Frank Reeves, co-founder and CEO from Avvio, one of the many super-smart travel tech businesses set up in Ireland, sat down with tnooz to explain how the machine learning capabilities of AI can help hotels address one of their biggest headwinds – conversion rates.
Here’s some edited highlights:
Learning the way
tnooz: So what exactly do you mean by an AI-driven booking engine?
Frank: The difference between a standard booking engine and AI-driven booking engine is that an AI engine will actively learn from every website interaction between a hotel and its website visitors, and learn how to optimise that sales conversation and that brand experience for the customer, in order to improve conversion rates…It also uses that learning to improve its own performance.
Perhaps even more interesting than Allora’s ability to learn at the individual hotel level is the fact that it can learn across the network of hotels that use Allora.
Take the example of an independent hotel web site which, says, gets five instances a year of a Japanese customer on a smartphone trying to book a room. Of course Allora will try to optimise each of these visits, but five is a small number. Across the network however, Allora might see this 1000 times, so how can Allora learn across the network so that it can improve the chances of conversion for the next time a Japanese customer visits the site.
tnooz: But isn’t everyone doing AI?
Frank: All the major companies that steer and shape the travel industry – OTAs, Google, metasearch – have an AI strategy and there have been some high-profile acquisitions made between OTAs, metas and AI companies – in some cases quite narrow companies, experts in voice recognition, pattern matching, recommender engines.
AI is a fantastic opportunity and you can equate it to mobile. In fact, late 2016 Google pivoted from mobile-first to AI first.
AI and machine learning is the beginning of a journey – if you take a booking engine that is genuinely getting smarter with every interaction then that AI journey becomes more rewarding and effective for hotels over time.
There will always be space for direct – consumers value the relationship with the hotel they are staying with – but there is a danger some hotels might get left behind as the major OTAs take advantage of AI.
Let’s hear it for voice
tnooz: You set up Avvio back in 2001/2001 and you’ve seen how the industry has changed. Have you any idea what will happen over the next ten years?
Frank: Not wanting to hammer on about AI, but voice – Alexa, Google Home, Siri – are going to be quite transformative. You can already ask Alexa about using its Skyscanner skill to tell you price and availability of flights from London to New York. If you connect that with what Samsung was talking about at CES, where those results will be projected onto your smart TV, you’re looking at an entirely different, voice-led way to input data.
Here’s the 20-minute interview in full:
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