Anne Majumdar

You may have heard the term “chatbot” being bounced around in our increasingly techtastic conversations, but you’d be forgiven for not really knowing what they are or how they are relevant to travel.

But, as far as trends go (and there are plenty around), this one could be a biggie.

So what the hell is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a service which is powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence. We interact with them via a chat interface.

You probably already use Facebook Messenger, or a service like Slack – these provide the perfect conditions for a chatbot to exist.

So what do they have to do with the world of travel?

Well, here goes.

Imagine booking your holidays or business trips with just a few quick messages – you could do it on the go, without having to wait for email replies, without having to distract yourself from whatever it is you’re doing.

Many believe that mobile messaging has the potential to explode, eclipsing phone, face to face and even online bookings.

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It’s not that surprising a theory really. After all, we pretty much live our lives via texting, rarely picking up the phone for a voice call, and gradually moving away even from emails.

So it’s no great shock either that start-ups, the hotbed of industry innovation, are lapping it up – think companies like the much-hyped Lola.

But it’s not just these nimble go-getters that are at it, the big boys are playing in the arena too. We’re talking companies like Expedia, Skyscanner and Kayak.

However, Douglas Quinby, an analyst over at travel industry research firm PhocusWright, stresses that each offering varies substantially.

“There are a lot of differences among these mobile messaging travel planners, such as the travel segments they focus on, the business models, the extent to which their conversational UI is powered by algorithms, humans or a blend of both,” he says.

“But all seem to be placing a big bet that travellers will welcome a conversational user experience offering a small, curated set of options rather than a comprehensive list.”

That means less is more – a truly game-changing concept in the travel arena where the focus has long been on offering as much product as possible.

And if that really is the way we are going, then mobile messaging could become a popular way to book.

But for now, quantity still appears to be king.

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Quinby referred to Phocuswright research which shows travellers are still in search of an abundance of information when in the trip planning process. 80% of travellers visit several websites, with 70% confirming they enjoy the planning process.

So it may be some time before we are totally ready to place the planning of our beloved holidays in the futuristic hands of a chatbot. And even when we do get there, technology may surprise us all over again. Exciting times.

Would you book travel via mobile messaging?