August 15, 2017 | Written by: Terry Jones
Categorized: AI/Watson | Travel and Transportation
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I helped online travel planning take off. Now I want to get it back on course.
Here’s what happened: I started out as a travel agent, then went to American Airlines and spent 24 years in marketing and IT. When we saw the internet boom, we asked:
“How can this help travel planning?”
Great question. American Airlines had an electronic reservation system named Sabre, but at that time most people who booked their own travel still spent tedious time reading through flight schedules, lists and other details to research their options.
So, American Airlines turned Sabre into a new company named Travelocity.com. I was the CEO of Travelocity.com from its launch in 1996 to when Sabre bought it back in 2002. That’s when I left to help create Kayak.com, serving as chairman until Priceline bought that company in 2013.
Online travel planning made a big impact in how people plan their travel. It gave people a site that could compile prices and availability for everything. It was everything in one place. But the internet kept evolving. The amount of information to sort through doubled, tripled, exploded. Suddenly, everything in one place started to sound like a mountain of choices. To get the best deal on the right destination, people needed to spend tedious time reading through details to research the options. Sound familiar?
Travel planning needed innovation
Online travel planning needed to innovate. It needed to be more than an electronic catalog so massive that you had to limit your trip at the start. New technology gives us new approaches. In particular, the boom in artificial intelligence has inspired people to ask:
“How can this help travel planning?”
Great question, once again. But the answer starts with another question: What do people need? It’s not about inserting artificial intelligence—it’s about finding out how it can help.
When most people plan their travel, they want to get the perfect trip with little effort. Online travel planning made things easier at first, but somewhere along the line it became about the technology. Websites didn’t ask travelers what kind of trip they wanted; They asked travelers which city, what time, what part of town. Then it turned into a game to grab the latest deals and uncover special discounts. A lot of people don’t want to play that game. They’re ready to relax on vacation, not tense up for an online bargain-store blitz.
Choices became limitations
And sometimes people don’t want to make choices that limit them up front. The very start of online travel planning requires you to dissect your beautiful beach vacation into a specific city, hotel and schedule, quickly crumbling into price comparisons and tiny photos. What if your ideal vacation is waiting for you somewhere else? What if you were open to seeing somewhere new?
Travel should be about travel. It shouldn’t be about bookings, reservations, discounts and limitations. When someone watches a beautiful sunset at a beach resort, they’re not watching an internet-booked sunset. They’re just watching a sunset. That’s the human experience. It’s not internet travel. It’s travel. The internet needs to get out of the way.
Get the internet out of the way
That’s what we do with WayBlazer. WayBlazer uses IBM Watson cognitive technology to let people say something like “I want a beach vacation in January, with scuba diving nearby.” Using most websites, you would probably start by searching for scuba diving, find something that looked good, then book a nearby hotel and travel. But the diving might be a small part of your trip—what you really want is the most amazing beach and hotel that has diving nearby, just like you said. You can’t search every single beach with diving near it, and you can’t look at every hotel and review site to try to figure out which places are best. But WayBlazer can.
Our cognitive technology understands what you say, understands what reviews say, and finds the best price—for the best destination, not just the best website.
That’s how we’re innovating to meet real needs with the latest technology. That’s how we plan to fix online travel planning and get it back on track for the future.
We just want to make sure you can see that stunning sunset on the beach.
For more, watch the IBM interview with WayBlazer’s Terry Jones.