60 seconds with Paul Shepherd  


How are 'bots' currently used in the travel industry?

The travel industry is still in the fairly early stages of chatbot adoption. Air France become the first non-Chinese airline to start serving customers via WeChat and other travel companies that have taken the lead with bots include, KLM, Hyatt Hotels, Expedia and Booking.com, all of which offer customer service via Facebook Messenger - Expedia were also the first to launch a bot on Skype.

In a typical week, KLM has to respond to 15,000 social conversations in a dozen different languages. Consequently, they started exploring new ways to provide a great, personalised but at the same time fast customer care and that’s why they opted to implement a chatbot. In the first month, their volume of Facebook messages jumped 40 percent. KLM said 1.7 million messages have been sent on Messenger by over 500,000 people.

Although Expedia allows users to search for hotels, flights, cruises and cars, its Facebook Messenger bot, currently, only searches for hotels. Users simply need to open Facebook Messenger and tell the bot a little bit about their travel plans. Once it has enough information, the five most popular hotel options in the chosen location will be shown.

Booking.com has grown from a small Dutch start-up to one of the largest travel e-commerce companies in the world. With the goal of empowering people to experience the world, Booking.com highly invests in digital technology that helps take the friction out of travel and that’s why they decided to build a chatbot.

Why are they used - what are the benefits?

When built and utilised correctly, chatbots are able to transform customer service, increase efficiencies and even help companies to save and make money. Here are just a few ways chatbots can benefit the travel sector in particular:

  • Serve multiple users 24/7/365
  • Ask qualifying questions to filter potential leads
  • Use that data to deliver a personalised concierge service
  • Track customer satisfaction scores through simple ratings and more complex sentiment analysis
  • Announce new product releases/services
  • Encourage and capture UGC through uploads to  the bot
  • Deploy customer engagement tactics like key date (birthday) promotions
  • Increase and or create upsell opportunities
  • Increase first contact resolutions
  • Reduce overall call agents
  • Flag high priority conversations through sentiment analysis
  • Integrating profiling data into existing CRM’s giving you a single customer view
  • Automate and streamline post call administration
  • Leverage chat analysis to understand chat trends and future provisions
  • In-built ‘Next Best Action’ recommendations


Does Chatbot use in business travel differ from leisure travel?

While leisure travel appears to be enjoying being part of the bot revolution, it will take longer for the revolution to reach business travel.

In the past, the journey would start with a travel management company before moving onto the online interface however with the rapid adoption of devices such as Facebook Messenger, Alexa and Google Home Hub, it’s likely that business travel will gradually move into those environments.

When connecting your personal travel account to your personal smart device, you are accepting to share your details between the two but this becomes complicated when using it for business travel as the travel account is usually not your own. This open up the question of how willing would a company be to link a corporate account with a public account.


Who is currently using? Who isn't, but should be?

As mentioned previously, KLM, Expedia and Booking.com have all adopted chatbots although Expedia and Booking.com have limited capabilities and none of the above have a web plugin.

There is huge potential if a chatbot is implemented and utilised correctly. Multinational airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and Emirates would benefit hugely if they followed KLM’s lead and online travel sites such as Trivago, Lastminute.com, Laterooms.com and Airbnb would offer a competitive advantage if they were to offer a full integrated chatbot using AI and machine learning combined with customer service agent support in order to deliver a 24/7/365 intuitive service.


How will they evolve and what can we expect from them in 12 months and three years from now?

Natural language Processing (NLP) continues to improve which means that chatbots will become easier and more intuitive to interact with. As well as this, the rise in Voice continues to have a huge impact.

The sales of Voice Assistants continue to  grow year on year with all the major players including Google, Amazon and Facebook are releasing new versions regularly. Voice is the most natural interface and allows generations previously alienated by touch screens and smartphones to reconnect. Some companies are already seeing the potential in Voice, Expedia announced the launch of an Alexa ‘skill’ in 2017 which allows people who have booked trips through the company to explore their itineraries and get further details on elements of their trip.

The possibilities of using voice is endless. Imagine asking your smart home device to check you into your next flight and receiving your boarding pass directly into your inbox. Or alternatively, ask it to search for a holiday that meets your needs, whether that be in school holidays, a particular temperature or less than a 4 hour flight away. Chatbots use of voice is improving and evolving consistently and going forward, we’re sure to see huge developments in this space.


What will travel managers take back to the office from your session at Business Travel Show?

We understand that travel managers may be dubious about allowing access to such services through their corporate firewalls.  We hope that we can demonstrate our water tight validation process and ability to divert to secure third parties such as PayPal without leaving the bot. This provides a seamless and secure customer experience.

We also hope to demonstrate the vast benefits for the both businesses and customers through bot implementation. Especially when talking about using an AI bot to help tweak a travel policy or access travel programme details by just asking your smart home device a question.


How will business travel look in 2022?

According to Business Traveller, business travel spending is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2022. Brexit has had a notably negative effect on business travel in the UK, India and Indonesia however have seen the highest growth with China expected to remain the world’s largest business travel market despite a slowing economy. The US – formerly the world leader in business travel — is predicted to grow more slowly than the global average.

Businesses can no longer afford to offer limited customer support; 24/7/365 multichannel support is a must and with 5 billion people sending more than 100 billion messages every day via multiple messaging apps, it’s essential to have a presence.

 As with many industries, Digital Transformation is at the forefront of business leaders minds and with customers wanted to communicate with businesses in the same way that they communicate with friends and family (messenger platforms), chatbots are a no brainer


Paul Shepherd is the founder of  We Build Bots. Paul is leading a hosted buyer masterclass - Introduce bots into your travel programme to slash admin and boost communications – at Business Travel Show on 20 February at 10:00 - 11:00.To secure your free ticket, please visit www.businesstravelshow.com.