Travel agents ask, or are asked, the same few questions millions of times per year, making them the ideal business to be transformed by a chatbot. Let it do the “beach or touring, snow or city break” questions and save your efforts for the key interactions with your customers.
The travel industry remains a cutthroat business with more holiday firms, airlines and hotels hit by closures in recent times due to global uncertainty, high fuel costs and a growth in staycations. Whatever your travel business, from niche boutique startup to growing brand, chatbots provide a key opportunity to expand your operations at minimal cost, and to rein in other expenses.
Among all the industry chaos, there are still plenty of booming travel firms, running their own types of niche vacation, so running your own travel agency is still an achievable goal, and the chatbot can help play a key role in winning sales and customers. At the basic level, a chatbot can reduce or remove the need for extra staff, allowing you to run a web-based operation with no expensive offices.
Chatbots on holiday
Chatbots can answer that endless list of frequently asked questions, and through a few simple choices direct people to the holidays/deals they want, be it on a beach for the family, or a trek with llamas in South America, followed by swimming with piglets in the Caribbean. Bots help bring customisation and flexibility in minutes that would take someone wading through traditional brochures hours, or an endless circle of indecision.
The chatbot in the travel industry is already a common sight, market giant TUI trialed one following recent research showing 77% of people thought a virtual agent would be useful when searching for a holiday, and bots are popular with airlines and hotels to deal with high volumes of interactions. But, your virtual assistant travel agent can be as personal and as flexible as you like, helping win over customers one at a time, or getting messages out to a wider audience 24/7, depending on your needs.
Chatbots connect your travel agency to the customer instantly, no waiting on hold or for an advisor in a branch. Using an app or website, you can promote your tours quickly and efficiently, skipping on the costly advertising where your opportunity to be seen is dwarfed by established players.
Using strong keywords and SEO, customers will find you through search and can find the holiday or tour they want almost instantly. Booking chatbots can speeding up the booking process and helping upsell extra tours, car rental, spa days or other add-ons without the sales pressure that human agents feel the need to apply.
Building the package with a chatbot
Even if you don’t have direct tours or holidays to sell, many people are building travel businesses using existing features and services of the market. The huge brands like Expedia and Lastminute were built on finding existing flights, hotels and tours and bundling them into packages that were cheaper.
Creating your business as a travel planner or booking agent, a chatbot can still help grow the company by providing links to back-end flight searches through Skyscanner or other services, hotel bookings, car rentals and other services to build a customer’s ideal holiday out of the component parts.
Bots can also offer web check-in, travel support and tie in with existing airline bots for current information. That chatbot data is also valuable information, helping find out where people want to go, and plan to visit in future, so you can create future offers based around customer desire and trends.
Providing the personal touch
Saving cash on staff and offices is a useful feature of chatbots, but they still cost money to develop into smart and useful services that people want to interact with. Some brands have spent millions developing the more advanced bots, but they can still be developed by individuals or small teams to deliver the right service your customers need.
You can still imbue the bot with your own sense of personality and provide that personal touch when needed, through online chat or over the phone when needed. But, for most travel agents, the aim is to win bookings through the maximum amount of automation including the final sale to get bums on airplane seats or on deckchairs, and chatbots are leading the way in terms of availability, accessibility and with a growing number of features.
Your bot might start out only showing the highlights, including photos, video and weblinks (chatbots are far from just text these days) that your travel agent offers. But they can easily be boosted to offer package selection, booking dates and taking payments to make the process faster and smoother, especially for those in the impulsive weekend or city break markets.
The chatbot can be used on your own website, a mobile app, on Facebook Messenger where millions of potential customers are already present. And, as the business grows, the bot can handle the volume, whatever the next popular destination and be updated with sales and bargains, or up and coming events to help drive repeat business and grow a loyal customer base that is happy to deal with you and your bot.
Combine cloud-based chatbots with easy to build websites, endless cloud power and social media to deliver messages to customers or prospects and you have the features to deliver a great travel agent, be it one pushing a bespoke and niche holiday or event, or one that is simply providing a fast service to get people where they want to go.
Soon, all travel agents will be largely automated, but yours can still stand out by focusing on local customers who want to go far, or a global customer base, bringing them to your area. Offering differentiation by the type of package or finding the little extras that major players might miss out on, there is plenty of opportunity.
Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.