Chatbot News

Traveling Assistance Bots in the Time of COVID-19

As far as AI-powered travel chatbots are concerned, these tools can help travelers in a variety of ways. To avoid the extensive planning booking processes, chatbots can be a friendly, useful way to assist in our travel needs.

By Alessandro Mascellino
October 9, 2020

Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases worldwide, many people started traveling again in April 2020.

The experience is, however, quite different than what it was before the pandemic, and everyone traveling now knows how stressful the whole thing can be.

From having to sanitize your hands at every step of the airport checks, to being refused to board because your face mask is not up to standards, there are many things to remember when traveling in our “new normal” reality.

An attempt at making this adaptation process easier was made by Japanese AI firm Bespoke, with their new chatbot.

Bespoke’s chatbot: An overview

Launched at Vienna International Airport in Austria on September 15, 2020, the new chatbot provides answers to a variety of travelers' questions, some of them specifically connected to safety and security measures.

For example, Bespoke’s new chatbot can answer questions related to wearing face masks, where to get testing and more.

Commenting on the news for Kyodo, Bespoke Founder Akemi Tsunagawa said the chatbot had been developed to help people keep up with the latest safety measures related to the pandemic.

According to Tsunagawa, the artificial intelligence-powered (AI-powered) bot had been already tested at Tampa International Airport in Florida and Narita International Airport near Tokyo, where the team achieved good evaluation results.

More generally, Bespoke has been using AI bots for a variety of purposes, such as disseminating key information during ongoing disasters and connecting first responders and disaster victims.

Different types of travel chatbots

As far as AI-powered travel chatbots are concerned, these tools can help travelers in a variety of ways.

Personalization and predictive results in booking trips are only two of the features that chatbot travel assistants can help with.

Receiving round-the-clock alerts and predictive rebooking support, for example, are useful features that, once perfected, could save people a lot of stress—especially now that the pandemic is making every trip uncertain.

But AI chatbots can also help travelers to find hotels and restaurants, tailoring the experience based on individual user data.

Bebot, for instance, is a bot created by Bespoke (arguably using the same technology deployed at Vienna’s airport) that acts as a personal guide for Japanese hotel customers.

The bot can provide information about tourism and local food and can help navigate around the country.

How to build a travel chatbot

Since machine learning is behind most AI-powered chatbots, these tools are able to adjust to various situations and to answer different needs.

When thinking about building an AI chatbot, the first step is to understand how natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) work.

Essentially, the main difference between a traditional bot and an AI-powered one is that the first is simply programmed to answer in certain ways, while the latter actually learns new idioms and phrases from the users with which it interacts.

Even in the programming of AI chatbots, however, the initial process will require you to develop all possible paths of a conversation—technically referred to as flow.

To do so, you need to be aware of your traveling company’s goals, brand, and tone.

You then will have to define the bot’s abilities to recognize context, entities, and intent, which will be used by the NLP systems to parse inputs and plan responses.

Different platforms

Of course, your company’s technical team may not have a deep knowledge of machine learning and AI infrastructures, making the creation of these tools more complicated.

Luckily, several tools were developed to facilitate the development of AI chatbots.

Botsify is one of them, offering a drag-and-drop interface and supporting Facebook Messenger integration. The platform also features intelligent query matching and entity extraction, which is useful for data analysis and personalizing chats.

Chatfuel is another tool developed for Messenger use. The bots used building this platform can collect information from users and can use it to independently choose a different conversation path.

Finally, Pandorabots is a more technical tool that supports Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML). Basic programming knowledge is needed to operate Pandorabots, but many projects are already available on GitHub that you can use as templates.

Using the right framework

If you intend to build your AI bot from scratch, however, you will have greater control over its abilities and features—ultimately building a more efficient tool.

The most common frameworks utilize programming languages, such as Python, Java, PHP, and Ruby, and generally allow you to develop tools for a specific ecosystem.

Amazon Lex, for example, uses the NLP and NLU capabilities of Amazon Alexa and is compatible with other AWS services, as well as Facebook and Slack.

The framework currently supports only English-speaking bots but is capable of supporting multiple entities and intents.

Other frameworks for the creation of AI bots include Google-owned Dialogflow, Microsoft Bot Framework, and IBM Watson Assistant.

For more information about building your own bot, you can check out our quick-start guide, “How to Design and Write a Chatbot in 10 Steps.”

In summary

Surely, bot technology is evolving rapidly, especially when considering AI-powered bots.

Traveling AI bots have a particularly important role during the pandemic, as they can help people keep up to date with rapidly changing information.

Research data behind the Bespoke Vienna airport bot is proof of this growing trend, which is bound to grow even further since the COVID-19 pandemic seems far from over.

Do you own an AI traveling chatbot, and what do you think about them?