Our CEO Steve Byrne highlights the rising use of artificial intelligence in the travel industry, and the importance of retaining a personal relationship-based approach to selling travel.
The Travel Counsellors business model, like many service-based travel providers, is built upon the personal relationships that our 1,800 Travel Counsellors across the world cultivate. We are strong believers that people buy from people, and our own research has shown that, for the majority of our customers, trust in their personal Travel Counsellor is the biggest benefit of booking with them.
"The personal touch remains critical…"
While the personal touch remains critical to our business practice, we do recognise the enormous potential that technology has when it comes to supporting these personal relationships. Over the past few years, we’ve doubled the spend on the technology we provide our Travel Counsellors with globally because in the right hands, technology enables us to care more, having the time, data and content to do so.
“AI can enable expert travel advisors to have more knowledge and time to enhance the customer experience.”
AI has been touted as the “next big thing” in technology, and the rapid race of progress fuelled by a competitive tech industry is expected to fundamentally change shopping experiences.
We recently teamed up with a management consultancy firm to conduct some research on the impact that AI can have when it comes to enhancing the service that travel providers offer. Far from being focused on replacing human interaction, one of the main findings from the report was that the future of artificial intelligence will be to enable companies to improve the efficiency of their business operations. If invested in effectively, it can be used to augment, simplify and accelerate human activities, enabling expert travel advisors to have more knowledge and time to enhance customer experience.
“AI is likely to have the largest impact on trip research and planning…”
But for the travel industry, AI is likely to have the largest impact on trip research and planning, by simplifying the administrative process so that data is more easily and readily accessible. In short, human specialist knowledge and customer handling skills, supplemented by AI-driven knowledge and content management that enables the adviser to be even better informed to advise and inspire the customer, can create a more successful and satisfying outcome for the customer if executed correctly.
“Research suggests that customers still want human involvement…”
By utilising AI, advisors will be able to improve the level of service they offer, even while personal touch remains vitally important to the process. Research suggests that customers still want human involvement throughout the process of planning, booking and experiencing the trip, especially when purchasing more complex and higher value itineraries.
Regardless of budget, our own experience shows that customers trust the one-to-one advice provided by the human expert that a trip is right for them. It helps them to manage the risk of getting it wrong; they want and value human interaction if plans change or an issue or problem occurs. This is something machines are unable to match, but they can help to streamline the service that sits behind it. The care and attention displayed by travel brands with a personal recommendation and trusted advisor service at their heart, will continue to create customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.
“For travel companies looking to focus on customer service, AI can play an important role in enhancing their offering.”
However, trust in human travel advisors shouldn’t be taken for granted. They must show interest and care beyond the initial booking through staying in touch, providing future trip inspiration and displaying the soft touches that only a human being can provide – empathy, care and interest in the customer.
For travel companies looking to focus on customer service, AI can play an important role in enhancing their offering. But human touch will remain critical to the overall proposition. It is, therefore, hugely important for businesses to understand where the opportunities to introduce this technology lie.