Trade Rides on Artificial Intelligence

A bridge between inspiration and booking. This is what artificial intelligence is now. Thanks to generative software, travel booking engines are now in use. However, the fields of application are diverse, the choice of technologies is not simple and it is essential to have a clear business objective. One statistic stands out: in Italy in 2023, €760 million were invested in artificial intelligence, an increase of 52% compared to 2022, a year that had already seen 32% growth over the previous one. Plus, 60% of companies in general are involved in projects related to artificial intelligence, which is a key player in the travel industry. However, there is a catch: over the next ten years, 3.8 million jobs could be at risk. These are the findings of the Artificial Intelligence Observatory report from the School of Management at Politecnico di Milano. This was the basis for the discussions during the panel – held at BIT – “The role of artificial intelligence in travel: from inspiration to booking.”

The beginning of a new era

The travel industry is aware of the great potential of generative intelligence and doesn’t seem intimidated by it. It uses it to improve everyday tasks and manages to bring it under control by putting humans at the centre. There are concerns that it might jeopardise jobs, but it might also create new ones. Fulvio Giannetti, CEO and Head of Data Science at Lybra Tech (Zucchetti Group), acknowledges, “There is a revolution under way, and we have no idea of which developments will occur. It’s a bit like when the first mobile phones arrived and we had no idea how they would evolve. We are at the beginning of a new era, and customisation is crucial.” What should companies do to make the right choice regarding AI? Luca Adami, CMO and CTO of Volonline, advises they shouldn’t expect it to “reason like a human, but like a machine.” The next step is to understand “the difference between what is associated with AI, which is managed by an algorithm, and what is managed by machine learning.” It is also difficult to know which providers to rely on. As far as this is concerned, Roberto Di Leo, owner and CEO of eMinds, says, “Let’s not call it AI any more,” The name has conjured up “a monster, an unfavourable tool,” in the collective imagination and he suggests calling it generative technology instead. In his opinion, “it shouldn’t be installed just because it analyses numbers,” and, in the case of eMinds, the company is using it for storytelling. To facilitate its agency channel, Sabre is implementing AI solutions to reduce time spent on manual processes and to offer greater flexibility. Within this framework, a partnership with Google has led to the development of Sabre Travel Aitm, but the company is also developing “products to normalise language. A deconstruted email might arrive and with the help of AI, the request is immediately translated, saving time.” Another step is to test the areas of application because AI is no longer just inspiration but sales practice. Volonline are not developing their own platform but using suppliers based on their effectiveness. “ChatGpt knows us, it knows where we live. This is information it acquires from us and partly from the internet,” says Adami. However, the manager is keen to point out that “everything that happens in terms of quoting requires editing by our staff.” De Filippo also supports Adami’s thinking and states that artificial intelligence is fine, “but passion is human,” in the sense that artificial intelligence must “give humans the tools to offer the traveller the best experience possible. Sabre uses data to provide what the customer needs. AI and machine learning learn from our habits and know what to suggest.”

How to increase travel agency revenue

Can the use of chatbots increase agency revenue? De Filippo uses Upgrade IQ as an example, developed with Google, which allows carriers to propose “an upgrade of the traveller’s seat, whilst understanding which the best moment is to make the suggestion because not everyone is ready to add it during the booking phase. The use of this product has led to up to 20% more revenue.” For eMinds, the direction taken has been “the enrichment of the main tool with which a tour operator or agency interacts with its customer.” At the moment, eMinds does not believe in recommendation tools. “We worked on a European project in 2017, realising before ChatGpt that recommendation would become the new method, but we encountered sectoral problems. If we had been Google or Facebook with a huge amount of data, it would have been different.” At the moment, the company’s ideal placement is to “support the agency in interacting with the customer where they decide.” On the tour operator side, the intention is to “enrich the first level of customisation.” If out of 100 quotes, a small percentage is confirmed, managers would ask themselves, “how much more targeted communication can help customers understand that what an agency is offering is what suits them?” A fundamental benefit is being able to get data that allows knowledge such as, “how many people will arrive at each Italian location, how many days in advance, and from where,” says Giannetti. “Having forecast indications on demand becomes an additional asset for many companies” that helps them to “design more accurate strategies.” The risk of error? It has been said that artificial intelligence “learns from its mistakes, but it also learns errors,” says De Filippo, “so there is an impact in this sense, especially where information is provided by us humans.” At the moment eMinds uses generative technologies “in processes that are always supervised by operators.” ChatGpt is “useful, it opens unimaginable scenarios, but you have to have control, you must have mastery of all that power,” recommends Di Leo.

Stefania Vicini

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