Ai Editorial: Sales and servicing, chatbots are doing it for airlines

First Published on 27th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: A chatbot needs to be set up with a well-defined objective, and bots come to life when purpose, utility, tone and context are all an integral part of the experience, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Are chatbots stepping up airline productivity and garnering incremental revenue?

Yes, and even the slightest of progress is a welcome change.

Consider the utility of an official Twitter handle or Facebook business page. If a passenger intends to check the availability of a window seat (say after the check-in) , the social media staff can acknowledge the request but wouldn’t be of use to check the same or even pass this information to the staff at the boarding gate! In this context if chatbots are justifying their tag of being `always available’ in a short span of their existence, this needs to be applauded. A passenger wouldn’t really care whether chatbots are able to access a PSS for an update or a booking that seemingly staff handling Twitter can’t. But as long as the purpose is being served then the utility of chatbots, which are pre-programmed interactions that allow users to communicate with them, is coming to the fore. 


Chatbot technology garnered loads of attention last year. Some respond to very specific commands, while other use artificial intelligence and can comprehend a language. If chatbots are about “conversationalising” code, paving way for humans to interact with machines using natural language, then it isn’t really a breakthrough. So why so much buzz? It’s the sheer popularity of messaging apps, with over 3 billion monthly active users among top 4 messaging apps at the end of last year.  Of course, automated text-based travel reservation conversation is only effective if the chatbot understands the query completely, but there is optimism at this juncture.

“Similar to the way Uber brought the idea of ‘everyone’s private driver’ to the world, chatbot technology allows the idea of ‘everyone’s travel concierge’ to come to life,” said Jonathan Newman, commercial director at Barcelona-based Caravelo, who presented this week at Ai’s Airline Merchandising Conference in Palma de Mallorca.   The company recently introduced a transactional chatbot (via Facebook Messenger), Vale, for Mexican carrier, Volaris.

Newman asserted that “omnichannel” isn’t as relative as it was in the past. He said brands need to acknowledge the fact consumers expect be “engaged with at any time, at any stage of the journey” through their preferred device. “Bots have a natural home in the billions of monthly users of messaging apps and with the API economy, they can now be powerful: they can do stuff,” mentioned Newman. “In essence, what we are talking about is a change: a change from one-to-many to one-to-one.  Airlines can personalise a little, but without AI, without an ongoing conversation to learn from, customers and airlines can’t realize the value of true personalisation.”


Newman said chatbots have moved on from limited utility or benefits to digitization of customer service, as well as encompassing one-click transactions. “No reason why chatbot can’t take an order for a meal in an aircraft, or convey whether the flight is going to be on time or not etc.,” he said. 

A traveller might leave the airport but his or her journey continues. As I checked in to my hotel here in Palma de Mallorca, it was Google Allo that presented me with an option to download or explore things to do. Why cant airlines deliver value about anything that is related to travel, and more so when an airline played an integral part in my journey? “How many of you here have had an airline suggest to you a restaurant while you are on your trip?  Or an experience that fits with your personality? Why should airlines retailing capability stop when the passenger lands?” said Newman.   

Newman also demonstrated how a booking can be completed in less than 30 seconds!

At the same time, Newman added that it is vital to look beyond transactions, rather allow users to  self-serve, to get relevant notifications etc. “ be properly assisted means (like in any shopping environment) they will come back,” he said.

Also, one needs to ascertain various aspects in order to fully capitalize on the prowess of bots, especially related to the objective of such initiative:

·      Is it to sell existing inventory and services? 

·      Is it to search low fare inventory?

·      Is it to add ancillaries or allow customers to make changes to existing bookings? 

·      Is it a guide for activities or to find out useful information to reduce the call centre volumes?  What does your bot allow the customer to do? 

“Without utility, there is no bot: without a clearly defined purpose and well-articulated set of capabilities, users are left frustrated when their expectations are not met. Customers are more likely to come back into the channel if they can do more than just buy: by allowing them to self-serve, to get relevant notifications, to be properly assisted means (like in any shopping environment) they will come back,”  explained Newman.

Bots identify keywords in the users input and then access a database to give a predefined response or do a predefined act. According to Newman, training is key.

He  mentioned that training bots to identify, contextualize and then relate desired intents with all probable outcomes take effort and time. “We, humans, learn about each other via conversations. A chatbot drives this in a more expedited, scalable way.”   

Travel is fun, and may be the personality that comes from the bot could be about friendliness. Specialists also point out the response time shouldn’t be too quick or too slow, so every aspect is being scrutinized minutely.

“Your brand is what customers see, but your persona is who they talk to.  Your persona is integral to a successful chatbot and representative of every employee within your brand. This is your one opportunity to have an agent that encapsulates the essence of what your company stands for,”  underlined Newman.

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us


Ai Editorial: “Where is Palma de Mallorca?” the airline doesn’t know, Google knows it!

First Published on 25th April, 2017

By Ritesh Gupta, in Palma de Mallorca


The tag of “laggards”  isn’t a nice one, but airlines aren’t willing to move on.

Whatever keeps this industry the same or changing at excruciating slow pace, the traveller wouldn’t care as carriers keep falling short on several counts. It isn’t even worth comparing - a human interaction at a touchpoint owned by the airline vis-à-vis a digital interaction that is initiated by an entity like Google, the latter winning you over for sheer timing,  usefulness and the overall tendency to delight you time and again.

Travelling is fun – the joy of meeting new people, observing cultures/ local nuances, tasting food, exploring unique activities etc. Every touchpoint is an opportunity for airlines to augment the essence of travelling by understanding the intent, preferences, and this doesn’t always call for taking “heavy lifting associated with data”.

Let me cite an example.

