AI Takes Flight: Using Artificial Intelligence to Perfect the Travel Experience
Artificial Intelligence | Strategy
Karl Johnson

By Karl Johnson | Managing Director US 27.02.2018.

AI Takes Flight: Using Artificial Intelligence to Perfect the Travel Experience

EXLRT's Karl Johnson is joined by Justin Williams, our AI partner and founder of Tinman Kinetics, for a chat about the future of AI-enhanced customer experiences in travel. We asked them a few questions to find out more!

EXLRT: Firstly, what excites you guys about AI and what does its potential mean to you?

Justin: Great question. To me, while the latest and greatest research in machine learning is always fascinating, the really exciting part is the intersection between AI and human experience. One of the reasons I love working with EXLRT is this team understands that empowering humans through technology, instead of simply replacing them, is where the magic really happens. That's an area of ongoing research with lots of incredible progress in just the last year.

Karl: As a customer experience guy, the most exciting aspect of AI to me is its potential to humanize digital. It seems that the more sophisticated and automated customers experiences get through technology, the less we actually enjoy our interactions as customers and the more we dream of just going back to the good old days! I see AI as enabling the best of both worlds.

EXLRT: Why do you think AI will be so important to the travel industry in particular?

Karl: As anyone who travels much will tell you, there is substantial room for improvement when it comes to the experience of planning, booking and managing travel. AI is a still largely untapped resource that will greatly improve how easy and enjoyable these experiences are to interact with. And as a society, we associate travel with fun, exploration, and enjoyment. The experience of facilitating travel should be the same way.

Justin: AI is about to take customer experience by storm. We can tap into these developments and tune them specifically to the travel industry in lots of unexpected and exciting ways to deliver on these experience gaps Karl refers to.

Karl: Given the number of destinations, airports, and hotels in the world, content generation and AI-driven advanced personalization are just two concepts that will help the industry deliver not only more enjoyable experiences, but ones that are more effective and cost-efficient as well. The more an industry must deliver at scale, the more value AI can deliver.

EXLRT: What is the end goal of using AI cognitive technology when it comes to travel?

Justin: First, let me tell you what the goal isn't. I recently stayed at an upscale hotel in NYC and was shocked to find the entire place run by impersonal, coldly-efficient computers. There wasn't a concierge or employee in sight. I thought that was a pretty good example of the wrong way to use AI and technology in general. I was still looking for some human interaction.

Karl: The goal isn't to use AI just to be using AI.

Justin: Yes, I think some hotels will try to use full automation to cut costs, but that actually made the customer experience worse for me.

Karl: The three E's! The goal of using AI here is to provide a more effective, efficient, and enjoyable experience for the customer. All three aspects are crucial. AI is very useful in humanizing purely digital experiences and interactions for travel customers. When implemented appropriately, it perfectly blends human and digital to achieve the three E's.

EXLRT: Can you give an example travel booking scenario enhanced or enabled by AI?

Justin: Imagine having a blended-device experience that is voice powered like Alexa and Siri today, but can also be a tangible, visual experience, which taps into the way most people think and naturally interact. A completely new definition for what it means to be a website or app where even the voice interactions are true conversations, not one-off commands. Even with today's tech, in a voice only environment, I think we should do better.

Let's say…you receive an email from an old colleague who lives in Spain asking if you're going to the Marketing and Design Conference in Amsterdam next month. You hadn't heard of it but think it could be a great place to do some networking and catch up with an old friend. Rather than visit Skyscanner or Kayak to pour over flight options from New York City to Amsterdam for hours, you talk to Travel Buddy through Siri.

And your conversation goes something like this:

"Hey, Travel Buddy, I want to go to Amsterdam next month for a week and have to be there on the 15th and 16th for a conference. Other than that, dates are open. What are my options?"

Travel Buddy replies, "OK, sounds great. Looks like you can fly direct with your preferred airline, KLM, early morning of the 13th and back in the evening on the 20th for $450."

You reply, "Ok, maybe I'll bring my kiteboarding gear too. And I want a window seat this time so I can sleep on the way back."

"I have made an oversized luggage and window seat reservation. Would you also like a list of the best kiteboarding spots in the Netherlands?"

You say, "Perfect, and yes please! I'm getting really excited about this trip! I'm glad Jose emailed me about it. We used to kite together all the time. Can you email him the list too?"

"Of course," Travel Buddy sends the email and signs off.

Karl: And that's just one small sample of an AI-enhanced engagement. But these are the types of experiences we are so excited to make possible for airlines, hotels, and aggregators.

EXLRT: Wow, that does sound a lot better than searching through hundreds of flight options ourselves. And then you haven't even started looking for hotels…

Karl: And, as demonstrated so well by Amazon, the easier it is to book or buy something, the more frequently people will do it. The digital booking experiences of old, which operate on simple and tedious inputs and outputs, will transform into a smart conversational experience that saves a lot of time and effort. Much closer to what a customer to travel agent booking interaction felt like in-person.

Justin: The tedious points of travel become more seamless, interactive, and personal. The friction-points are gone and a positive travel experience actually starts from the time of purchase, instead of once you arrive at your destination.

Karl: I also have to share this super-timely quote I just saw from a design-head at Amazon, Joanna Peña-Bickley: "Designing a product experience is about designing a relationship. Depending on the context, our intent is to transform the transactional into the emotional by making rituals delightful."

EXLRT: That sounds good to me! We're out of time…how would you summarize your vision here?

Karl: AI has an important role to play in so many facets of the travel industry, whether it be in aircraft maintenance, seat/room yield management, route optimization, etc. But above all else, we are focused on making AI-enhanced customer experiences a reality. Ones that put the human-touch back in digital and result in the three E's: providing a more effective, efficient, and enjoyable experience for the customer through their entire journey.


We want to thank Karl and Justin for sharing their excitement and why they believe AI cognitive technology is the next step to perfecting the customer experience, especially when it comes to travel. It looks like the future of travel is bright with the possibilities offered by AI!

Karl Johnson

By Karl Johnson | Managing Director US 27.02.2018.