With the year winding down, it's time to turn our attention to 2018. Many Americans are already considering their travel plans but more and more, how they plan those trips is evolving. Guidebooks gave way to the internet, and with the expansion of artificial intelligence to help with discovery, research and planning, travelers are approaching travel in an entirely new way.
“I think 2018 will usher in an era where customers will move from interacting with a web page to interacting with an intelligent assistant who can actually give advice,” says Terry Jones, chairman of WayBlazer Inc., which provides machine-learning technologies to travel companies of all types. However, those "intelligent assistants" she's referring to aren't travel advisors—at least not initially.
“These conversations can start with a bot and be transferred to an agent at any time who will know what the customer searched for so they don’t have to start over.”
Jones, who also launched Travelocity and was founding chairman of Kayak.com, says that could take the online travel search to a whole new level as more travelers realize they can type in complex questions and expect responses that are more detailed and more specific than ever before.
Here’s are some of the things travelers might expect in 2018:
The Rise of A.I
The use of artificial intelligence will continue to grow, Jones says. Research commissioned by Booking.com found that 29 percent of travelers reported comfort with letting a computer plan an upcoming trip based on data from their previous travel history and 50 percent don’t mind if they deal with a real person or computer, so long as any questions are answered.
Direct Brand-to-Consumer Communication
Hotel brands and airlines have begun allowing customers to ask pre-travel questions on Facebook Messenger and other messaging channels so that consumers can interact directly with the brand to get their questions answered, Jones says.
“And some leading brands are using advanced ‘Conversational Commerce’ products that let the consumer use natural language to discuss their needs with a sophisticated bot who can help them determine the right property with the right amenities,” Jones says. “Look for more of that in 2018.”
A Generation Gap May Be Narrowed
Will Baby Boomers make even greater use of online travel planning in 2018? AARP research from a year ago looked at 2017 travel trends, and showed that Boomers are not avid users of online resources for travel research and planning compared to younger travelers. Still, slightly more than one-third of Boomers do use online resources for travel planning and Jones says there’s a good chance the percentage will grow in 2018 as A.I. makes the process even easier.
As improving technology becomes more available, travel advisors will continue to face challenges reaching all travelers. However, there are certainly many bright sides. For instance, not all travelers are using OTAs or brand websites to book all of their travel, and those that are likely aren't looking for that ultra-luxe, special experience that you can find them. Those travelers already know the value of an advisor—this is the market that you want to be in. And while many young travelers book their travel online, it doesn't mean that you can't prove your value to them. The bots may be getter smarter, which means travelers can be more informed than ever but that doesn't mean they can still create their own perfect itinerary.
You've already survived the birth of the internet, what's some A.I. to you?