In April, United Airlines hit a huge pocket of public relations turbulence after a passenger was forcibly removed from one of its partners’ airplanes. The incident raised questions about blindly following procedures, passenger rights, and United’s executive leadership.
Here’s another question it raised: Could artificial intelligence (AI) have prevented the embarrassing drama from even happening? AI and machine learning are already impacting many areas of business, such as marketing , as well as most industries, including retail . The travel industry in particular “is ripe for AI interventions,” says Param Singh, Associate Professor of Business Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business . From chatbots to robotic bellhops, here are seven ways AI could impact business travel in the months, and years, ahead.
Fewer overbooking dramas
AI could have helped United avoid the high-profile drama in several ways, says Henry H. Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst of Atmosphere Research Group. In theory at least, AI could have provided an early warning to the airline’s crew scheduling or planning application about a potential staffing problem on the horizon, giving the airline more time to address the issue, he explains.
More personalized service
Some of the AI interventions are already happening, with chatbots for booking , personal travel assistants, and AI to help human agents with travel planning, Singh says. “Most of the AI interventions right now are what we could call machine-learning-driven,” Singh explains. “With large amount of personal data, sophisticated algorithms are able to predict your needs and recommend appropriate solutions. These are, at a core level, automating the functions that people perform.”
Smarter apps and chatbots
Many developers are already using AI and machine learning to enhance the traveler’s experience via apps. For example, based on information Kayak has learned about you and what you’ve told the app/web service, your preferred hotel brands will be at the top of your Kayak search results. Location and context-aware data will alert you if, say, you’re on a trip to Paris and rain is in the forecast. “You’d get an alert, telling you if you want to see the Eiffel Tower, go now,” says Kayak CTO Giorgos Zacharia.
Better customer service
“When a business customer calls a Hilton hotel, Mattersight matches their data and analyzes their personality and behavior traits in less than five seconds,” Traba explains. “Tone, tempo, grammar, and syntax are all fed into an algorithm, along with Hilton reward levels. That algorithm mines data from billions of customer calls to quickly pair the traveler with a call center agent who is best suited for their personality and current behavior.”
Travel planning integrated into everyday tools
We’re already seeing travel tools added to apps like Facebook Messenger, Skype and Slack. For example, Concur (developer of TripIt) has developed a chatbot for collaboration app Slack, enabling users to request information about their travel plans and submit expenses via Slack using a conversational interface, says Tim MacDonald, EVP of Global Products at Concur. For example, users can type a question such as, “When is my next business trip?” and the Concur chatbot will respond with itinerary details, he explains.
Voice-enabled smart hotel rooms
Virtual assistants—which some view as a low-level form of AI—are making inroads at some hotels. Marriott International is among the hotel chains exploring natural language processing and digital assistants. “Our guests are quickly adopting this technology and intelligence in their lives today,” says a Marriott spokesman. “For example, people use their phone to ask for directions, order products before you even know you need them or have translation easily available. We’re excited to test what it means to bring voice-activated technology into the guest room, so guests can request services, learn about the local area, and perform general informational tasks like asking for the weather or setting an alarm for the next morning.”
In 2014, Marriott division Starwood introduced its robotic butler, “Botlr,” at the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, Calif. (home of Apple’s headquarters). The R2-D2-ish robot delivers small items, like toiletries, to guest rooms, among other chores. It’s also in service at Aloft Long Island City, Aloft Miami Doral, and Aloft Silicon Valley (in Newark, Calif.). […]