April 23, 2024

TUI Group’s AI Chatbot is the first in several pilots

Take Change

TUI Group is one of the first companies to test how it can use a generational AI chatbot to help consumers search through its own product portfolio.

Justin Dawes

TUI Group has released a ChatGPT-powered chatbot on its UK app, the first of what is expected to be a wave of rollouts that incorporate generational AI into the company’s technology.

Using the ChatGPT-powered chatbot tool, released earlier this month, users can ask questions about TUI’s tour portfolio or other ticketed experiences available at any destination. The chatbot responds with relevant links to access more information and complete a booking.

This is the company’s first generation consumer-facing AI chatbot, one of several pilots to explore new ways in which consumers can search for and book TUI products, according to Pieter Jordaan, chief information officer for TUI Group.

AI is not just for Online Travel Agencies

The most notable AI chatbot releases to date have come from large online travel agencies or other third-party aggregators of travel products. Expedia Group, for example, was one of the first to release a chatbot tool and is now planning updates in the coming months.

Germany-based TUI Group, on the other hand, controls its own supply of flights, hotels and ticketing experiences. The company owns several European airlines including TUI Airways, as well as multiple hotel brands, the world’s largest tour operator company, and more.

TUI Group’s effort is one of the first examples of a company aiming to use generative AI to help customers search their own product stock.

Jordaan believes that AI can be integrated as a way to ease the experience for users who want to book directly rather than through online travel agencies.

“It’s clear when you contact them, they’re an intermediary, so when things go wrong, they refer you,” Jordaan said.

“It’s much better and easier for us to build the package and build the experience based on what customers want because we’ll be able to guarantee that experience rather than an aggregator that’s just stringing data together.”

While some experts believe that the big online travel agencies are likely to be the biggest winners after implementing generational AI, some experts expect that other travel companies will aim to benefit in a similar way. TUI Group.

Tata Crocombea hotel owner who also helps hospitality companies leverage the latest AI technology, during a session at HITEC last month that the lower barrier to entry provided by ChatGPT and Google Bard is likely to have an effect everywhere.

“Basically, pretty soon everyone will have a chatbot,” Crocombe said. “Many people did not adopt the chatbots because they were not functional enough; I think ChatGPT is going to change that.”

Crocombe believes hotel companies using generational AI will outperform the big online travel agencies because hotels will be able to provide information, such as check-out times, that third-party companies won’t have access to.

“That’s going to be a big opportunity,” he said.

Integrating generational AI across the Company

Jordaan said that TUI Group wants to be measured in its release of AI to hurt the brand with tools that are not ready. Still, he admitted, technology is moving fast and companies need to respond.

“At the pace we’re moving, I think you’re going to have to make a decision sooner rather than later, and I think it’s now the first mover advantage because everybody’s going to be forced into it,” Jordaan said. .

“It has to improve the customer experience, not waste it or take away from what we already have. If we provide something, and it makes it more difficult for a customer, or it makes the customer feel less secure about what they’re buying, I think it’s not adding value.”

TUI Group launched an internal “AI lab” in April, where TUI departments can brainstorm how the latest AI technology could be incorporated into what they do.

The objective was to enable a kind of company-wide brainstorming on how AI can be implemented across the company,” said Jordaan.

“Almost every sector is interested in our company now,” said Jordaan. “So because we have this funnel now, we can see all these activities coming in, and we can direct it.”

The company is running several pilots using all available AI generation sources, he said.

As Booking.com’s chief technology officer said, Jordaan expects generative AI to change consumer behavior by allowing them to focus on the intent of the trip – perhaps a family holiday or a specific event – and then tailor bookings around that.

“I think that’s the big disruption that’s happening, is user behavior and the expectation to change quickly. That will also affect how people search and therefore how search engines engage with companies like us.”

Like other companies, TUI Group is using AI generation products like Microsoft Copilot to make internal productivity more efficient.

“Generative AI is very good at doing a task faster, or improving the output of a task, or making a very complex task very simple and easier. But you still need the people to do the work and supervise,” said Jordaan.

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