In San Jose, Calif., Casto Travel recently launched the text message-based “Marco,” a mobile travel assistant powered by Mezi, a Silicon Valley startup. Marco was introduced for Casto’s business travel clients and is already completing 60 percent of the current users’ bookings without human intervention, said president and CEO Marc Casto.
Casto Travel's corporate travel clients use “natural language” to make a booking through Mezi, just as if they were emailing or calling a live agent. Users first set up a profile that is activated every time they interact with the system, helping the tool learn about the traveler’s personal preferences so it can apply them to future booking conversations.
According to a recent survey by Allianz Global Assistance, 11 percent of Millennials prefer to work with artificial intelligence and chatbots, versus 4 percent of people 35 years of age and older. Twenty four percent of Millennials prefer to use online and instant messaging tools, versus 10 percent of their older peers.
While most of Mezi’s clients are larger firms, Johnny Thorsen, Mezi vice president of strategy and partnerships, believes AI’s economies of scale have reached the point where virtually any travel agency, no matter what size, can avail themselves of the technology.
Casto and others also are hoping that the introduction of AI will allow travel agents to focus more on 21st-century selling and customer service skills, and less on low value-add expertise like GDS skills.
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