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Artificial Intelligence: The Sky is The Limit

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Artificial Intelligence: The Sky is The Limit

Author: Graham Nichols, Managing Director, Amadeus Gulf

In an industry with so much change, perhaps the one constant is that travel volumes show no sign of slowing down. The IATA is expecting passenger demand to double over the next 20 years, with one recent report noting that almost half of those in the Middle East travel more than twice a year with one in five travelling more than five times a year.

In parallel, travelers’ expectations are getting higher. Travel companies within the region—from airlines to hotels and travel agents—are under constant pressure to deliver recommendations that are contextual and based on their customers evolving needs. In a competitive market, the customer experience is almost always the difference between success and failure, yet such customization can also be time intensive and expensive to realize.

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is going to fundamentally rebalance this equation in the travel industry. AI solutions are expected to witness a compound annual growth rate of 55 per cent over 2016-2020, according to IDC. In the aviation market alone, Markets and Markets research anticipates AI to be valued at USD 152.4 million in 2018 and likely to reach USD 2 billion by 2025.

Over the coming months, we anticipate AI to start delivering clear benefits to marketers, sales teams and consumers across the Gulf’s travel industry.

Marketers in the travel space can ultimately leverage AI to transform customers’ experience with dynamic, real-time content. This content can be used to inspire more effectively and to publicize tailored products to travelers at each stage of their journey. As one example, AI will allow travel sellers to optimize advertising campaigns for specific destinations by quickly analyzing consumer profiles, weather data, ratings websites, and search trends. By reaching the right audiences with hyper-relevant products at the right time, travel companies can stay relevant, as it is no longer possible to differentiate on price alone.

Sales teams working in the travel industry have perhaps the most to gain from AI applications. There are literally millions of online transactions that happen every day in the travel sector—far too many for individual sales managers to monitor and analyze manually. Past behaviors are now being fed into AI-powered applications to predict future purchase actions. Today’s AI tools are also able to understand images, videos and sounds, creating new opportunities for customer profiling.

Consider this in the context of something like the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup. AI tools can help an airline’s sales team to quickly see peak booking times for June travel across different geographies. They can also identify consumers who are posting photos of Russia, or their favorite national teams, on Instagram during this peak booking period. By using AI to combine that data with match schedules, call center inquiries, and online search terms, sales teams can build unique, competitive offers like never before.

When it comes to consumers, the value of AI is really seen in the presentation of these ultra-personalized offers that enhance the shopping and retail experience. For example, AI can be used by airports and airlines to map out a traveller’s profile, upcoming destinations, flight times and many other parameters, in turn proposing customized suggestions during their trip. That could be something as simple as you getting an SMS notification the morning of your flight to let you know that traffic is congested and you may want to head out early. On your way to the airport, you could also see a flight-upgrade promotion for a long-haul route in which you’ve traditionally opted for an upgrade, served at a time when the airline knows you’ve been on grueling back-to-back trips over the last two weeks.

Taking all of this into consideration, we must remember that travellers in the Gulf expect their journeys to be a single seamless experience – from thinking of where to go, to buying tickets, to travelling and then reaching their final destination. The benefits of AI along this customer journey are clear. However, unlocking the full value of AI technologies requires collaboration across a wide network of partners. By better connecting travel management companies with airlines, airports, hotels and other actors, the sky really is the limit for what we can achieve with AI.