I travelled from New Delhi to Palma de Mallorca via Frankfurt. A brief, one-minute interaction with the airline staff  at the New Delhi airport as I embarked on my journey wasn’t thrilling. “Palma de Mallorca, where is this place?” Well, the lady, who knew both the languages that I speak, was pleasant, but few words that she muttered didn’t add any value. May be not many Indians travel to this Spanish destination via Lufthansa, but if your airline takes passengers there and if you decide to speak, make it worthwhile.

15 hours later, I check-into my room. A notification pops up on my mobile screen, not from Melia Hotels where I am booked. It is from Google Allo, enticing me to explore Palma! As I open it, the colors are vibrant, graphics are refreshing, the content is useful,  and the timing isn’t bad either. The interaction was enough to leave a mark, unlike the useless interaction at the airport as I embarked on the journey. Even the hotel provides the free Wi-Fi access, but doesnt take it further as for enjoying the stay or exploring the place. Why hotels and airlines struggle to initiate a decent interaction - be it for the staff or the digital assets they own. Yes, the hotel home page opens when a user access the Internet, but that isnt enough! 


There is plenty to learn from this simple experience, and airlines need to change fast:

Be prepared, understand travelling pattern with the brand: I travel Lufthansa quite often, from the same airport. I have searched itineraries a number of times from one IP address, same devices time and again. I have also left comments on Twitter, Facebook etc. about my experiences with the airline and the staff has even given me call from London in the past six months to understand and resurrect what went wrong!  In an age when enterprises are talking of 1st party data, 2nd party data and 3rd party data, the sum of all interactions plus readiness to highlight the quality of your product (be it for human interaction or digital asset) needs to stand out. Otherwise major ecosystems such as Google will continue to find a way to understand me, and airlines despite owning the product, would only come across a mundane component of travel.

Be smart, go for real-time data: “Big airlines can do it, provided they are willing to do it (act on real-time data),” said a source, referring to the likes of KLM, Delta, British Airways, Lufthansa etc. Airlines have to ensure their “systems talk to each other”, a passenger’s request or any information obtained gets updated in real-time. For instance, if a passenger makes a request during the course of the journey, and the team responds on Facebook, then why can’t this request to be fulfilled?

Do away with business processes that are still based on the paper-based workflows that were developed and perfected over the 50 years before the digital revolution.  We have ended up with digitalization of processes that are fundamentally unchanged from the analog process, which while does represent an improvement in efficiency, is still quite a way from optimization in the digital age. The reality is, there are just some things that the legacy systems cannot do because they were never designed to. 

Be where a passenger is likely to be: Passengers are on Facebook, Whatsapp, WeChat etc. and these avenues are evolving. Leverage the power of APIs and find a way to serve passengers on these independent platforms. Yes, a move such as activation of search chatbot on Facebook Messenger is kind of presence that a brand needs. “Some of the airlines with the greatest ability in this area are the ones that run their own systems completely and can do whatever they want to do with it.  The problem is, there are very few airlines in the world that either want to take that level of involvement or can afford to do it,” a source told me recently.

Airlines can’t ignore the fact entities like Google, Uber, Alibaba, etc. with massive valuations are already thriving on data. They might or might not own the actual product, but they are capable of driving experiences. They are becoming increasingly adept at that, and the simple reason is:  ability to serve their offerings with outstanding accuracy, maximising their operations while engaging directly with and owning their consumers. They have leveraged technology to unify their end-to-end operations. Airlines have to fine their own niche, working on a blend of serving travellers via their own platforms and also 3rd party platforms via a collaborative approach (facilitated by  ability to interoperate with other enterprise solutions regardless of technology or platform).

Airlines have their own set of challenges – regulatory, security, labor relations, etc., but change is mandatory now. If 3rd party ecosystems or apps know too much and airlines just can’t get the basics of digital world right then they will remain laggards in the race of experience optimization.

Can’t wait for discussions here at Palma de Mallorca to unfold!


Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this week. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017;


Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Cart abandonment email is evolving, are you?

First published on 20th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: Automation, personalisation and data-driven marketing in addition to certain basics such as content and timing are lending a new dimension to the abandonment email initiative, writes Ai's Ritesh Gupta


You are shopping for your next trip, finalise a flight itinerary, eventually can’t decide and are about to leave the site.

Just then you are given a chance to save the itinerary or a visual pops up that entices you to wrap up the booking, but you decide against taking an action.

After six hours, you receive an email, a reminder about your booking. It is based on a certain travel product bought in the past, your latest search and also acknowledges the fact your birthday is coming up around the same dates you were searching for a flight! You end up booking this flight sooner or later. The efficacy of data-driven automation, a luring video, timing etc. resulted in a conversion.

Such cart abandonment or checkout abandonment recovery is critical for travel e-ecommerce brands.  

As much as companies are trying to keep in check the abandonment rate, the fact remains that the average conversion rate (0.75% - 3%) remains an issue.

Yes, factors such as average order value and comparison shopping do impact travel shopping, but a lot is at stake when a traveller decides to move on or delays the decision to book.

In this context, follow-up emails based on-site browsing behaviour and abandonment has proven to be a strong weapon in lifting up the conversion rate.

Status of shopping “abandonment”  

In its recent study,, a content platform for travel marketing, assessed the efficacy of shopping cart abandonment emails, and evaluated 20 airline websites, 10 hotel and OTA websites, and 10 car rental websites.



“More airlines should do shopping cart abandonment, as more than half of the tested airlines don’t use it at all,” shared Iztok Franko, founder, Buying a travel product is an intricate process, and once a traveller has considered, then airlines need to scrutinize the purchase funnel. And abandonment email can keep them “alive” in the process, says Franko. As for the study, he said Virgin Atlantic stood out among airlines, in general among the travel websites.

How to keep interest “alive”?

Several pieces of a puzzle need to come together while crafting an email, and it might take only a couple of seconds to either revive that booking or be left in the lurch again.

