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Corporate travel applications have utilized “Big Data” in support of various types of predictive analytics for years.  Processing large amounts of information to inform supplier pricing, client discount strategy, routing strategies, and yield management has helped to hone industry strategy.  Other consumer-facing applications such as chatbots that enable machine learning (AI), take predictive analytics to the next level by enabling a computer to learn human behavior to help with real time decision making. 

While predictive analytics and more powerful Artificial Intelligence applications play a huge role in optimizing the corporate travel industry, Generative Artificial Intelligence applications promise to be a real game changer.  The primary leap in technology from traditional AI to Gen AI is the computing ability to pivot from outputs that are purely data generated to marrying data with the individual to provide “humanistic” choices.  No doubt, when considered through the lens of travel this capability is truly game changing but real Gen AI applications are not a reality yet.

Industry suppliers and new technology providers today offer next-level machine learning capabilities that some inaccurately label generative AI. Applications that pull data out of reservations or apply historical travel patterns to support new bookings seem to be the next and better iteration of common functions, such as online booking, chat, reporting platforms and mobile applications. These examples improve on pre-existing machine learning capabilities but don’t reach the level of humanistic, semantics-level decision-making ability that defines generative AI. When we hear travel technologists reference the ability to “contextualize” intent with their products, they are referring to the distinction that describes the humanistic capabilities of Gen AI in an over-simplified manner that seems more catered to would-be investors or a client hungry for the “next best thing”.  

The challenge to overcome as it relates to create real solutions using Gen AI is one of semantics.  In order for a computer to generate human-like choices it must understand the specific human behavior it’s providing these choices to.  To accomplish this, access to both travel data and personal data is required.  The problem of semantics in travel gets even more complex as you dig deeper. Not only is there a requirement to marry information to semantics, but the language itself must match to succeed. For a travel application, the language concerned here can be thought of as text, chat, phone or email. An email picked up by an agent and answered with a phone call potentially negates the ability to contextualize human intent or meaning.  How many examples can you think of where a text is misinterpreted by the recipient and must be clarified by a simple phone call?  Understanding how language has intention and conveys meaning is a hard problem to solve for a computer. Yet, intention, meaning and raw data are all real-world aspects that must be considered. Have you ever heard the phrase, “a difference that makes a difference”? It came from the idea that language and communication are well-defined and measurable, even if we don’t always understand how meaning and intention fit into a particular application. 

Generative AI Applications in Travel 

Successful generative AI applications will understand the semantics of both business and leisure travel for a particular travel policy and individual. It will consider personal aspects of a traveler’s life, including every variable that a traveler may consider when making a travel decision. Generative AI will assimilate predictive analytics with semantics to provide the traveler with granular, sensible choices. Effective generative AI will proactively consider the multitude of variables that a traveler would consider as they anxiously watch a gathering storm through a conference room window 1,000 miles from home. 

Here are some examples: 

  • Will my flight be canceled? 
  • Can I stay in my hotel one more night? 
  • Will I make it to Billy’s softball game? 
  • I have that dinner tomorrow that I’d need to cancel. 
  • I need to be in Baltimore in three days. Perhaps wait a day and then just go to Maryland? 
  • I have a conference call at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow. 
  • I can’t sit in the middle seat because of my back issues.

Imagine the power of harnessing all this information using predictive analytics along with the interpretation of personal data, such as calendars and historical travel data, to provide proactive, semantic-driven choices while the worried traveler gazes from their desk chair. 

Business Travel + Generative AI Challenge

Whereas most spend categories within organizations can probably utilize generative AI with readily available data points and fewer semantics, I think business travel will be challenging. Corporate travel has always been a stick-and-carrot type of spend category, where the company takes away liberties with policy while acquiescing for dozens of reasons using exception codes. Travel policy, traveler choice, a myriad of travel options and data privacy all play a role. The recent European Union Artificial Intelligence Act, which will put substantial limitations on the use of AI in Europe, may act as a world model for laws surrounding AI applications. Will these applications even be legal in Europe? What will California’s Consumer Privacy Act say about all of this? Successful applications of generative AI must overcome enormous data challenges while requiring access to very personal information. 

Given the industry buzz and excitement around generative AI, it’s easy to envision how travel applications can be transformative. Every sea change must start with a ripple before it becomes a wave. At KesselRun, our approach to Generative AI solutions is no different than our approach with any other solution.  First, we identify the client’s need and the use cases that drive our decision making to adopt a particular technology.  How will the particular technology add value to the travel program?  What is the return on investment?  Today, Generative AI applications promise to streamline agency operations, potentially driving costs out of programs and enabling efficiencies across the entire procure to pay life cycle.  KesselRun is excited to see what new technologies can bring and will stay at the forefront as the technology develops. Our team is ready to help you with your corporate travel program needs – contact us online

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