AI, Voice To Disrupt Travel Market

by Sohini Bagchi    May 08, 2018

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The travel industry is growing by leaps and bound, driven by the rapid advancement in technology. It is not surprising therefore that innovative travel companies are constantly leveraging new technologies to stay ahead in the race. Recently, Cleartrip an online travel aggregator website for booking flights and train tickets as well as hotel reservations, has integrated voice led feature on their platform with Alexa. This new development would allow travelers to conveniently search for the cheapest airfares between any source and destination city using their voice through Amazon Echo devices. With this development, Cleartrip becomes one of the first online travel platforms to integrate with Amazon Alexa. The addition of Alexa skills also marks a  diversification of its existing offerings into voice search, underlining its vision to make travel bookings simpler helping Cleartrip offer more convenience to Indian travelers. In context to this development, Suman De, Director of Products at Cleartrip shares a detailed insight on the technology aspects and trends on the platform.

CXOToday: How is Cleartrip changing India’s online travel market?

Suman De: First of all, we observed that travellers are pressed for time and want to be able to search and book fast. To improve how users research and plan for a trip by allowing them the flexibility to select among thousands of available hotels at their convenience, without having to start from scratch every time they resume their search we introduced the Hotels Shortlist feature a few months ago.  Underlying our commitment to elevating user experience, we launched ‘Cleartrip Instant Search’ which significantly reduces the time taken to search and book hotel rooms on the Cleartrip mobile app.

We also see the rise of the independent traveller. At Cleartrip, we witnessed a rise of the independent travellers with clear indications to self-manage their travel research and tailor-make their bookings, rather than rely on the limited range of options provided by restricted tour package providers.  The growth in self-managed travel is particularly strong amongst the Millennials.

CXOToday: How are travel firms like you using disruptive technologies, such as AI, machine learning, etc. to boost their business?

Suman De: There are broadly two technology areas - Direct consumer facing technology (e.g. voice, chat) and technologies which enable better consumer experience (e.g. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning). The first one is more visible than the latter.  We at Cleartrip, use both these to deliver the best user experience to the customer. For instance, Machine Learning is extremely helpful in gathering consumer information on a macro level. It can parse through previous booking histories of individual users, as well as people who have similar purchase patterns, to recommend relevant options to prospective travellers. For example, during the summer holidays, it can notice booking trends amongst consumers with children and suggest similar travel options to other users within the same demographic. This helps in clustering products and people together for more refined discovery and recommendation. Moreover, innovative products like Cleartrip Experiences can even recommend engaging local activities based on the destination and the hotel booked to further augment the overall holidaying experience for travellers.

Another key feature that technology has been facilitating in the travel domain is price prediction. The massive amounts of current and historical travel data available today makes it possible for OTAs to determine probable pricing trends with a fair degree of accuracy through AI and other predictive analytics tools. This information, when presented to consumers, can not only help them in making more informed decisions, but also in unlocking significant savings in travel costs. This data-driven approach becomes especially pivotal in case of airline reservations, where flight fares are known to increase significantly at a moment’s notice.

CXOToday: What ways did Cleartrip differentiate itself in the market? How your unique offerings are solving specific industry challenges?

Suman De: Product and customer experience differentiation are always at focus for us. Driving highly compelling and sophisticated customer experience is one of the fundamental objectives at Cleartrip. Cleartrip offers the single most comprehensive travel experience to users through its award-winning mobile and desktop solutions. To stay true to being a Product Company, we believe our Products should be intuitive to even first time users. We are actively working on replacing any form of customer anxiety with reassurance, and build trust that every consumer reaching out will be taken care of.

In terms of product, in a country like India, where a large section of the population still does not have access to high-speed internet connectivity –performance  has also been identified as a key differentiator. For example, at Cleartrip, we have optimised our app to load images faster, even on 2G networks, by foregoing the traditional approach of progressive image loading. Our large repository of images is immediately made available as and when required, with the image clarity determined by the speed of the internet network. Additionally, we have high-quality A/B testing processes in place to test developed features and presenting the most refined products to our massive user base.

Technology is also being leveraged to provide information more proactively to travellers. One such feature is Cleartrip tagging, which informs about the amenities and facilities available on a particular flight or hotel. Is the hotel pet-friendly? Is there WiFi on this flight? How much baggage can one passenger carry? When does the last intercity train depart? By collecting and verifying tags for every property and flight, OTAs are aiding users in making purchase decisions most in sync with their travelling requirements.

CXOToday: What are the specific tech challenges you faced

Suman De: There are a few challenges we see regarding some of these technologies. - Investment dilemma on multiple such areas since the probability of success of all technologies are uncertain. So, we need to figure out the best ROI tech bets and move forward.

- Skills required to deliver cutting-edge technology

- Product mindset to combine the technology to a consumer need

- Company’s commitment to deliver even better customer experience with technology

 CXOToday: What kind of tech developments do you forsee in your organization and in the online travel segment over the next 12-18 months ?

Suman De: We believe that Artificial intelligence and voice are going to be disruptive for travel, and this will help take the consumer experience to the next level. Fare innovation, Personalisation, Automation, Voice and Data are probably the big areas of innovation in the next 18 months.