Welcome to AI-powered business travel

Smarter, easier and efficient.
Welcome to the new world of AI-powered business travel.

Travel technologies have leapt forward with artificial intelligence (AI) revolutionising the way companies book travel. At the recent Illuminate conference hosted by Flight Centre Travel Group, Serko CEO Darrin Grafton demonstrated how AI is bringing unprecedented smarts, ease and efficiency to the world of business travel.

A travel technology innovator and self-confessed road warrior, Darrin has spearheaded Serko’s collaboration with Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) to develop ‘Savi’, the new online booking platform powered by the latest in AI and available exclusively to the group’s corporate clients.

“AI is the next step in the evolution of travel technology and it’s helping us solve the problems faced by business travellers,” Darrin said. “Whether they’re road warriors or VIPs, travellers experience long hours on the move, lack of quality sleep, flight changes and delays, rescheduled meetings and so on. AI is making bookings easier, giving travellers a better experience, and helping cut travel costs.”

During his session at Illuminate, held in Melbourne in September, Darrin explained the ‘ABC’ of AI, what it’s capable of, how it works and its relevance to the travel industry.

AI capabilities

AI comes in various forms, Darrin said, from smartphones to voice recognition (e.g. Siri) and GPS. He identified the key capabilities of AI as:

  • Making travel recommendations (flights, hotels, car hire etc)
  • Monitoring dynamic pricing and forecasting what is going to occur through pricing shifts
  • Providing intelligent travel assistance via chat services etc. that are ‘always on’
  • Optimising disruption management, in which AI connects with real-time supplier information to detect potential disruptions (e.g. flight delays/cancellations and schedule changes) and inform travel bookers so they can quickly make changes to help travellers avoid those problems.

“We’ve built AI around the key modes of travel - how we fly, where we stay, how we eat while we’re on the move, where we work, what we do for entertainment, how we thrive, and how we rest,” he said. “This allows us to bring travel booker insights and content on all these aspects of a trip into one truly connected environment. AI also can automatically manage the changes that occur through disruption so we can improve the traveller experience.

“AI brings an extraordinary capability to manage the entire journey – not just air and hotel bookings – but other personal travel elements, changes, and rewards from loyalty programs etc that are not generally captured by expense technology. This gives companies complete visibility over their total spend and improves their negotiating power with suppliers so they can achieve better savings.”

How it works

AI comprises three core elements:

  • Algorithms
  • Machine learning, which draws on historical data to predict booking behaviours
  • Cognitive services

According to Darrin, cognitive services are key, as they can learn our basic commands around travel bookings. Over time they learn from a wealth of traveller, booker and authoriser patterns and become aware of individual nuances – so the more we use them, the smarter they become. In doing so, they make AI endlessly efficient and more accurate in making decisions, providing recommendations and completing bookings.

As shown in a live demonstration of Savi at Illuminate, a traveller can ‘virtually speak’ to the cognitive chat service and ask it to check their Microsoft Office or work calendar and upcoming trip schedule. Within a matter of minutes, the service will:

  • Identify the scope and dates of the flights, destinations and accommodation etc. required
  • Analyse the traveller’s patterns and use these to propose a range of flight and hotel options
  • Identify if the traveller is selecting an option that is appropriate or out of policy
  • Calculate the best rates and fares
  • Finalise the itinerary and complete the booking.

“AI makes it incredibly fast and easy for corporates to book travel,” Darrin said. “But more importantly, it frees up travel consultants from these basic booking services so they can provide more of the strategic thinking and personalised service that drives greater overall value for the client. We anticipate AI can help save companies more than 8% on their travel program and will fundamentally improve the way business travel is managed in the future.”

The video below demonstrates how a traveller can speak to a cognitive chat service. It features Darrin Grafton, CEO of Serko (right) and James Kavanagh, head of Flight Centre Travel Group Australia's corporate division.