Spotlight: Adrian Lopez


Today we bring you inside the world of technology at FCM by shining the spotlight on Adrian Lopez, who stepped into a newly-established role as the Head of AI for Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG; FCM’s parent company) in November 2023. Read on as we explore his career journey, which spans a decade in the business travel industry, as well as how his position will transform operations at FCM and the implications for our customers.

Joining the Flightie fam

An entrepreneur at heart – and a travel technology pioneer in his own right – Lopez officially joined the FCM Digital arm back in 2019, when we fully acquired his Sam :] app, which he’d co-created five years earlier while working at Paris-based 3Mundi (then FCM’s partner in France). Sam :] was the first of its kind in the business travel industry: a 24/7 virtual assistant that helped business travellers seamlessly manage their trips by using AI to gather data (like airline status, alerts, disruptions, etc) and filtering out relevant information to the traveller. FCTG deployed it in 56 countries as the official mobile app for its Corporate brands, FCM and Corporate Traveller.

But that wasn’t Lopez’s first foray into the startup world. Upon graduating with a software engineering degree, Lopez had teamed up with friend and fellow developer Alex Castaño (also now an FCM employee) to create a software development firm based in Seville, Spain, specialising in high performance applications written in C++ and Qt. Although the company ultimately fizzled, it helped Lopez find his footing and set him on his way to FCM.

Hitting the ground running

When FCTG acquired 3Mundi in 2019 and, along with it, Sam :], Lopez helped integrate Sam’s capabilities across various corporate travel products, while also leading the development of FCM Platform.

After a few years at the helm of FCM Digital’s tech team – as Chief Technology Officer, to be exact – he turned passion project into career path by accepting the Head of AI role and spearheading the AI Centre of Excellence (CoE).

FCTG’s AI evolution, in Adrian’s words

“Since we founded Sam :] in 2014, things have changed a lot. The whole idea was to create a travel assistant that was unlike the rest of the travel agency, which focuses on selling and servicing. What we did was see how agencies like FCM went the extra mile – letting travellers know their flight had been delayed or they may miss a connection – and make it scalable. Back then, chatbots were just starting to be a concept. Now, the gap has really closed.

In concept, our new AI Centre of Excellence is a global division that will focus on adopting and integrating artificial intelligence technologies into FCTG’s Corporate divisions. In practice, we’re a small team inside FCTG that promotes AI initiatives and helps other teams. We’re the group teaching others and helping them prototype.


Think of us like AI ambassadors. When someone in the company wants to do an AI project, they come to us. We can show them the best tool, the best model, the best security practices. Otherwise, everyone needs to start from scratch.

The CoE is made for exploring AI’s potential. As a developer, I understand there are too many AI resources at the moment, and everything is changing almost daily. You can start learning something this week, and by next week it may have changed. There’s a lot of noise around AI, too, like there has been with other technologies, so it can be confusing. We help the company navigate through that by assessing what’s real from the hype, and determining tangible use cases for it.

We’re also helping our employees understand what AI can do, what is relevant for us as a business, and what makes sense for us to research, work on and invest in. We want to use AI responsibly and empower our people. We’re finding ways to improve our day-to-day activities and provide better services.

We also ensure alignment throughout the company. We set the strategy and focus on problems that align with our business objectives, but also on things like data privacy. There’s a really strong collaboration.

Our focus is to deliver real innovation. I think 5 years – if not sooner – is a safe bet for AI fully transforming how we work. By that time, every Flight Centre employee will use AI at some point of their day. It’s like saying 20 years ago that everyone would be using a computer or the Internet. Maybe they are a copywriter using it to generate ideas. Or they’re a developer using it to write generic code. Or they’re a travel agent using it to automate cancellations.

I see this as an evolution – and there are benefits to the industry evolving. We are adapting to do things in a better way. I think AI can help all TMCs provide more hands-on, detailed service to every customer at a baseline. But we’re not trying to say FCM will be fully AI-automated in 5 years, and robots will handle everything.

Overall, the vision is this: make AI more human and make humans more AI-friendly. 

We have an AI policy, which outlines what employees can and cannot do – from basic things like not using any customer data publicly, to a more extensive set of rules. This will ensure we develop AI tools in a responsible way with best practices in mind.

Where Adrian sees AI’s potential

For developers who code, AI basically gives you another person to run ideas past. There’s a concept in software development called rubber duck debugging. Sometimes, when you’re solving a problem, you start explaining the issue to the ‘rubber duck’ on your desk. Once you hear yourself explaining it, it helps you solve the problem. If you take this to the next level, AI makes the rubber duck intelligent, so you can ask follow-up questions. It’s also great for other technical help, like SQL queries and IT issues. When it’s working well, it’s kind of magical.

For pretty much everyone that needs to write a document, AI can give you some guidance on where to start or help base the content on something similar you’ve created. It’s like you have an intern working for you. So at the end of the day, you’re much more productive.

Beyond productivity, at FCM we want to enable an AI tool to catch and review customer comments on pretty much any booking channel. For example, when you book something in the online booking tool now, you may make a note at the end that says, “Please select an aisle seat.” These comments are really important to the traveller and can help us personalise their experience. But they can also get overlooked in a busy workflow.

We’ll further look to:

  • prioritise email requests, such as by auto-categorising incoming messages and extracting key information, like travel dates
  • parse customer emails for reservations made outside a customer’s official OBT, to identify leakage and help companies comply with their duty of care obligations
  • automate some support, such as by using AI to help a user with a question while they wait for a live agent to be available
  • implement AI-assisted flight search in FCM Booking


Through our enterprise relationship with Microsoft, we’ve also rolled out a private, internal version of ChatGPT, which allows us to deploy the chatbot within our Azure environment and our firewall. This means our Azure OpenAI Service instance is isolated, and our data is protected by comprehensive enterprise compliance and security controls.

But ultimately, AI needs to deliver

When it comes to AI applications in the travel industry, the future is certainly bright and the opportunities vast. We don’t see there being a battle between humans and AI. After all, AI cannot exist without humans; you’ll only get good results if you feed it good questions and good parameters. And, most importantly, the newest generation of business travellers doesn’t seem to mind a multi-modal approach.

But here’s the catch: AI needs to deliver. Any chatbot we put in front of a customer needs to understand their request and be able to action it. When we started Sam :], a lot of the time it came back with, ‘I’m sorry; I did not understand you.’ Everyone’s suffered this experience before.

Once we’re able to solve the issues – and solve them well – that’s when we’ll see the big switch in capabilities. And our AI Centre of Excellence puts FCM at the forefront to achieve this.

Ready to discover how AI can transform your travel programme?

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