The online travel industry is undergoing multiple disruptions in its functioning and the trend will accelerate in the future. Recent technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain have significant potential to streamline online travel booking operations and enhance customer experience. In a recent interaction with Express Computer Anshuman Bapna, Chief Product Officer, Goibibo explains the trends and technology integration in the travel sector and the role Goibibo is playing in the ecosystem.
What kind of tech shifts have you noticed in the travel industry over the last 2-3 years and how do you see the space shaping up in the near future?
Online travel is a fast evolving sector – adopting new technologies to make travel planning, research and booking more intuitive and more convenient. One of the big switches was app-first philosophy that online travel companies such as Goibibo offered.
And now, the advances in data engineering and artificial intelligence are a key trend that will shape the future of travel. Today, travel and hospitality companies are delivering real added value by integrating artificial intelligence into online search and booking. The industry is adopting an AI-first approach, focusing on ‘relevance’ to build personalization and capabilities based on data. Another big frontier for online travel space is conversational commerce which combines conversational design and NLU (Natural language Understanding). It has the potential to add considerable value to all types of travel-related activities including allowing customers to perform travel search and booking – while talking in their native languages.
The Internet ecosystem in India has drastically changed. What does it mean to Goibibo now?
Goibibo caters to the young, tech savvy, transaction focused customer for whom travelling is a spontaneous activity and does not necessarily involve laborious planning and budgeting. At Goibibo, we are at the forefront of using technology and test unexplored ways to make travel booking intuitive and hassle free for our customers. We are making significant investments in product and technology to ensure we are placing the right bets as we see future of travel evolve. We largely focus on Personalisation, Conversational Commerce &are bringing AI out of labs for customer focused solutions. Be it our chatbots like Gia on Goibibo that has reduced in-person support ticket handling by more than 25% on the platform or seat selection and seamless delivery of hotel vouchers on chat app of people’s choice. We are also making it easier than ever before for people to plan group travel through tools like GoPlanner that not just help multiple people make group travel itineraries in-app but can also live chat within the app to pick or miss a hotel while booking travel on the platform.
What are some of the recent products by Goibibo? How specific are these to the India market?
At Goibibo, we have built our own smart assistant – a chatbot called Gia, a conversational interface to support the work that was typically done through call centres. The use of AI is helping us to take care of post booking needs. It is also beneficial in extracting information from various data sets to become more accurate in predicting what a traveler’s preferences are and make relevant offerings.
In terms of product features, we currently offer features like seat and meal selection, auto check-in and hotel reviews and images collection through WhatsApp built-in Android APIs. We have also introduced a new feature on our app called – ‘Secret Hotel Secret Deal’ where many of the last minute travelers can book hotels within minutes in just 3 simple steps. Using hyperlocation and choice of property, budget and amenities, traveler can book a hotel on goibibo App. It is a standardised hotel buying experience at a hyperlocation level which is trending on our platform, especially amongst first time travelers who would like to book the best hotel within their budget without spending much time in searching online.
In addition to all these offerings, we have also built Goibibo Xpress – a conversation based app targeting the next 100million internet users who are fairly new to the web and primarily use budget smartphones. With Indians getting more and more comfortable with chat apps like WhatsApp – we want to serve them through a conversational online travel booking interface. Being a travel-tech company, we want to cater to every single kind of traveler and our product and technology helps us do it in an easy and hassle-free way. The new app is in its pilot phase and will allow its users to converse in their own regional language. The App is designed keeping in mind that voice search is becoming a popular search mode on mobile, especially for those who find typing or manual data entry daunting.The App is light with less than 1.5MB storage space, it has limited screen views and a simple chatbot that offers multi lingual options to customers.
How is Goibibo changing India’s online travel market?
Goibibo has always been at the forefront of technological innovation and we aim to drive our growth and strive in the online travel space on the back of the technology that we use. In terms of our customer offering we cater to value conscious customers.
To strengthen delivery of our e-tickets and vouchers, and to create an experience that is easy and more convenient for our customers, Goibibo integrated with WhatsApp enterprise solution to send all the above and more on WhatsApp. Conversational interfaces eliminate hassle and WhatsApp has become second nature to a majority of the country, and emerged as a prime messaging platform amongst consumers in India. Being a mobile-first company, we want to leverage the mobile ecosystem to communicate better with our customers and also get feedback from them, which will help us deliver a better & faster experience. We send air tickets, hotel booking confirmations, seat selection, hotel selection via live location etc. on WhatsApp to deliver value to our customers.
What are some of the other trends that will rule in the Indian travel industry landscape for 2018 and beyond?
The travel ecosystem is maturing at a fast pace. Indians travel 2-3 times in a year, and are opting for international travel to short haul destinations. With simpler visa processes and lucrative package deals we see a significant number of people opting to travel to less-explored destinations and experimenting with their travel choices.
Chatbots are taking up a large number of post booking travel queries, on our platform up to 25% post booking queries are handled through chatbots. This ecosystem is ready to move to the retail side. We believe chatbots are becoming one port of call for all customer related queries forpre-booking and availability details as well.
What kind of tech developments do you foresee in your organization and in the online travel segment over the next 12-18 months?
I believe, there is a massive platform fragmentation that lies ahead of us with instant apps gaining popularity across sectors. Instantly interactive app experience is sliced in a web like app experience with customization to try an app or game just with one tap on the android, without installing it first. These android apps focus on enhanced user experience and are evolving and engaging with more users each day by providing ease of access, build usability and save time and space.
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