“Ones (those airlines) that do it shouldn’t do it as a “one-and-done” process, but measure and optimize it as any other e-commerce process. Meaning test frequency (most send 1 email only), timing, subject lines, images, call to actions…,” explained Franko.

Here are some steps that are propping up the initiative:

1.    Automation: Email marketing is being streamlined via enterprise-level automation. And cart abandonment is an integral part of this. Simplicity is coming to the fore via the way emails can be designed (opting for a template, user’s cart details from website or a digital platform, timing etc.), how to manage a sequence of abandoned cart reminders, and even ensuring that in case a traveller has completed the transaction before the email is sent, then this user isn’t sent a reminder to get back to the buying process. Of course, emails can be sent depending upon whether users meet trigger and sending criteria or not.

The workflow optimization is must – based on the digital (or online + offline) activity of the shopper, personal details etc. It also needs to be ascertained whether automated needs to be avoided – for instance, in case of sending a personalised email to loyal customers who have abandoned a cart. How to deal with them? Can automation really help?

2.    Being data-driven: As we highlighted in one of our articles, it is time for airlines to go for a platform where relevant data is centralized, structured and connected. The vision is to making every touchpoint, channel an asset, deliver precise passenger communication etc. So work out a mechanism for real-time updates – enterprise-level information, funnel analytics, in-app analytics etc. So how to use contextual data, in real-time for cart abandonment email? How to base it on email eye tracking tests or predictive intelligence layer? How to count on machines for content matching?

Also, the whole effort of abandonment recovery needs to be blended with data around a user wherever applicable.

“They (airlines) capture the search data, but then process is pretty static. Apart from the rare cases (Virgin) most have static workflows of one abandonment email. The opportunities are much bigger here, as most airlines collect a lot of data (number of passengers, seasonality, trip type - business/leisure, gender, age…) that could be used to personalize and make emails more relevant,” recommended Franko.

3.    Making it work: Be it for what is being shown in the subject line or the main copy to the device for which email has been crafted to the timing and frequency of the delivery – all of this is being constantly being tested. Of course, there is a need to understand the performance, and there are basic metrics for email abandonment that airlines should measure and benchmark against - emails sent, open rates, click-through-rates, recovered carts - conversion rate, average order value of recovered cart.

Few tips that have worked:

-       A certain level of exclusivity or immediacy can help.

-       Do highlight the product/ itinerary browsed or added to the cart in a way that it lures ones to book it or take certain action. Place it at the top, should garner the attention once email is opened. An insipid mail won’t serve the purpose. Rather take the conversation to the next level – say showcasing the product via a charming image, a useful video etc.

-       The user abandoned a travel offering and isn’t interested in it. Combat this by cross-selling related products.

-       Specialists recommend inclusion of two call-to-action buttons – one above the cart content and one below.

   “Airlines could do different things to understand abandonment reasons. To begin with having detailed analytics in place to understand booking paths and drop-offs. Additionally, site tracking tools, user testing sessions, interviews, on-exit surveys, etc. could be used to identify reasons,” said Franko. According to him, most mistakes include –

-       Not using customer data to personalise messages;

-       Abandonment emails not being “mobile-first designed”; not clear call to actions and missing deeplinks to proper offers;

-       Not optimized display (subject and other) for Gmail inbox  

As a parting message, Franko recommended that one should look at abandonment emails in a vacuum. You need to have your booking journey mapped and decide which abandonment you will address with email, which with remarketing. Communication on emails should be in-line with the website and other communication so customers “feel” abandonment emails as part of the overall user experience. Additionally, you should have analytics and at least simple email automation in place to monitor the performance of these campaigns.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Seamlessness in travel via marketing cloud, go for it

First published in 18th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: Failing to connect identities or being unable to understand context based on cross-channel behavior? You are probably missing out on delivering “seamlessness” i. e. a relevant offer or attending a query wherever, whenever, and whichever way the passenger prefers it, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta   


There are big gaps that exist today when we talk of experience optimization in the travel industry.

One can’t ignore the fact a traveller has numerous avenues to interact with an airline – it could be an interaction with the airline staff at the time of check-in, and then an interaction with a chatbot via Facebook Messenger before boarding the flight. And if these two interactions are about an enquiry for an in-flight offering, then how can airline respond to the sum of these interactions in the time left to board the flight or during the course of the flight? There are several possibilities:

·          The airline doesn’t initiate any conversation post two interactions. The passenger follows up with the airline – at the gate, or say in the aircraft with the air hostess.

·          The airline has means to follow-up, could be based on one interaction or ability to respond only via certain touchpoint. It could be automated (say a mobile app notification) or staff can service the request. But there could be a possibility that full information about all interactions isn’t in the picture even as you are being attended.

·          Airline has possibly all systems connected and capturing interactions. So if the airline is capable of managing streaming data and related data intelligence is passed on for a contextual interaction, across any touchpoint, during the course of the journey, then the passenger would have a seamless interaction. So even for the case above, the airline is capable of capturing the audio of the conversations and runs speech-to-text and tone analysis (doesn’t send any sensitive data to the cloud), and can categorize passenger as “happy”, “satisfied”, “annoyed” etc. for immediate or future interactions.

Seamlessness – it’s about the passenger

Seamlessness is what makes the journey enjoyable. And when any organization can understand the intent – be it for a click made on a digital platform or conversation a passenger had via any touchpoint – then only airline would be able to respond, and in doing so, delivering aptly during that moment catapults the performance of the brand.

Seamlessness would mean responding to move initiated by a traveller – could be the readiness to pay for a Wi-Fi package while interacting with a chatbot or looking at the picture of an in-flight meal on the airline app and paying it in the aircraft using a digital wallet. Further, in a proactive manner, even anticipating the same and coming up with a relevant offer wherever, whenever, and whichever way the passenger prefers it.

