Pathfinders: Artificial Intelligence drives business travel personalisation and speed
Artificial intelligence (AI) may sound futuristic, but if you’ve shopped on Amazon.com, selected a Netflix series, or asked Siri to complete a task, you’ve already seen and interacted with AI. Organisations are increasingly incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into their products and services to deliver a greater user experience (UX) for their customers, and CTM is no exception; ensuring artificial intelligence drives business travel efficiencies.
In this edition of Pathfinders, we sit down with CTM’s global technology experts, Eric Ediger, Björn Böhme, Mike Kubasik to dive into what exactly AI is; what benefits it delivers; and how CTM is harnessing its power for our own technology stack.
What is artificial Intelligence and machine learning?
“AI is any type of machine with intelligence that can solve a specific problem. Within the travel industry, an example would be a chatbot. Chatbots can have varying degrees of AI, with the simplest having sets of “if/then” logical statements to guide the decision-making process in the conversation. These solve the problem asked with predetermined sets of answers from its guide, but it doesn’t typically learn or change insights from new input.
“Unlike AI, Machine Learning (ML) is when the algorithm can derive new insights based on comparing new data to historical data. As an example, ML may be used in tools that predict airfare pricing fluctuations. This type of tool uses AI to analyse historical flight pricing patterns and compares them to the present to predict future pricing. Learning pricing patterns, especially through high, low and shoulder seasons, these tools can help travellers decide when to book airfares by alerting them to upcoming price increases.”
What are the benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning for business travel?
“AI is increasingly used in consumer-facing technology to provide several benefits to users. The first and most widely known benefit is personalisation. By better understanding user behaviour based on travel products or services purchased, we can display relevant options to reduce decision-making, whilst increasing brand trust and loyalty. Ultimately AI supports us understand what our customers want, increasing engagement and customer satisfaction.
“Intelligent assistants and chatbots can boost customer satisfaction by enabling faster, more convenient service. This intuitive technology can give customers fast answers and solve simple problems, freeing up employees to handle more complex challenges.
“AI/ML is already used by CTM to deliver efficient and intuitive service to customers. An example is our fare prediction tool – CTM Fare Forecaster which uses AI to learn from historical and current pricing trends to analyse and forecast price fluctuations and drive savings for the customer. Additionally, New Distribution Capability (NDC) provides customers with dynamically curated offers and pricing to make travel services more relevant to the traveller’s needs and preferences without sacrificing performance.”
How do you prioritise where to focus innovation?
“The beauty of having large data sets and a broad portfolio of products at CTM means our AI/ML adoption isn’t linear. We can learn about travel policy effectiveness, fare prices and personalisation at the same time, while also working on the user experience of recommended results we show in our online booking tool – Lightning.
“AI’s logic doesn’t categorise concepts the way we do, so we’re putting it to work in several test environments to improve the customer experience across a whole travel programme rather than just one product or communication channel.”
“Further to Böhme’s comments, we know from our user feedback and global customer surveys that price sensitivity, policy adoption and the user experience are all critical for travel managers which drive our technology roadmap.”
How is CTM using AI/ML differently than other travel management companies?
“CTM is building AI/ML into the fabric of our technology portfolio. The AI layer sits at the substrate level providing insights for applications such as Lightning (recommendations), Portal (travel readiness and risk), CTM Profiles (profile readiness), and is built with scalability in mind using microservices and open architecture for us to scale this globally with a ‘plug-n-play’ approach. We’re integrating with third-party systems and building our own, which allows us to be more agile with product suites globally.”
“I am excited about the opportunities CTM is creating at the customer experience level distinct from the self-serve online booking tool route. As a global travel management company, we process high volumes of enquiries and bookings, so we have big data that we can segment and analyse with AI to find patterns in how people are booking and managing travel. By automating some of those processes, we can give our customers fast and easy access to the things they want without them needing to wait for an agent.”
How does developing new capabilities with AI/ML differ from other technology development at CTM?
“AI/ML is a new approach to solving problems, but only where it makes sense. AI/ML can’t provide the same level of service that real, live employees are capable of, but it can enhance customer service and remove blockers in some areas that will improve overall satisfaction. It’s not the whole solution, but an interesting and complex part of creating a better experience for our customers.”
“AI/ML requires some specialised knowledge, so we’ve made investments in a team of data scientists and database administrators, as well as opportunities for our current developers to grow their knowledge of AI/ML.”
What long-term opportunities for AI/ML is CTM interested in?
“I am excited for the direction in which CTM is heading. We are focused on developing our AI/ML systems for scalability and global integration. We’ve already implemented some AI/ML features in our online booking tool and CTM Portal and looking forward to rolling out more enhancements that will support our customers in areas of savings, speed, safety, and sustainability.
“We are also integrating AI/ML capabilities into many of CTM’s business operations to drive operational efficiencies across our business. We are harnessing our data to drive more strategic and effective planning and decision-making which, in turn, ensures the most effective, timely and relevant outcomes for our customers, employees and partners.”