serves as the CCO for Lumo, a predictive analytics technology company that forecasts flight delays to help proactively manage air travel disruptions. Michael is a travel industry veteran with over 30 years of travel experience. He is a former travel agency owner and over the past 18 years has served in senior management business development roles with e-travel, cytric/Amadeus, Farelogix, Tripware and Databasics. Michael is passionate about innovative solutions advancing corporate travel and active in his local GBTA chapter in St. Louis. He formerly served as the co-chair of GBTA's Technology Committee. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn.

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Michael MacNair
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Michael MacNair

Great article Mike. I am excited about the opportunities and the progress that has been made in these areas.