Key to seamlessness - marketing cloud

As much as airlines are being advised to focus on extracting data from their existing systems, and making the most of the same, time has come to look at every aspect of data, content, analytics, technology etc. to get closer to delivering a “seamless” experience.

In fact, airlines have to offer “value” via all touchpoints.

There are several aspects that come together to capitalize on every interaction.  

Every experience counts: Airlines need to ensure they are easy to deal with. At an enterprise level, there has to be the ability to scale up and deal with the unstructured nature of today’s passengers’ cross channel interactions. So even as a traveller is meandering between email, web, mobile apps etc., airlines, like most organizations in other businesses, struggle to avoid inevitable latency, not being able to deal with what customers are looking for.

Being data-driven: It is imperative for airlines to collect, store, analyse, and visualize big data on cloud. Data has to be reliable plus handling of data sets is also critical. In this context, data transformation is necessary to ensure data from one application or database is understandable to other applications and databases. Next up airlines can count on data to dynamically bundle and unbundle services and products to create a personalized offer for the passenger, be able to dynamically price that offer or offers specifically for that passenger, and present it through any sales channel that the passenger chooses. (Of course, processes in place today will not support the goal, at least not through every channel.  In order to achieve this level of personalization, every piece that goes into creating that offer must reside fully within the airline’s control every step of the way).

Understanding intent: In addition to connecting identities and behavior across different channels, specialists like IBM are capable of sharing “near real-time events” for a possible pertinent action.

Marketing automation: Software has made areas like campaign management easier and faster. How to go about managing numerous air and, non-air ancillary products that are to be offered over multiple channels in hundreds of campaigns to millions? Organizations need to act and showcase precise image or a video that travel shoppers require for their decision-making. So cloud-based automation can facilitate better marketing performance via efficient handling of email marketing, lead management, and mobile and social engagement. In doing so, airlines can streamline the workflow, social monitoring, content management etc. So it is worth assessing how cloud-based digital marketing is paving way for:

·          capturing right leads

·          personalised interactions in near real-time

·          working out relevant email content

·          interacting with on-the-go users, optimizing push notifications, app messages etc. and capitalizing on connected devices

As for mobile, managing communication isn’t just through text, push, and mobile web, but now mobile wallets, too, are there to be catered to. Accordingly, airlines have to configure and establish business rules for mobile marketing programs.

Automation alone isn’t sufficient, similarly, only cross-channel marketing or understanding of intent is enough. Everything needs to come together, and the prowess of a marketing cloud needs to fully leveraged to ensure every interaction is meaningful in terms of value offered, and it should result in seamlessness irrespective of the stage of the journey.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Boosting merchandising strategy via “streaming” data

First Published on 12th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: Can dynamic data, being generated on a continual basis, help in selling an air ancillary? Airlines need to delve deeper to handle such data, processing it on the fly, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Acting on data the moment it is generated isn’t really new, but airlines, as an industry, haven’t seemingly made significant headway in this context.

Let’s first summarize the terminology that is being used in handling dynamic data being generated on a continual basis, be it for human-generated comment, photo etc. or machine-generated data in real-time. Real-time stream processing is all about an incidence or a number of events recorded in a collection of fields, then there is steady flow of data, and eventually the capability to evaluate the same.

Stream processing entails ingesting a series of data, and incrementally bringing up-to-date reports and statistics with arriving data record.

Airlines need to be spot on with their ability to handle real-time data integration and streaming analytics. They need to add context to streaming data - the result could be capitalizing on an up-sell opportunity, for instance, when a shopper is on or even handling critical functions like fraud prevention, crisis management etc. Are carriers capable of responding to critical events in time, in-context, be it for improving upon the journey through customer service or even monetizing via selling of an ancillary? Not really.

“Events” - that aren’t mundane 

Seamlessness is what makes the journey easy and enjoyable. And when any organization can understand the intent – be it for a click made on a digital platform or conversation a passenger had via any touchpoint – then only airline would be able to respond, and in doing so, delivering aptly during that moment catapults the performance of the brand. But being data-driven doesn’t end here. More than predictable action (for instance, check-in or conversation at the airport counter), what is equally important is responding to an occurrence that can happen as per the discretion of the passenger, something that is tough to fathom.

Big data and analytics that come into play can be further explained in two components:

In an ideal world, all the customer-oriented systems that airlines operate need to be in sync. This would mean capturing all activities related to a passenger’s journey, right from the moment they made the booking till the point they give their feedback about how all of it went. The story that data can tell about a passenger shouldn’t be missed out on – one system might indicate that a family of three passengers booked their journey (so could capture information related to transaction etc.) plus there could be a repository of data about the same passenger that indicates what this passenger wrote about say on a social platform (a word of praise regarding the in-flight meal) etc.

·          If everything is streamlined, here analytics could be about working out predictive analytical models to discover travelling preferences, new patterns of interest etc., based on chronological/ past data, which can feature data collected from event streams as well as other stored information. So looking beyond the purchase funnel, how about coming up with actionable data related to what a passenger enquired about on the day of travel? Can this enquiry be turned into an offer at the time when the same passenger shops for the next flight?

·          A pertinent facet that can make or break the experience is about in-stream analytics i. e. acting on data as events are happening. For instance, last year, during one of my trips to Europe featuring a connecting flight (via SWISS and Lufthansa), there was a mistake on the part of SWISS when it came to allocation of the seat. Both the airlines acknowledged it via Twitter and ensured the matter would be prioritized at the boarding gate. And the staff at the gate had no clue even after exchanging of tweets with both the airlines spanning over two hours! Clearly airlines tend to miss out on data that is important. What’s the point in having resources meant to serve passengers or core product, air ancillary or non-air ancillary inventory – say a seat on an aircraft or in-flight meal – if that can’t be served or even sold when the passenger is willing to pay for it.

