One of the biggest challenges facing travel companies is finding the best way to keep up with the latest technology.
Another big challenge is figuring the best way to integrate that tech into your business model.
Through their Incubator program, Luxury travel network Virtuoso seems to have found a way to do both.
The program selects relevant emerging tech companies and helps them to refine their product through real-world testing and feedback.
Each Incubator company receives a dedicated panel of Virtuoso advisors who test out their tech and suggest enhancements to better meet the needs of travel agencies, consultants and clients.
We spoke with Virtuoso’s APAC Managing Director, Michael Londregan to get the low down on how the program works and how its benefitting Virtuoso members.
“Often the problem for many start-ups is they’ve got no early users. They’ve got no reference point and no feedback coming into them about how their technology is going,” he told us.
“We put them with a group of our members who use the technology and give them feedback. That way, we’re becoming a partner at the grassroots level with a new technology provider.”
“It gives us a chance to road test emerging technologies for the market and for our members. It really helps us get in on the grassroots and lets us work with people who have some really imaginative ideas that we wouldn’t have come up with ourselves.”
This year, Virtuoso received applications from 45 companies and admitted only 11 per cent of those, including three international participants from Canada and Australia.
Of the five companies selected for Incubator, two focus on AI.
So why the interest in AI?
“We don’t actually know,” said Londregan.
“AI technology has such a “wow” factor, but how are we gonna use that? Hows it going to really change how someone gets into the purchase cycle?”
“And i think its a topic we’re going to be definitly working with but we dont exactly know how thats going to look or which technology is going to be dominent.”
“But I’m absolutely sure that in this travel centre we actually ask people to pay the money before they actually experience the product. This makes people nervous that creates risk that maybe AI can address.”
Londregan also said a good use for the AI technology would be for chatbots, which Virtuoso is already trialling in the US.
“Customers increasingly are expecting a 24/7 service when they do go online so we are looking at chatbots in terms of that, but this is not a replacement idea.”
“We’re really moving from technology replacing humans to a different idea which is tech helping people do their job better.”
So far, Virtuoso have seen some major benefits come out of the program in terms of trip planning and itineraries.
“We need to understand that the customer is looking for an entire experience. They’re not looking for an airfare and a hotel per say, they’re actually looking for whats going to happen at their destination in a holistic way,” he said.
“Some of this material is fantastic because it’s bringing in local attractions, restaurants, restaurant reviews, day tourism options and so on.”
“Instead of waiting to get there and having to go see the concierge, the trip planning technology is giving customers options and insights before they even get there.”
This year’s Incubator participants are:
eRoam: Based in Australia, eRoam offers an AI-powered solution that delivers personalised itineraries based on trends, freeing advisors from the need to constantly monitor developments for clients and improving efficiency. Its technology continuously scans current travellers’ data to advise future travellers of the same peer group on what is trending in transport, accommodations, and activities.
HelloGbye: The Canadian company offers a tool that saves travel advisors time by using AI to generate itinerary recommendations using the spoken word or ‘natural language’. It scans incoming communications and provides instant recommendations to advisors based on set preferences, purchase history and geo-demographic profiles.
Jrrny: A content creation platform for advisors to promote posts about destinations and their travel expertise, then capture leads from those posts. With millions of readers of this social travel platform, advisors can maximise marketing efforts and benefit from exposure to travel-savvy followers.
PlanitEasy: A central platform encompassing customer relationship management (with ClientBase integration), trip management, communication portal, project management, itinerary builder, accounting, and soon RFPs. This one-stop solution increases advisor efficiency by closing gaps, and makes planning easier, client experiences better and service more personal.
ZoomandGo: A map-based hotel reservation and analytics solution that makes booking via the GDS much easier, boosting productivity and sales. The tool from the Canadian company helps advisors increase rate code use, improving hotel program adherence and achieving sales goals.
The program is always open to applications from exceptional travel technology innovators. Interested start-ups can contact the program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information, go here.