Building a chatbot and the Travel industry ecosystem.

It was during the Travel Technology Exchange (TTX) in Las Vegas that we found out that Sabre is working with Microsoft to help power the first generation of Chatbots targeting the travel industry and specifically travel agencies customer support.

Bots have become the cream du-jour this year since many industries are adopting them to provide better customer support and as a complement to the sales cycle of a client. Since they have the ability to live inside a chat platform which is forever constant in our daily lives. So it provides a soft sales channel for travel companies and agencies, but also a means to provide extended customer support.

We will provide you with a perspective on what this initiative from Sabre means for the travel industry and also explore the current chatbot ecosystem in the travel industry.
SoftwareDevTools team at TTX Given the experience in building a travel bot called Sherpa as part of the TTX Hackathon (earning a 2nd place price) and also launching a Slack bot for scrum development teams for Daily Standups called StandBot. We have some experience under our belt to share some insights into chatbots.

Foundations for a chatbot.

A bot needs a chat platform to interact with users. This is the first thing you should explore when building one and answer these questions:

  • What chat platforms does my client use?
  • Which platform can I reach them through?
  • Where do those companies have a digital presence?

Chatbot Platform There is some key technology behind the development of the Chatbot. One of those foundations is the Microsoft Bot Framework which enables the bot to have the potential to be on different platforms like Slack, Skype and Facebook Messenger. This is a very important part of building a bot, since the commitment you make while choosing to either build it natively (with the platforms own Software Development Kit) or use a framework such as Microsoft’s Bot Framework it is crucial in the product roadmap for your organization that wants to invest in bots.

The bot will need a personality. This means that it will interact with human beings and in such interactions, it needs to be able to transmit certain emotions through text. This builds rapport with potential clients and customers that use it and avoids the feeling of an automated system. But most importantly is that it can understand what the users are writing in the chat platform.

A bot needs a second foundation which is the algorithms and/or scripts that support the use case’s it was built for: listening and understanding the requests being sent to them. The bot can only be as smart or efficient as you teach it along the way, Microsoft has a Cognitive Services platform which any bot can leverage to build the use cases that the bot will respond to. Google Home is also a platform that can be used to support this and Amazon with their Alexa platform which powers their Echo devices.

Any platform you chose will need to have these 2 foundations so it can properly interact with users of a chat platform. Sabre chose Microsoft to partner in the development of their chatbot, which is run on their Language Understanding Intelligent Services (LUIS) offered through their Cognitive Services and also their Bot Framework.

“Travelers are looking for technology to bring a more seamless experience, especially when it comes to managing disruptions and on-the-go changes,” - Mark McSpadden, vice president of emerging technology and products at Sabre.

Current ecosystem of chatbots in Travel.

You cannot mention bots and not talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI gives chatbots autonomy in the interaction with users under certain circumstances. The goal is to augment the way companies are engaging with travelers, extending the capabilities of either internal or external processes for business units to create better experiences for the end users and customers.
Sabre successfully launched a white label offering with two travel agencies in the USA, so these services are currently live in the market and travelers are starting to interact with them.
Aeromexico also launched Aerobot in the Facebook Messenger platform, allowing users to ask questions regarding Flight Schedules and prices, track flights, baggage policies and documentation that you need in order to travel.
Hello Hipmunk is a virtual travel agent that if given access to your Calendar and email it can create personalized travel recommendations. While this is not a chatbot it is another way of engaging with customer data and provide an alternate experience for users that are not too chatty.

Here are a couple of lists of chatbots divided per platform:

Facebook Messenger travel bots:

Slack travel bots:

Telegram chatbots:

There is still much to create and explore in the chat platforms available online and on mobile devices which enables a seamless experience for travelers that rely heavily on their cell phone to get information around the places they want to travel and the locations they want to stay in.

There are some great communities online that can guide you through on what is working and exchange ideas with other developers. We would recommend Botmakers, Botlist and ChatOps in Reddit.

Chatbots create a much richer experience given the right use cases where a text message can mean the difference in a customer’s travel. Test and try any of the bots we mentioned. If you have a software development team, we would also love to hear your thoughts on our scrum standup Slack bot with JIRA support.

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Claudio Cossio

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