Preparing in an earnest manner

At a time when people, places and things are increasingly getting connected, airlines need to dig deep and focus on preparedness for event stream processing:

What would it take to connect, decode and comprehend streaming data? Enterprises won’t be able to live up to the expectations of travellers if they don’t act on streaming data from transactions, social feed, Internet of Things devices etc.  As Amazon explains, data needs to be processed “sequentially and incrementally on a record-by-record basis or over sliding time windows, and used for a wide variety of analytics including correlations, aggregations, filtering, and sampling”. Also, organizations start with collecting system logs and elementary processing, and eventually perform advanced data analysis such as ones featuring machine learning algorithms.

What’s the benchmark for response time? Airlines need to address issues related to managing massive volume of data and yet responding at lightning speed. If a traveller is indicating that he is willing to pay for access to lounge while being at the airport, but isn’t able to find the way out, then can the airline help him out? What if the traveller fails to reach, and ends up changing his decision?

How to act on apt data? It is imperative that airlines ascertain in real time what data is of value, and filter out the irrelevant data. The value of streaming data needs to be optimized in conjunction with traditional batch data, by combining legacy systems with new streaming platforms. Batch processing can be done to work out arbitrary queries over diverse sets of data, and scrutiny of big data sets. Airlines can assess the efficacy of a hybrid model, working out a real-time layer and a batch layer.


Are airlines capitalizing on dynamic data? Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Can airlines target personalization with existing processes?

First Published on 11th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: In order to deliver a personalized experience and add to the joy of flying with all the differentiated offerings that each carrier has worked out, airlines need to optimize offer and order management, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Travel, as a product category, is exceptional in many ways, and the joy of flying is an integral part of it.

As much as flying is unique in terms of a product that is being consumed, airlines are being constantly challenged to overcome the commoditized way of displaying their offerings and also selling. And this criticism, to a large extent, is valid as a consumer really doesn’t care about differentiation between shopping experiences. Yes, buying a book on Amazon and its fulfilment is vastly different from finalizing an aisle seat, Chinese meal etc. on any travel e-commerce site. So airlines have to find answer – to deliver a personalised, contextual and seamless experience.

Role of NDC

So if we talk of retailing, can pre-set bundles really result in product differentiation? Not really, not in the long-term. Such offers can be replicated. Airlines have to look for the ability to personalise the bundles that are being offered, and to do the same dynamically.  It needs to be highlighted that technology not only needs to fall in place, but pricing and revenue management has a role to play as well. The blend of these components is what that going to make the difference. Also, in case of distribution, especially indirect channels, carriers can achieve process differentiation only when they are in control of how their supply is being distributed. Supply control is extremely important to deliver a consistent brand experience in a multi-channel environment. So the point is how to gain access to real-time data of passengers? Are airlines ready to reconcile data sources? How to access business intelligence anytime?

There is where standardization via an initiative like NDC comes into the picture.

The objective behind coming up with schemas is that there is a strategy in place, focused on overcoming commoditisation, protecting the brand and looking at velocity, agility and cost efficiency while running operations, then passengers can be communicated and serviced in real-time. And this is what NDC is trying to improve upon selling via indirect channels - product differentiation (main issue is rich content/ product description etc.), speed of time to market (any new product owned by an airline takes time to reach out to the indirect channel) and personalisation.

“The goal of offer personalization is the grand vision of the IATA New Distribution Capabilities (NDC) and One Order initiatives, which originated with the airlines themselves,” says Ryan Harris, Director - Americas, JR Technologies.

Processes in place today not enough

In order to truly reach this goal, an airline needs to be able to take all of the historical data that it has for an individual passenger and the passenger’s market segment, use that data to dynamically bundle and unbundle services and products to create a personalized offer for the passenger, be able to dynamically price that offer or offers specifically for that passenger, and present it through any sales channel that the passenger chooses, all within a respectable amount of time, which is a few seconds, not minutes, says Orlando, Florida-based Harris. 

With this vision, it becomes clear that the processes in place today will not support the goal, at least not through every channel.  In order to achieve this level of personalization, every piece that goes into creating that offer must reside fully within the airline’s control every step of the way. 

It also need to considered that most companies are taking the approach of building the digital world, along with the interfaces, passenger-facing systems, data collection, and data processing that come with it, on top of the legacy systems.  The reality is, there are just some things that the legacy systems cannot do because they were never designed to. 

As Harris also acknowledges, if there is a full reliance on those legacy systems for back-office processes such as revenue accounting, revenue management, interline ticketing, and pricing, among many other functions, there will be limitations to the capabilities possible through digital transformation.

So what need to be done?

Harris explained and shared what all needs to fall in place:

·          Supporting dynamically-created messages: There is a need to build a communications structure that will support dynamically-created messages that contain inconsistent, always changing data.  This is being achieved through the standardization of the IATA NDC XML schemas, which also can use standard internet connectivity that is typically much faster and more available than the leased-line, point-to-point connections used today.  The flexibility and openness of these message structures means that an airline can reach outside its own sales infrastructure with the same capabilities that it can do internally, such as through its e-commerce site.

·          Dedicated offer management system: Behind the communication structure, it means an airline must be able to create offers and then change the accepted offers into orders.  In concept, this means having a dedicated offer management system that can take all the data points, run them through analysis and business rules, check availability and applicability, bundle the offer items, calculate the pricing, and deliver it along with branding and rich media to the passenger.  There are several systems in the market that can do this today for an airline’s direct sales channels, such as e-commerce, but in the NDC world, you need to be able to reach all sales channels, direct and indirect, to offer the same services to the passenger through their preferred sales channel.

