SOUTH PORTLAND, ME—The recently launched Halo Travel, an intelligent, voice-activated system for travel, enables customers to book hotel and airline travel through voice AI.
Halo Travel is a partnership between AI.io and Wex Inc., a provider of corporate payments solutions, and powered by Priceline Partner Network. The app is the first to allow booking hotels and flights strictly through voice, according to the company.
“We feel like people find a convenience with voice, and we find that voice technology also removes some of the impediments that people currently have to engaging—specifically, the ability to be device agnostic,” said Terence Mills, CEO of AI.io. “Because those impediments are no longer there with voice, we feel like the trajectory of where people are headed, where consumers are headed, where travel is headed—to be one of the largest-consumed products in the world—and where we think we can go with the technology today, we thought that it was the right time to introduce this technology in a particular business model that we think will be very attractive.”
Users can connect to Halo Travel through Google Assistant. They tell the device where they want to go and when, what their budget is and are given options. The entire travel transaction can be processed via voice through Wex’s virtual payments technology.
Over time, the technology learns the user’s habits and preferences, what Mills calls mass personalization. “The technology is based on building a relationship with the user,” he said. “The more that you use it, the more it starts to understand your travel habits and patterns, what you like, what you want and when you want it. It doesn’t take long to do that, and that is the artificial intelligence behind it. A chatbot is not very intelligent; it is not really AI. But when you are taking large amounts of user data and sifting through it to gain insights so you can make recommendations to do different things, that is very much AI.”
Mills continued, “What it is doing is it is developing a relationship with you over time. It will then give you the things that you are interested in. So, for example, what it does first is ask you to fill out a first name, last name, billing address and a credit card. Once you have done that, that is all it asks you—three pieces of information when you want to buy something for the first time. You don’t need to enter that to actually use the app, but you need to do that if you want to buy for the first time.”
Depending on the device, users can see the properties that are offered. “When we present the hotel, we actually show a picture of the hotel on the surface, so if you are not using a speaker, but you are using your phone, you’ll see a picture of the hotel,” he said. “When it says, ‘Can I show you rooms?’ you will see a picture of the room. If you want to see more, it will send you more. If you are on a home speaker and you want to see something, it will direct you to your phone to see pictures.”
The technology is device agnostic. “So if you have access to Google, you have access to this technology,” he said. “You can be on any device, at any time, at any point. You don’t necessarily need to download an app. So far, we have introduced this on Google Assistant. We could integrate it directly to a website if we wanted to without a problem, also utilizing the Google backbone. Being device agnostic removes a tremendous barrier for people because it doesn’t require a special app and it doesn’t require you to do anything or worry about anything based upon the type of operating system that you are on. You can be on a tablet, you can be on a phone, Android, laptop; you can be on anything, and voice allows you to utilize it.”
Mills said that there are three target markets for the product. The first is the everyday consumer. “We are definitely talking to consumers less than we are talking to corporate travelers,” he said. “These are consumers who are used to booking travel and probably do it many times a year. It could be small business travelers and, in some cases, it could be corporate, but it is highly unlikely. We think that the bigger market is really that of consumers who book travel, and they book travel frequently, or may book it infrequently. We have developed a technology to do both.”
The second target—and the one that Mills said is the primary one—are hotel brands, with a licensed enterprise edition. “We know that hotels are constantly competing for consumer market share—it is a competitive business. In any particular market, we want to provide hotels a differentiator. The ability for a hotel to integrate this technology to their offering, perhaps on their website, perhaps on their app, perhaps in a variety of different places, allows primarily the differentiation and integration of the technology that makes it easy for consumers to access,” he said. “That is something that we are very focused on, and we are in conversations with a number of both large and small hotel chains that are moving on this aggressively.”
The licensed enterprise edition would only offer properties within the brand family of the licensee.
The third target is small businesses that tend to be budget conscious. “One of the features it has is the ability to control things via budget, and that is a big, big deal for small businesses,” he said. “Based on that, they are very focused on budget, and there can be budget restrictions, there can be automatic budget assumptions. For instance…it would only show you airline flights in a particular budget amount. It would show you only hotel rooms in a particular budget amount. It will automatically learn that and then present those to you… Our main driver is being able to segment and filter based on budget.” HB