AI in the travel sector – are consumers ready?

With the rise of voice search and the rapid growth in the use of personal assistants AI is playing a bigger role in consumers lives than ever before, but how far into the customer journey does this really stretch?

In order to better understand consumers and the ways in which they interact with AI in the travel space, Edit conducted a piece of research that surveyed 500 people in the UK, to identify key benefits and ‘sticking points’ in the use of AI in the travel and tourism sector.

The Findings

Consumers are sceptical and nervous about trusting AI to perform key tasks such as taking payment and making bookings, but they are largely happy to use chatbots to research potential holidays and receive recommendations. There is, however, a general lack of ‘comfort’ when it comes to chatbots handling anything more than simple information gathering. When asked, over half felt comfortable using chatbots for holiday searches and 46% for travel queries.

In contrast, only a third were happy using a chatbot to book flights and hotels and a quarter to pay for flights and hotels. Revealing a need for AI to prove its reliability ‐ many of people’s worries are based on ‘gut feelings’ rather than facts or experiences.

Over a third have used a chatbot on a website and when they did, three quarters got a relevant and useful answer and 60% found it an easy process. There is also a significant knowledge gap – 39% know what AI is, but would struggle to define it.

The reticence around the use of AI seems to stem from general nervousness about data being accessed, regardless of who (or what) is accessing it – over half of holidaymakers are concerned about their data privacy on travel websites already.

When imagining a future interaction with a chatbot, two-thirds of people would be more concerned about the security of their data if speaking to an AI compared to a human. Over half say talking to a human is preferable when booking, even if the process takes twice as long.

What are the opportunities for travel brands?

The data does however reveal a rich area for travel companies to exploit. On the whole, consumers are happy for AI to read and interpret online reviews they have made in the past to help make a holiday recommendation, and over half believe that AI would be able to accurately recommend their next holiday.

There are many other ways in which AI could easily improve the customer experience within the travel industry. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed would be interested in AI being used to provide automatic updates on flight delays or gate changes, and more than half welcomed the fact that AI could reduce time spent navigating through call centre menus. Over half also think that introducing AI to handle simple travel queries is a good idea – mostly due to the time saving element.

Are consumers ready for the introduction of AI in the holiday booking process?

Our research demonstrates the need for travel brands to tread carefully when it comes to incorporating AI into the customer experience. It is imperative that travel marketers work within the parameters that customers are comfortable with and don’t just introduce technology for the sake of it.

There is real potential for the travel industry to boost awareness of how chatbots can assist customers as they research holiday options and explore ideas and locations that they might not have previously considered but that sophisticated algorithms can suggest. AI could transform the industry and use data to provide an even more personalised and frictionless customer travel experience, but we mustn’t forget that our holidays are a deeply personal thing too.

Get the balance wrong, automate too much and holidaymakers may become alienated. The stakes are high ‐ our holidays are so important that there will always be some things that require a human touch. Understanding this tension and working around it is the key to success when it comes to introducing technology to the travel sector.

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