·          Order management system: Moving from the offer, it needs to transition into an order management system for fulfilment and accounting.  This is somewhat analogous to the concept of tickets and EMDs in the legacy, but in the Order structure, there are not the restrictions that are present with these electronic documents.  For example, looking within the framework of the offer, and thus the order as well, there are not requirements for a RBD, fare basis, issuance code, service category, or even a rule.  Those can be populated, which is useful for the transition period where the legacy ticketing and reservations systems need to remain, but they are optional, providing the flexibility within the design of the standard to allow airlines to sell whatever they want to sell.  This means that revenue management can be truly dynamic by determining an offer price based on business goals, unrestricted by available RBDs or filed fares.  Merchandizing becomes a core role of the airline, not just an ancillary function.  Travel changes and refundability can now be offered as dynamically offered ancillary products and be applied to any journey at a variable price, instead of having to rely on the filled fare rules.

Benefitting from One Order

Where things really get interesting in the distribution ecosystem of tomorrow is with the implementation of One Order as an industry standard, says Harris.

“Several airlines have been free from the constraints of the ticketing system for years by implementing ticketless reservation systems, so they are fully aware of the possibilities that can open, especially with third-party services and products that become distributable through those systems,” he says. 

One Order is, at its roots, an industry standard for migrating to ticketless environments and expanding the possibilities of merchandizing for the entire industry. 

“One of the major drawbacks for those airlines that chose to use ticketless systems has always been interline and codeshare distribution with most carriers that do have the traditional ticket-based systems.  This was usually either overcome by the introduction of a third-party ticketing system to facilitate the interline sales and accounting, or was limited to be a unilateral partnership where one party could sell flights on the other, but not the other way around,” Harris says.

By building on the Offer and Order Management systems, using NDC as the distribution protocol, and creating the One Order standard, airlines will be in a true position to innovate themselves and will have a much larger pool of APIs and third-party content providers to offer their customers the right travel offer at the right time at the right price, regardless if the customer is coming to the airline.

Airlines need to take action in order to be control of various stages of the travellers’ journey, and then only one can get closer to delivering personalization. And this will only lend a strong dimension to the joy of flying.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here


Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Role of APIs in today’s connected era – indispensable

First Published on 5th April, 2017

Ai Editorial: Airlines, as an industry, are gradually showing signs of being ready to what it takes to be agile, open and innovative. And APIs are playing a pivotal role in this, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta.


Connectivity in today’s “connected era” is what defines every passenger experience. And this means if enterprises can facilitate what it takes to deliver a relevant, contextual, seamless experience, buoyed by apt IT architecture, data management and API plan driving operations, then they are on the right track.

This way a passenger can presented with what they are looking for on their preferred platform, be it for a chatbot or completing a transaction outside non-airline environment.

In this context, the role of API is increasingly coming to the fore. APIs or application programming interfaces are key to pushing content and information across a variety of applications. APIs aren’t just restricted to the realm of developers and IT architects, they are entrenching themselves deep into various disciplines with an airline. Effort is being made to evaluate what does it take to create, secure, control, deploy, analyze, and manage enterprise-level APIs and services for internal or external consumption.

Here we assess a couple of areas where APIs are enabling change toward agility, openness and innovation:

·          There are several considerations that are driving the face of IT set up today. How to deal with production and consumption of digital services? How to connect an airline’s applications, data, and devices? How to unlock data from legacy systems? For such queries, APIs are the much-needed answer. Airlines are focusing on decentralised access to data and capabilities without any let up  on the governance front. Also, numerous layers are required in order to attain agility and flexibility. In this context, the first step is systems APIs (for accessing underlying systems of record), then process APIs (for management of non-central data, worked out mainly for processes in an airline) and another set of APIs (delivery of content, for consumption of content in a certain format customized for a particular device). Today carriers are reshaping the initiatives associated with PSSs. This is being worked out by designing of a middleware around offer management, order management and customer management. Right from managing bookings and reservations out of the airline reservation system without any 3rd party’s involvement to delivery of content to any channel, airlines are trying to be control of their offering. And APIs are an integral part of this move.

·          Being agile: How do companies like Amazon, Netflix etc. end up defining experiences around their offerings that end up being a benchmark for anyone in retailing or e-commerce? Experts refer to the prowess of microservice architecture, complemented by APIs. Such architecture supports agility for refining or introducing a new offering by supporting shorter build, test, and deploy cycles. Business processes and transactions are automated with the composition of microservices. IT can step up by re-wiring services into new compositions.  

·          As for planning and booking, airlines have been working on their APIs and offer a direct link into their host reservation system for flight search, booking and ticketing. According to IATA, any airline that deploys an NDC API to make its content available, or any agent or aggregator that uses these APIs to get that content, may apply for NDC certification. Any vendor that offers NDC products and services for airlines and travel agents can apply to be NDC-capable. (Also, NDC certification and NDC-capable statuses have three levels of attainment: Level 2 requires a more extensive use of the shopping/Offer management API, and Level 3 targets NDC end-to-end deployments.) Airlines like British Airways have been publically sharing the documentation for each API, letting developers access information related to flight offers, lowest monthly prices, flight status etc. It is being propagated that when all channels and touchpoints are going to be driven by a common set of single, industry standard API, the need to maintain multiple (channel-specific) connections would go obsolete.

Airlines are signing exclusive distribution deals, for dynamically created, personalized, and channel-specific offers under full airline control.

“All we need from airlines is an API that they deploy to us,” states Stéphane Pingaud. CEO of Berlin, Germany-based start-up flyiin, an API aggregator focused on initiating a new B2C marketplace. “We will connect the airlines to flyiin through this API, and work with the content we get through this API. Some airlines may distribute more content than others through these APIs. It is important to keep in mind that these APIs evolve and as they become more knowledgeable about their API-based distribution, the more sophisticated and rich these will get.” He added, “And yes, APIs are the delivery methods. Airlines must adjust their internal systems to make their API-based distribution as effective as possible. This includes integrating dynamic pricing and rich media distribution capabilities.”

