AI’s Smarter Chatbots and Search Engines Punch Travel Industry’s Ticket –

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Kayak’s new chatbot lets users seek travel advice and discover flights via screenshots, in the latest sign of how artificial intelligence (AI) is driving the digital transformation of business and consumer travel. 

The travel booking company launched two new features last week aimed at simplifying the search for deals. 

With their latest tool PriceCheck, users can upload a screenshot of any flight itinerary directly into the Kayak app, which searches hundreds of sites for more competitive prices.

The company also announced the launch of Ask Kayak, a chat function on the search results page, which allows users to input specific preferences for hotels, cars or flights, including price limits.

The latest updates highlight a growing trend of integrating AI throughout the travel industry.

Data To Make Travel Smoother

Kayak isn’t the only travel company jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Last year, Tripadvisor introduced a feature that uses AI to create personalized travel itineraries, drawing on its collection of over a billion user reviews. The AI crafts daily plans based on the user’s destination, dates, companions and interests, with a  focus on activities, attractions and dining.

“AI cannot replace the knowledge and experience of a travel agent or an accommodation provider,” Karen Yeates, the executive vice president of information technologies at Signature Travel, a cooperative of travel agencies, told PYMNTS in an interview. “However, AI technologies can improve the flow of business by enabling travel experts to make supremely data-driven decisions and offer better services.”

For example, Yeates said agencies collect a vast amount of data about locations of choice and generalized traveler behavior. AI can sort through these trends to provide in-depth insights about the travel outlook for upcoming seasons. Using this information, agents can make better suggestions to their clients. 

Is AI the Future of Travel?

AI is getting better at helping users book hotels and offering support, Yeates said. Chatbots, which used to be a common source of frustration for travelers, are getting better at quickly and accurately answering customer questions. 

Even more critical, Yeates noted, these more intelligent chatbots give human agents more time to help each traveler personally, offering detailed answers and reassurance when needed.

Take Qatar Airways, which is updating its digital assistant, Sama, with generative AI technology, aiming to improve the customer service experience. In partnership with UneeQ, this development will make Sama appear more lifelike, featuring facial expressions and simulated breathing, diverging from her initial animated design. The airline also plans for Sama to be able to book flights and conduct transactions. The move indicates a shift in the airline’s strategy toward more sophisticated passenger engagement.

Travelers can use also AI tools to look up information about a country, plan their trip, translate languages, and write reviews in the local language, Maria Sukhareva, an AI expert at Siemens, told PYMNTS in an interview. But, she warned, travelers should be careful not to trust AI thoroughly for important information, like checking if it’s safe to travel somewhere or finding out how to get from one place to another, because it might not always give the correct answers.

“I would also keep in mind that the model has some biases and would be careful about asking it which country I should visit,” Sukhareva said. “Due to internal biases that it learned from the data, it might, for example, discourage me from visiting certain countries.”

Travel industry leaders can use AI to predict trends, understand what customers and competitors might do next, and get ready for market changes, Ziv Gafni, president and general manager of new markets at Fetcherr, a startup for genAI pricing, inventory and publishing engine for airlines, told PYMNTS in an interview.

“AI can assist in identifying new opportunities and suggest unexplored avenues to develop unique solutions,” Gafni said. 

PYMNTS Intelligence has found that consumers who are financially secure are opting to spend more on travel.

The PYMNTS Intelligence 2023 study “New Reality Check: The Paycheck-to-Paycheck Report: The Nonessential Spending Deep Dive Edition,” created in collaboration with LendingClub, found that 40% of consumers surveyed spent indulgently on airfare, a greater share than said the same of any other type of purchase.

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