AI in the travel industry: a glossary

Having AI that can help you out with your day-to-day life is no longer reserved for sci-fi comics and, thankfully, it’s not as creepy as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

Having AI that can help you out with your day-to-day life is no longer reserved for sci-fi comics and, thankfully, it’s not as creepy as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gone are the days where we had to rely on the availability of people for menial tasks - you can now get a robot to vacuum your house (thanks Roomba!) and self-service checkouts are everywhere. This is truly the era of automation and the travel industry is catching up quickly. You can organise your entire trip online without a single instance of waiting on the line for 45 minutes listening to Moonlight Sonata on repeat while waiting for a travel agent to pick up. But AI is taking it even further than that. We can now use it to learn what travelers want and provide them with customised suggestions and create personalised trips. It’s a lot to get your head around, so we’ve made a glossary to keep travel industry insiders in the know on all things artificial intelligence.

Chatbots

You’ve probably come across at least one of these if you’ve ever booked, bought stuff or filled out a form online. Companies use an instant messaging service to mimic natural human conversation. Some chatbots are able to learn from conversations and understand the nuance in human writing. Many bots can help direct you to the correct page or advise you on how to fill out forms correctly. Expedia’s bot which uses Facebook Messenger can help travelers find hotels by asking them questions then providing recommendations once it has enough information. They can be a great resource if there isn’t the manpower to answer every query and it saves customers waiting on hold.

Big Data

This is a huge buzzword relating to current developments in technology. It simply means working with amounts of data that would be too large, costly and create too much work for a typical database. Big data is usually analytics data that is extremely in-depth - for example, a company might use software that tracks mouse movements of visitors to their site. This provides invaluable insights allowing them to optimise their site and learn more about the behaviours and preferences of their users. Artificial intelligence can sift through and organise these huge amounts of data, grouping things together and making it presentable and easy to work with. Big data is also incredibly useful when aiming for complete personalisation - with such large amounts of data on the behaviours of travelers, it can help make intelligent recommendations.

Machine learning

Machine learning allows computers to learn new information without being explicitly programmed to do so. Sounds simple enough, right? One great use of machine learning in the travel industry is fare forecasting. Software analyses if and when airline and hotel prices will increase and decrease using algorithms and mathematical models. This is great news for helping travelers to save money and get the right deal for them. Machine learning can also aid with dynamic or ‘surge’ pricing, which entails changing prices according to demand. Algorithms learn when things are in high or low demand and adjust prices accordingly, meaning that there is no need for manually adjusting prices or guesswork.

Natural language processing

NLP is key in developing good, useful chatbots and for artificial intelligence that deals with human behaviour overall. It defines the ability of a computer program to understand human language that is presented in the way that it is spoken (as opposed to communicating with programs using programming languages) and has a long and fascinating history dating back to the 1950s. It also links in with machine learning, as it relies on observing and learning from algorithms to improve over time. Natural language processing recognises different parts of a sentence, typos and acronyms, meaning that you don’t have to input information in a certain way in order for it to be understood. It’s also useful in the travel industry for more than just chatbots - it can help programs to analyse huge amounts of data and provide an almost instant response in a process known as ‘deep analytics’. AI is improving all the time and has huge potential in the travel industry. In 10 or 15 years we’ll be looking back at what we use now and laughing at how primitive it is - it’ll be like looking back at Windows 95. These are exciting times when considering the leaps and bounds in personalisation and targeted suggestions enabled by AI. It’s important to keep up with these changing trends and know the resources available in the travel industry for optimising personalisation and providing great customer service.