Being ready

Airlines need to build, deploy, manage and upgrade APIs in a way that depicts uniformity.

Airlines acknowledge that service interfaces need to be customer-oriented rather than being system-centric, and also looking at container-based microservices model in order to scale aptly.

Proprietary APIs are being avoided as they tend to create “one-off” implementations that make repeatability more complex and therefore more expensive. Even standardized APIs are subject to implementation interpretation which we are already seeing with the NDC APIs.

Of course, carriers have to upgrade their internal systems to be able to support API-based distribution. And then, they must re-think their own organisation: a successful API-based distribution of their product will depend on their ability to bring various departments to work together on defining and implementing their API. This is not easy, especially in organisations such as airlines that are laden with complexities.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Video: Counting on unusual data for loyalty

First Published on 3rd April, 2017


Counting on unusual data for loyalty


Airlines are trying to dig deep to ascertain what a loyal member “looks like as a consumer”. This means airlines are ready to go beyond their own purchasing funnel. The U. S.-based airline, Allegiant, is a prime of example of this.

Allegiant’s relationship with their customers tends to be once-a-year when they take their vacation. The airline is keen on tracking the non-travel phase (51 weeks) as much as it can. Allegiant introduced its loyalty program in September last year. The plan is to assess the non-travel phase behavior and interweave this with the day-to-day lifestyle of travellers – gas stations, grocery stores etc., making Allegiant brand part of those transactions. “So as customers go about mundane transactions, they day-dream about their next travel and destination,” said Brian Davis, VP Marketing and Sales, Allegiant.

Data, from all sources including unusual datasets, and emanating insights is what one is after.

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us



Ai Editorial: Seamlessness and relevance - what every interaction should reflect

First published on 23rd March, 2017

Ai Editorial: Airlines can attempt to serve passengers in two ways – pre-empt what a passenger might opt for or being ready for the next interaction after analyzing every digital click or interaction via all touchpoints, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta.


Making the most of every interaction is what every brand strives to achieve.

An airline may serve the passenger in an apt manner, say at the airport, but if, as an enterprise, there is no consistency in serving the traveller- say a question you have asked via Twitter after collecting your boarding pass and the staff at the gate isn’t aware of it - then it is bound to fall short in terms of seamlessness or relevance.

So connecting the dots between interactions so that it is available in the form of actionable data and blending it the context, location etc. in real-time is something that airlines need to target.


When the customer has means to ask a question related to their journey, then airlines better be prepared for it. It’s that simple.

In fact, optimization of every interaction is not just about travel. A customer is a part of new experiences that are all about seamlessness and relevance in every sphere of life. So when users are being served by a retail app or a cab hailing app the way they want, then why can’t the airline chosen responds in the same way.

Being prepared

What airlines can do can fall in two categories: proactive and reactive, and in both cases improving upon the functionalities of the touchpoints, including apps, and responding to a request, question etc. in the best possible manner.

- Improving every touchpoint in a proactive manner

Easier said than done, but airlines need to look at the way an app like Uber simplifies the choice of cars, the connection time to the next cab, helping one to visualize where the cab is on the map, the estimated price for the journey, one-click answer to having a conversation with the driver or no clicks at all for payments once you share the details.

The same way airlines can refine their own trip planning, post buying and the day of journey functionalities.

Relevant message/ communication: Digital enterprises are looking at data that tells about “now” or the moment in context. Companies like Amazon are improving upon their offering for mobile app analytics, and supporting real-time analytics. Such insights are helping organizations to target segments from a variety of different data sources, send targeted notifications with personalized messages etc. If an airline can understand the intent, they can send relevant messages. For instance, if a family is looking for a flight to Paris and searches for activity related to Disneyland, Roland Garros tennis etc., then how should airlines gear up for retargeting? Rather than displaying same ads on Facebook or any website, shouldn’t the airline send any useful content or offer around the activity searched for? Yes, if an experience is being “sold”, it would be much better. Since the current shopping cart and the path the customer took to get there can tell you far more about what they do next than any number of prior bookings, do work on new ways to be relevant with notifications, ads and messaging. Airlines can look at crafting a recommendation algorithm, encompassing various stages of travellers’ journey including real-time travel disruption management. Be it for accurately predicting hidden interests, evaluating minute behavioral changes or working out recommendations for various contexts, a proactive approach can assist travellers, and even step up revenue generation.

Analytics: Airlines need to observe the usage of their digital assets, and based on the past and real-time usage, one can come up with predictions about future events.

As SAS points out, predictive analytics and experience “has a lot in common”. In one of its white paper, SAS states, “While experience is important in dealing with uncertainty and should go hand in hand with predictive analytics, the statistical calculations that goes into predictive analytics – has two advantages: the amount of observations (data) that can go into the calculations to validate assumed relations or maybe even reveal hidden relations, and the statistical calculations offer an answer that is more likely to be bias-free – both in terms of the relationship, but also the individual prediction.”

- Keeping track of every interaction

What triggers a search or a question when a user interacts via any touchpoint needs to be captured and the sum of all interactions needs to be analyzed for the future.

There are certain experiences that are intrinsic to airlines as a product – for instance, seating in an aircraft. How would a family of four like to sit in an aircraft, which has either rows of two seats or three seats? Would they prefer to pay for certain seats? Airlines need to find ways to understanding the type of travel, what sort of features or services a traveller is seeking and accordingly, record their preferences. Now if a conversation takes place between passenger at the airport and the airline staff, then how about analyzing the same without any privacy issues? Today, as IBM asserts, technology is in place to “capture the audio of the conversations and run speech-to-text and tone analysis directly on the device, thus completely avoiding sending any sensitive data to the cloud”. Essentially what is being done is “tone analysis” and this can be equated with attributes like happiness, sadness or anger. Such insights can go a long way in coming up with a relevant recommendation when the passenger interacts or attempts a booking next time.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here

Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us

Ai Editorial: Recommending it right – can travel triumph in a battle of its own?

