Internet Travel Monitor - Marketing, Research & Tech

November 16, 2016

Leading Hotels of the World Uses AI to Drive Destination Discovery

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Discount and deal driven, the travel industry has become increasingly dominated by search rather than discovery. Through artificial intelligence (AI), hotel chain The Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) is bringing discovery back to the travel research process, enabling consumers to contemplate travel and hotel ideas based on desired experiences, not just by location or price. Artificial intelligence (AI) helps make that possible. Phil Koserowski, vice president of interactive marketing at LHW, told eMarketer’s Maria Minsker how.

eMarketer: How are you using AI to improve the guest experience?

Phil Koserowski: We’ve been working with WayBlazer, a platform that leverages IBM Watson’s cognitive computing technology, for about two years to improve the hotel research and booking processes. Our hotels offer uncommon experiences, but we felt confined to a certain way of presenting ourselves. We would ask “Where do you want to go to and for how many nights?” vs. “What type of experiences do you want to have?”

Our target customers are curious travelers—80% are researching online. Through artificial intelligence, we can draw out some unique qualities and offerings that our 375 hotels offer, and highlight those relevant to specific customers.

eMarketer: What made you want to experiment with AI?

Koserowski: From both a content and search perspective, we were selling our consumers short by giving them map or list results. I also had an understanding of IBM Watson and the technology, and was intrigued by how the technology facilitates a different search experience, one where consumers are not just clicking around but are researching in a more conversational way.

eMarketer: What challenges did you face when you first began using AI?

Koserowski: We had some challenges in understanding how to train Watson to understand travel. IBM is doing a lot in the healthcare and finance spaces, but travel was a new thing for Watson. Initially, Watson was able to consume data, but we had to train it to understand the different concepts within that data.

eMarketer: What are some improvements you’ve noticed since you starting using AI?

Koserowski: One of the most compelling parts of the WayBlazer offering is the Trip Discovery tool, which enables consumers to search for concepts, such as beaches, and pulls up results that feature photos of the beaches themselves, not just the front of the hotel. Our guests say it feels like “searching the future.” With the WayBlazer platform, engagement was up and people were spending more time on our website using the tool. It was a clear indication that we were on to something.

eMarketer: What are some of your short-term and longer-term expectations for how AI’s role is going to evolve at LHW?

Koserowski: In the short term, we want to expand artificial intelligence to our overall hotel search experience, because right now we’re only using it for the Trip Discovery feature. In the longer-term, there’s an opportunity in the luxury space to be more personal and relevant to our consumers. For example, if a customer constantly searches for destinations with children’s activities, that’s something we can use to drive recommendations.

eMarketer: What advice would you give to other companies that are just starting to consider AI systems for their marketing efforts?

Koserowski: Definitely have an end goal. It’s fun to be innovative and try new things, but it’s good to have in mind a few core business problems to solve.

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