Are chatbots the NextBigThing in Travel?

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simone puorto - chatbots

Chatbots are already working hard in the hospitality industry, from taking fast food orders to helping travelers plan their trips. While conversational AI is very much in its infancy in the hotel sector, it certainly has plenty of potential.

How could chatbots change the hotel industry?

1. A new reservation channel
Earlier in August, Icelandair launched a booking bot. Modelled on a text conversation with a real travel agent, the bot not only offers and takes reservations for flights, it also suggests a layover in Reykjavik.
Expedia launched a basic bot to help travelers book hotels. According to says Nigel Symonds, Hospitality Consultant at Avenue9, in order to stave off fierce competition from OTAs and encourage direct booking, hotels should be looking to follow suit. 

2. Enriching the pre-arrival experience
At the moment, hotels usually send out an automated email several days in advance of a guest’s arrival, suggesting amenities like spa treatments, airport transfers, and dinner reservations. It would be great to have chatbots doing this and the benefit of a bot is that it can interact with the guest, asking questions such as whether it’s a special occasion, for instance, and responding with relevant offerings.

3. On-resort interaction
London’s Edwardian Hotels were among the first to launch what they call a virtual assistant. Designed for those who prefer to engage with the brand digitally, the interface allows guests to order room service or get local recommendations from Edward the bot.
When integrated into the property management system (PMS), chatbots could be used to alert guests of real-time spa and restaurant availability, and offer last-minute rates. 

4. Supplementing and supporting staff
With conversational AI able to answer straightforward questions, front-of-house staff are freed up to provide the kind of service only humans can. There's a shift in the desired skill set of hotel marketing and customer service personnel towards digital specialization. Chatbots aid guest interaction, but when a human needs to step in, that person needs to be both tech-savvy and able to embody the voice of the brand in a spontaneous and textually interactive way.

5. Leveraging data
A PMS-integrated bot that interacts with guests at all stages of the customer journey can gather valuable data, which can then be used by algorithms and hotel staff alike to provide personalized services. Unlike localized human interactions, entire chatbot conversations and outcomes can be stored and recalled for relevant future exchanges.