With artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly accepted as a marketing tool, marketers are surveying the landscape to decide who can provide them with the most productive tools for their needs. A company called WayBlazer led by a team with an impressive background in travel technology promises a solution where users can seamlessly search and chat using natural language that understands context and intent. WayBlazer then recommends destinations and products such as packages, hotels, vacation rentals, cruises and more. Each recommendation dynamically ranks and merchandises the most relevant images and reviews for each individual user.
Noreen Henry, CEO and herself a veteran of Travelocity, said WayBlazer’s solutions let users express their intent on why they want to travel — and comes back with powerful recommendations, as well as images, reviews and more.
It’s the very background of its leaders that make WayBlazer different, according to Henry, in that its chatbot is travel-centric and can interact directly with consumers through messaging apps, voice platforms, websites and even display ads.
WayBlazer claims it has already done the heavy lifting by absorbing massive amounts of travel data to develop a pre-trained travel graph that understands travel the way people do. The graph has learned the language and concepts associated with travel and is able to identify what makes a destination romantic, family friendly, whatever.
The natural language element is crucial as consumers can simply type in or speak something like “looking for a family friendly resort with guided tours for Memorial Day weekend” and receive communications based on their intent. WayBlazer recently partnered with Emirates Vacations on a campaign in which the company integrated a chatbot and recommendation engine into a display ad unit. Henry said that chatbot ads enable users to explore a product without leaving partner sites.
Henry says AI simplifies the research and planning process, allowing consumers to cut through clutter to find the best recommendations, but also comes in handy during the trip as basic tasks like making a restaurant reservation can be automated. For travel brands, AI algorithms can give marketers more insight into consumer intent and behavior, empowering them to provide quality experiences and recommendations.
Henry says AI is more than technology, but it’s a pathway toward a far richer customer experience. She said the proof of AI is in the pudding, citing an 87% increase in engagement resulting from the Emirates chatbot. She said that conversions have generally run 10 to 19% higher using WayBlazer.
As for fear of AI, Henry said the adoption curve is up as a result of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, which has taught people to search by voice. She said voice commerce is expected to reach $40 billion in the next four years compared to $2 billion in 2017. Henry said that WayBlazer itself is in research and development stages to work with devices like Alexa.
Despite the explosive growth, it’s still early in the AI transformation of how travelers research and plan their trips. Nobody says working with AI doesn’t have challenges. As even the WayBlazer folks say, it’s less about prioritizing AI, and more about incorporating it into your existing processes and strategies. So it’s incumbent on marketers to get to know companies like WayBlazer and their competitors because, like it or not, AI will be part of their portfolio as fast as you can say, well, AI.