7 Reasons Why Chatbots Won't Replace Real Travel Agents Anytime Soon

Technology is constantly evolving to better help travel agents and consumers.  One of the latest areas of research by travel firms exploring new technologies is the chatbot and artificial intelligence (AI) phenomena. Facebook is building chatbots into Messenger and Microsoft is investing in CaaS (Conversation as a Service) platform development including bringing chatbots into Skype.  The question is, how will chatbots affect travel agents and consumers?

The idea, in theory less than practice, is that you can use AI to effectively respond to customers through chatbots, conversational utilities that can carry on a “conversation” with the customer, answer questions - or as is being experimented with in Amazon’s Echo device - to actually order travel services like plane tickets and hotel bookings.  While the advancement of these services are certainly worthwhile to supplement services available to customers (always provide customers whatever way to interact and book that they so choose) by no means are these tools a replacement or augmentation of the authentic travel agent experience.

The top seven reasons why qualified travel advisors should not be afraid of losing their job to a chatbot:

  1. Chatbots can't distinguish between "cheap" and "value"
  2. Chatbots can "listen" to the client, but they do not "understand" the client
  3. Chatbots are not proactive, but rather entirely reactive to input
  4. Chatbots lack the same empathy that is a core differentiator of the agent (e.g. chatbots never traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands on a cruise ship)
  5. Complex travel has interdependent characteristics requiring tactic and experiential knowledge (e.g. if the client’s flight gets in late, they probably are not going to want to scuba dive at night)
  6. Travel agents can anticipate intentions and expectations without the client expressly stating them
  7. Travel agents take responsibility, whereas chatbots are binary and inculpable