First published on 17th March, 2017

Ai Editorial: Airlines need to find ways to make luring recommendations despite the inherent complexities associated with a category like travel. Time for airlines to look beyond their role as a delivery service from point to point, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


The way we shop for non-travel products, say a book or a smartphone, invariably gets compared with shopping for an air ticket, hotel bookings, in-destination purchases etc.

The likes of Amazon and Netflix continue to be a benchmark for personalised recommendations for a vastly different sector like travel.

Is this comparison between retail and travel apt?

“Pure collaborative filtering made famous by Amazon will not work for travel products,” says a source. “For us, contextual cross-selling has been a key driver for ancillary product attachment for years.”

“Travel is about exploration, vastly different from retailing. Each of us can breathe travel in a peculiar way, probably unlike any other product. So recommendations can be refined, tailored to an extent, but can it be cracked 100%, a complex puzzle yet to be solved,” said another source, referring to the possibility of coming up with an equivalent of Amazon or Netflix in travel. “Of course, unlike aggregators, airlines, at least for air-related travel don’t offer options (flights from another airline) as of now. But certain carriers may broaden their product portfolio in the future!”  

Still, to an extent, comparison is justified as consumer wouldn’t differentiate experiences. Choices, convenience…all that makes shopping a breeze, consumers would expect that to happen with every transaction, be it as a retail shopper or a flyer.

Here we assess how airlines need to refine their own journey of coming up with apt recommendations:

·          Matching expectations arising from non-travel shopping environment: When Amazon, Netflix etc. come up with a recommendation (and that too, on a regular basis) that resonates with us; it builds affiliation with the interface/ app as well as the brand. In fact, the association with these companies (a majority of these not even own the products they sell) is strong owing to the choices they offer us, the way they are offered, the way our activity is remembered, frictionless transactions etc. The Amazon app or Uber app always remains at the top of consideration set.

Of course, travel as a product category is different. But it does put the onus on travel technology, product as well as marketing professionals to come together to refine and deliver a relevant recommendation to brighten up the chances of a conversion. Attaining such level of expertise would mean acting on data – own data, 3rd party data/ external data such as weather, social, media consumption etc. Not only this integration is must, but also what is done in terms of predictive analytics, pattern recognition etc. needs to be relevant. Hopefully the emerging crop of travel flight search start-ups would lend a new dimension. The idea of finding your next destination or journey is luring, but when I see a mail or notification enticing me to take a trip to a destination  that I neither searched for nor matches my “activity” it is neglected straightaway.

·          Being where a recommendation is valuable: How to be a part of a digital environment, be it for an ecosystem (say Tencent or Google) or on a specific messaging/ social networking platform, where users spend their time, their decisions get influenced etc. is what airlines have to capitalize on. Traffic generation has never been a forte of airlines, so they need to be proactive enough to make a recommendation where audience is. For instance, if a couple is interacting via Facebook Messenger or Skype or Whatsapp, and are zeroing on a destination, can they book their air ticket or accommodation within that interface? Can a relevant recommendation from airlines at an opportune time facilitate a transaction?

Airlines definitely need to come up with a robust API strategy, rather than letting the likes of travel meta-search engines to capitalize on traffic resulting from Facebook, Alibaba, Tencent, Apple etc. via integrations and “connectivity” to pave way for recommendations of the product actually owned by them. (Meta-search engines have been moving even further up the funnel via native app features such as traveller inspiration timeline and push notification of travel ideas. They even provide APIs in addition to widgets and white labels to power travel search). So airlines, too, can take such collaborative approach via APIs and work with custodians of traffic. What if a meta-search engine provides FFP of a traveller with a particular airline, can this airline come up with a real-time recommendation at the time when this traveller is on the meta-search platform?

·          Recommendations that aren’t about past but “now” too: Using semantic analysis and pattern recognition for driving repeat buying, or automating cross-selling isn’t new. But there is scope for improvement in areas like quality of recommendations provided data ingestion layer is robust. Airlines need to focus a meticulous data management plan i. e. collect, store, process, analyze, and visualize big data on cloud, and look at data that tells about “now” or the moment in context. In fact, the current shopping cart and the path the customer took to get there can tell you far more about what they do next than any number of prior bookings. With such plan in place, airlines can look at crafting a recommendation algorithm, encompassing various stages of travellers’ journey including real-time travel disruption management. Be it for accurately predicting hidden interests, evaluating minute behavioral changes or working out recommendations for various contexts, airlines have to capitalize on artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Quality of recommendations have gone up, too, avoiding erroneous attribution and refraining from displaying recommendations repeatedly.  

·          Smart recommendations with no heavy “background” analysis: Detailed profiling is without doubt a weapon in the arsenal, but what if there is some quick, light analysis “on-the-fly” that can delight a traveller. Say a traveller is watching a movie in-flight, how about coming up with a notification for buying merchandize, tours and activity-related buy or even exploring a new destination? Marketing technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and new possibilities are always exciting. Today an airline can bank on a recommendation emanating from a location recommendation engine, which is backed by a matching algorithm built upon geo-data-mining and machine learning processes. So say one arrives on, is asked few questions about interests/ preferences for that particular trip, and is recommended few destination options with authentic content and itinerary. Such location matching in the form a viable recommendation opens up a plethora of option, including monetisation via ancillary offerings.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th edition of Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Spain this year. 

Date: 25 Apr 2017 - 27 Apr 2017; Location: Mallorca, Spain 

For more info, click here


Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us


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