What’s to come for tech innovation in corporate travel?

Johnny Thorsen, VP of Travel Strategy and Partnerships at Mezi, the AI-powered personal travel assistant.

Did you know that one in nine US jobs depends on travel and tourism? In fact, business travel in the US alone earns over 307 billion in revenue, and on a global scale the industry as a whole is expected to top $1.6 trillion by 2020.

Considering that corporate travel generates trillions of dollars of revenue, there is a huge opportunity for innovation. And, when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) development and incorporating the latest financial tech like blockchain, we’re only in the beginning stages. So where are we going from here?

The state of AI development — and where we’re headed

Although there are theoretically four types of AI, we have only developed “reactive machines,” or machines that can process the tasks they’ve been specifically assigned. When it comes to AI development, we are in the early days of adopting these new technologies.

However, even with our limited knowledge of AI in technology, the experience of creating our personal travel assistant, Mezi has been enlightening. In fact, the conversation data we have accumulated thus far has helped inform the development of our AI.

After three years of active usage by more than 100,000 users we’ve accumulated more than 50 million words used in actual conversations and several patterns are emerging.

We know that our users are including words considered “emotional value words,” terms like “thank you” and “sorry” are 24th and 44th in most commonly used words. When users use a number of negatively loaded words, we are able to detect this and transfer unhappy users to a human agent instantly.

Imagine if AI was at the stage where it was predictive, and our technology could help us infer the emotional state of our customers. Now, imagine if we were able to detect the level of intent to buy versus search, based on the words used in real-time conversation.

This is the new world of opportunities we are opening up when we introduce AI chatbot technologies – and if it is combined with blockchain-powered smart contracts designed dynamically by the AI policy engine — then we are suddenly able to imagine and develop an entirely new way of distributing and consuming travel.

Massive growth in awareness of blockchain…

It was only in 2013 when the number of active bitcoin wallet holders passed the 1 million mark. This number ballooned to 21 million by end of 2017.

Alongside this growth, the word “blockchain” became The Buzzword of 2017. During this period, blockchain enjoyed detailed coverage across many industries (more on blockchain in this publication here).

While blockchain is still in the very early stages of connecting travel inventory to this distribution platform, we are likely to see the first serious adoption of blockchain technology in the travel industry before the end of 2018.

I predict that in the next two years we’ll see the technology widely used and in meaningful booking volumes across the corporate travel industry.

…but what will blockchain adoption in the travel industry look like?

I believe that blockchain for travel solutions will likely evolve into different groupings of private and public blockchains, which will make it available for others to develop product offerings related to blockchain.

Given the high level of security required to book travel concerning identification, airport booking, etcetera, it makes sense to create a private blockchain for traveler identity management. Actual travel distribution will likely be based on public blockchains, such as Winding Tree, a company that just completed their ICO and now are “ready to play” a truly disruptive role.

This is obviously also a great opportunity for cloud service providers who are ready to deliver a low-cost infrastructure that can replace the current expensive GDS infrastructure over time – or at a minimum deliver a substantial cost reduction which eventually will enable new solutions that push the price of corporate travel technology downwards.

Examples from consumer travel

We’re already seeing early examples of this in the consumer travel sector. A number of new startups are developing blockchain-based sharing economy offerings designed to match (and beat) Airbnb, Uber and Lift and some of these (like CryptoCribs) only accept cryptocurrency payments.

Many also provide both the host and the guest with a constant lower cost of using their platform. In effect, these companies are removing the payment provider and cutting the middleman cost by more than 50%! This is a major disruptive threat to some traditional business models in the travel industry.

There are still challenges ahead in developing this type of technology. However, as we make inroads in developing responsive, predictive AI, we will be able to reach a point where corporate travel technology will be cheaper and easier to use for businesses.

Technologies like blockchain will make it possible for travel networks to work together, improve archaic infrastructure, and better the distribution of travel services.

While the mainstream adoption of these types of technologies will not happen overnight, early adopters will be in an excellent position to create personal end-to-end travel experiences for businesses and give themselves an advantage.

This is a viewpoint from Johnny Thorsen from Mezi. Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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