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Travel-planning search engine Hipmunk has joined the growing throng of companies to embrace the bot revolution with the launch of an A.I.-powered assistant that provides automated advice to would-be travelers.
Founded in 2010, Hipmunk has raised around $55 million in funding for a travel-search aggregation service that covers flights, hotels, car-hire, and more. Now, following an eight-month beta period, Hello Hipmunk is officially launching with added support for Facebook Messenger and Slack (after having originally been restricted to email and calendars).
Hello Hipmunk promises to answer “more kinds of travel questions than any other travel A.I.,” the company said in a statement, and promises to deliver those results earlier in the travel-search process, too. The service provides recommendations to plain-English queries, such as when the best time is to travel from one place to another.
Chatbot responses can be filtered automatically by using phrases such as “only show me non-stops” or “I prefer American Airlines.”
Users can also post vague statements such as “I’d like to take a romantic city break from New Orleans in February” or “I’d like to go on a beach vacation in August.”
Bot to the future
Hipmunk is just one of many travel companies to launch customer service chatbots in recent times. Flight search giant Skyscanner introduced a similar tool for Facebook Messenger last month, while both Expedia and Cheapflights joined the jamboree in the past couple of weeks.
Looking beyond chatbots, this trend also represents a growing shift that has seen messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger become platforms in their own right. Back in March, Facebook and KLM airlines announced a partnership that would allow KLM customers to receive boarding cards, flight confirmations, customer service, and more directly through the Messenger app. But throwing A.I.-powered bots into the mix opens a wealth of opportunities for companies wishing to streamline customer support and negate the need for humans.
“The average traveler runs 20 searches when planning a trip,” explained Adam Goldstein, CEO and cofounder of Hipmunk. “Hello Hipmunk shrinks that process to one simple conversation. It can process tons of information, from flight pricing to room availability, and synthesize it instantly.”
The so-called paradox of choice can also mean that consumers faced with too many options find it harder to decide on what to do, and helping focus search results is one of the perceived benefits that bots can bring to the table.
“The proliferation of travel sites has made it harder, not easier, for customers to have confidence when booking,” added Goldstein. “That’s why A.I. is so powerful in travel. We’re taking the nuances of customers’ needs — in their own words — and doing all the hard work in the background, searching across all those sites instantly.”
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