Some entrepreneurs come across an emerging technology and find a new way to apply to it to everyday problems. Eddy Travels Co-Founder and CEO Edmundas Balčikonis, for instance, went on a trip to China and saw how they used WeChat for anything they do from ordering and paying for a taxi to making online purchases. Many of the features were powered by mini-programs of WeChat — some of which were like chatbots. Balčikonis was already fascinated by the chatbot and assistant movement, but the experience demonstrated their real-life application.
He was later traveling in Latin America and noticed that a messaging platform was an everyday part of life, especially when it came to travel. At the same time, he was also frustrated with his experience of looking for cheap flights and accommodations. Balčikonis then saw an opportunity with the new technology for machine learning and language processing, which powers personalization. He told PYMNTS in an interview that he thought there could be a better platform that “is more personal and would provide a customized trip planning experience.”
Balčikonis started to create this kind of solution on his own, and then he met his co-founder. They built their first prototype and tested it with some users. He says they received some feedback — namely that people were willing to try it because they saw the pain point. Currently, the platform provides an artificial intelligence (AI) travel assistant through multiple messaging platforms. Users can access the technology through their chat apps ranging from Messenger to Telegram, Slack, Viber and Line.
To start using the service on Messenger, for instance, users can type the company’s name into the search field. A yellow hat will pop up, which represents its brand. Users can click on it and start a conversation. “You can [then] follow the steps that the chatbot will take you through,” Balčikonis said. Users can ask for business class flights from New York to anywhere next month to receive search results. Alternatively, they can enter a more specific request into the platform — for example, they can ask for a one-way trip from New York to San Francisco on a particular date.
The platform’s users can ask for, say, hotels and restaurants, but the platform focuses on flights. The company is also planning to launch tour experiences to let users search for thousands of tours. (The company also has a partnership for short-term luggage storage.) Beyond its technology for Messenger, the company also has a Slack chatbot: Users can install the company’s chatbot to compare flights with colleagues if they are, say, going to a conference together. The actual booking through the platform is made directly with an airline or an online travel agency (OTA).
Users click on the specific flight that they like from the company, which redirects them through Skyscanner to a given airline to make the booking. In another case, the company’s platform could direct them on to an OTA that has made a combination or had a deal that is listed on Skyscanner. When it comes to the market for its service, the company aims to serve young adults in urban areas (big cities like New York or Toronto) who are usually tech-savvy. These consumers use social media heavily and are chat app users.
The platform taps into social media to get the word out about the service to travelers. It also has paid advertising on Facebook and other platforms that lets the company target people who already have Messenger or WhatsApp. “We deep-link to the app itself,” Balčikonis said, adding that users get a live search when they click on ads. That app comes as users expect a more personalized service: “And they expect things to just work and know who they are and what they prefer,” Balčikonis said. He noted that chatbots work great for that purpose because it’s a personalized kind of medium by itself.
Beyond Eddy Travels, other innovators are aiming to make their mark on the travel industry. Splitty Travel, for instance, allows consumers to combine two rate plans to create one itinerary for their stays. While Splitty’s technology could allow consumers to save money on their trips, the platform isn’t all about the cost savings. The company, in one case, allows for splitting and matching between cancellation policies in addition to meal plans.
With the help of emerging digital technologies, online platforms from Eddy Travels to Splitty aim to connect consumers with airline and hotel deals as they plan their trips through the web.