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Disturbing news for travel agents who aren’t robots

March 29, 2018 Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

Artificial intelligence (AI) is progressing so fast that customers are increasingly unable to tell chatbots from real travel agents – and a new report from the US suggests that an influential group of consumers actually prefers bots to genuine agents.

The advance of AI, the force behind driverless cars and a new wave of super-smart apps, has the US travel industry rattled. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) is pressing US regulators to pass laws making it compulsory to advise consumers whether the online entities they are talking with are human – or pieces of software.

Full AI technology – which the late Professor Stephen Hawking, Britain’s pre-eminent scientist, famously warned “could spell the end of the human race” – is so far manifesting itself in the limited form of voice assistants, chatbots and similar.

ASTA president and chief executive, Zane Kerby is on record as saying it’s essential for consumers to know when they are interacting with a computer as opposed to a human travel agent. For companies and airlines, it is cheaper to use chatbots.


Perhaps more disturbing is a new report indicating that the so-called “Millennial generation”, usually defined as the tech-savvy generation born between 1982 and 2000 (so aged 18 to 36, roughly) prefers interacting with new technologies than with human travel agents.

“Chatbots perfectly tap into the millennial’s need for instant gratification,” says an article in Forbes magazine, the influential American business and finance publication.

Forbes says there are already over 100,000 bots on Facebook’s messenger platform. Research by US information technology advisory firm Gartner indicates that within just two years, the bots will conduct 85% of customer interactions.

The Forbes article says that while Baby Boomers (roughly those born between 1943 and 1964) and members of Gen X (born from 1960 to 1984, approximately) still prefer to deal with a live agent or salesperson, “millennials would often rather avoid it. This remains true when it comes to booking travel plans”.

The report in Forbes is perplexing because it flies in the face of research last year that purported to show the exact opposite. See: Millennials flock to travel agents in three big surveys

Forbes points out that Google has recently made it possible for travellers to book flights and hotel rooms using their mobile devices directly from search results, largely because this is the sort of thing millennials prefer.

Finally, a disclosure statement: the author of this is a human being.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Andrew Thompson says:

    Great piece. The anomaly between the Forbes report and the research is interesting – the good old gap between what we say and what we do is alive and well. But this points to a more fundamental issue: bots can only sort through data, they cannot intuit. Even in the future, they will, at best, be as good as a psychopath: they may calculate what the human is thinking, but they will be second-best at intuitively delivering real agency. So it goes back o the same-old, same-old – human agents who deliver poor or mundane service will fall by the wayside, but those that add value will thrive. Probably my human optimism coming through, but there it is.

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