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Hotel bookings receive chatbot treatment, showcasing new revenue opportunities

DMI International has joined forces with a travel distribution technology company to implement natural language processing into a chatbot that leverages IBM Watson’s platform to respond to users’ hotel search requests.

With the hospitality sector becoming increasingly permeated with third-party booking applications, consumers may soon become weary of giving up prime real estate on their smartphones and instead turn to chatbots for their travel-related needs. DMI has teamed up with travel distribution firm Zumata on a new chatbot designed to transform Facebook Messenger into a search engine for hotel bookings, highlighting another untapped revenue stream for hospitality marketers.

“Chatbots will provide a complement to the Web and apps by enabling direct conversations to organize, book and make your travel more convenient,” said Ilaria Piga Serra, head of marketing at DMI International. “[For example], you are staying at a hotel and want a good tip for a restaurant and the chatbot helps you find and book the restaurant and even plans and books your taxi to get there.

“AI chatbots will change how we plan and manage our travel over time.”

New levels of personalization
DMI’s collaboration with Zumata is currently in a public beta on Facebook. The new chatbot, which lives on Facebook Messenger, was created for consumers who feel more comfortable using an app they already have instead of downloading a brand-new booking app.

The two companies worked to integrate natural language processing into the chatbot, which leverages IBM Watson’s AI technology to respond to users’ hotel search requests.

This ultimately culminates in new levels of customization and individualization.

The chatbot enables users to pose questions related to their booking specifications, as though they are communicating with a human customer service representative. It then presents consumers with relevant and personalized answers.

For example, if a Messenger user is considering going on a ski trip with a friend, the chatbot can give both individuals suggestions regarding potential accommodations to speed up – and streamline – the booking process.

This will shorten customers’ research times. Additionally, the chatbot is designed to bolster conversions for travel sellers and simultaneously lessen their operating costs, per DMI.

Traveling with AI
If DMI and Zumata’s chatbot sees widespread consumer adoption, it could incite other online travel agents hoping to improve booking conversions to team up with companies bearing AI expertise.

An IBM executive at the MMA Mobile Marketing Leadership Forum said that leveraging cognitive capabilities on mobile devices can improve audience segmentation and uncover previously unseen patterns, helping brands tap into consumers’ shopping predilections (see story).

So far, many consumers have reacted positively to the proliferation of chatbots featuring branded content.

Microsoft’s recent chatbot disaster notwithstanding, an explosion of relatively easy-to-develop messaging interfaces is expected this year as marketers look to capitalize on the time spent in Facebook Messenger, Kik and other similar apps (see story).

Zumata and DMI’s partnership could significantly affect the travel and hospitality sector by meeting mobile users on one of their most frequented apps, Facebook Messenger.

Zumata delivers consolidated inventory of more than 500,000 hotels globally. The company hopes to offer its travel vendor partners additional tools to enhance customer experiences and boost their own conversion rates.

“The Zumata chatbot is being promoted as a concept to all existing Zumata clients and will be rolled out throughout 2016,” Ms. Serra said.