Two major travel companies are turning to artificial intelligence to help them do their jobs better. But it remains to be seen how that will affect travel advisors.
A top Air Canada executive recently told the Globe and Mail that the airline will start using an artificial intelligence-powered voice assistant instead of live agents to answer calls from travellers hit by unexpected flight cancellations or delays. Expedia Group last week also announced it would start using artificial intelligence more.
It’s a big step that’s bound to cause consternation for agents and travellers who are wary of AI, but it’s definitely the future.
“I can honestly say the AI programs on offer for ‘help’ topics are frustrating at best,” said Brenda Slater, co-founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors. “If advisors are struggling with them, I can’t imagine how consumers will make out. With the low-cost airlines only dealing via email/chat for customer service issues, it has not worked in their favour."
“My only hope is that they will retain the current customer service levels with advisors.”
"The general consensus is that if it is a straight-forward complaint, AI may help in clearing those quickly. But the majority are not normally straight-forward," she said.
"We understand that they are trying to keep staff resources to a minimum, but no matter how advanced AI goes, it is unlikely that it can replace people anytime in the near future.
Isn’t that the reason why travel advisor businesses are booming? People are wanting to have a person to assist them in their travels, and are willing to pay for the expertise."
Slater said having airlines and other travel companies using AI could push even more people to consult with an advisor.
“It seems that suppliers consistently strive to increase direct contact with clients, while clients are looking for personal assistance. Interesting pickle.”
Jill Wykes, editor of SnowbirdAdvisor.ca and a veteran of the Canadian travel industry, said AI is “absolutely” a concern for agents, and that it could lead to job losses at Air Canada.
“It takes the judgement aspect out of dealing with complaints and delays. It will all be standardized. Which it already is but you can escalate a complaint today, so I’m not sure how that would work.
“On the other hand, if it speeds up response time that’s a good thing.”
The Globe and Mail story quotes Air Canada vice president and chief information officer Mel Crocker as saying that AI can take care of many types of consumer issues.
“So, in the case of a snowstorm, if you have not been issued your new boarding pass yet, and you just want to confirm if you ae a seat available on another flight, that’s the sort of thing we can easily handle wit AI,” he said
Over time, the technology can learn from the problems it deals with and gain the ability to resolve even more complex customer problems, potentially problems that travel advisors typically deal with, Crocker said.
Fortune.com reports that Swiss International Air Lines AI to optimize its flight schedule, while Lufthansa is using it to get better weather forecasts. Experts also say airlines can use artificial intelligence to better set prices.
A.I. technology in use by airlines today is improving “everything from how to actually schedule my people in a more efficient way, to understanding the weather conditions and being able to use that to predict when planes are going to land, and how much fuel they’re going to use,” Warren Barkley, senior director of product management at Google, told Fortune.
Expedia Group officials say that, until now, ChatGPT could identify what to do and where to stay, but it couldn’t help users book. But the group, owner Expedia.com, Hotels.com and Vrbo, says it has introduced a new plugin in collaboration with ChatGPT's OpenAI to simplify trip planning for ChatGPT users.
Now, once a traveller enables the Expedia plugin (think ChatGPT app store) they can bring a trip itinerary in ChatGPT to life – how to get there, where to stay, and what to see and do – powered by Expedia Group’s travel data. When they’re ready to book, they’ll be sent to Expedia, where they can access their member discounts and rewards.
AI has transformed Expedia Group from an online travel agency to a technology platform powering travel at every step of the journey for 154M+ travellers and 50K+ partners globally:
- Platform capabilities like fraud, service and sort are powered by AI – ex: AI flags suspicious activity when behaviour patterns deviate from the norm, allowing workers to intervene before fraud or abuse occurs.
- Their Virtual Agent has powered more than 30M+ virtual conversations, saving 8M+ hours in agent time.
- Driving personalized experiences throughout the traveller journey with AI that evaluates more than 360K+ permutations of a page on one of our brand sites to ensure travellers are seeing the most relevant information for them.