Thomson trials chatbot search tool for holiday suggestions

Virtual Assistant uses natural language

UK holiday brand Thomson is trialing a travel search tool that uses a smart chatbot.

Thomson is working with IBM’s Cloud to build a chatbot that interacts with customers to provide responses in real-time, resulting in helpful suggestions of holiday destinations or holiday experiences.

The chatbot enables a simple and personalised search using natural language, quite a  different way of finding holidays compared to the usual checkbox and filtering of e-commerce sites.

To use the bot customers do not have to be very specific when talking to it.

Try the Thomson chatbot.

The technology behind it is designed to learn from every customer interaction, to become smarter over time and provide ever more accurate responses.

The chatbot is in beta test and will continue to be developed using customer feedback to improve responses.

Thomson is trialing the new tool with customers following recent research showing 77% of people thought a virtual agent would be useful when searching for a holiday.

Thomson is part of TUI UK & Ireland.

Jeremy Osborne, Director of Strategic Innovation, TUI UK&I:

‘We wanted to test whether a conversational search experience would resonate with our customers as a new, fun and easy way to find their ideal holiday. By leveraging IBM Cloud Technology with Watson’s cognitive intelligence, we are raising the bar in the travel industry. We are delivering an interactive service experiment to our customers that offers holiday inspiration ideas and personalised search results based on customer interests. We are excited to learn how customers react and interact, what they get out of the experience and how it compares to the current way of shortlisting holiday options.’

Helen Kelisky VP of Cloud, IBM UK and Ireland:

“Cloud is the foundation for innovation. Thomson’s new interactive and conversational search tool is a prime example of how organisations can tap into the powerful infrastructure of IBM Cloud to build a customised user experience, which will continue to rapidly evolve with customer feedback and preferences.”

Holiday brochures

Thomson also plans to change the way customers book holidays in store and online. For example, by 2020 they plans to phase out brochures.

But the World Travel Market 2016 Industry Report, released earlier this month, showed that the use of holiday brochures in the UK is making a comeback.

More than a third (34%) of those who booked a holiday in the past year used a brochure as part of the process.

In 2014, the figure was just 6%. In 2015, the figure more than double to 14%. In 2016, it has more than double again.

A mere 12% say they have never looked at a brochure when booking a holiday.

N.B. Image credit: Thomson

Internet links

Thompson Chatbot

IBM Cloud

World Travel Market 2016 Travel Reports