AI and tourism: “We must tackle the subject now”, according to Y. Bakouche (Best Of Tours) 🔑
DMC launches “Botler”, its AI-based online concierge
For Yacine Bakouche, the director of Best of Tours, artificial intelligence is not just an additional tool: it will cause significant upheavals in the tourism sector. So, rather than waiting for the wave to hit him head on, he took the gamble on riding it and is preparing to launch his online concierge service connected to AI, called “Botler”. He will also be present at IFTM Top Resa (Stand V025) with his teams to introduce his tools to tourism professionals.
This technological advance fascinates, as much as it worries. While some tourism professionals have discovered with astonishment what it can change in the life of their business, others have been preparing for its arrival for many years.
This is the case of the incoming agency Best Of Tours, specialist in particular in the United Kingdom and Indonesia.
For its leader, Yacine Bakouche, it is more than urgent to look into the subject. “Most people consider AI only as an additional program serving humans, but for the first time in our history, we are facing a tool that can make decisions,” he emphasizes.
To some this may sound like science fiction, and I might sound like a fool; yet the phenomenon is accelerating, AI is arriving faster than expected. The automation of certain tasks is already leading to job losses, and even if this is not my wish, I do not see how we will be able to avoid this.
AI, a subject under consideration since 2015 for Best Of Tours
With her teams, Yacine Bakouche has gradually developed around her purely inbound travel offer, a set of technological tools which allow her to both automate certain processes, but also to provide ever more personalization to her customers.
“I have been working on these questions since 2015, constantly asking myself what more Best Of Tours can bring to customers, what is our added value.”
The agency now offers virtual tours of destinations or hotel rooms, using 360° videos.
It also develops mobile applications, personalized in the colors of its clients. During the pandemic, the DMC also developed its “Teletravel” concept, allowing a company's employees to telework from another destination for several months.
Then recently the agency launched “Your Local Eye”, a service allowing all tourist offers and partners to be grouped together in a given region (Vaucluse, Aude, Ardèche, etc.) in a geolocated manner.
Botler”, an online concierge connected to AI
The pandemic has therefore not slowed down Best of Tours’ projects. While the incoming agency has set foot in the "big leagues" - it manages the travel of several European delegations during the various COPs in particular, but also certain trips by Emmanuel Macron to Great Britain - it is also preparing to take a giant step forward in the field of artificial intelligence.
It is during the IFTM Top Resa, in Paris, that the agency will unveil to its partners its latest innovation, the one which gives a global meaning, an articulation between all the services developed over the years.
This is “Botler”, its new online concierge tool (see video above), which will be able to answer travelers’ questions and needs thanks to artificial intelligence and data recovery.
“Customers can now email Botler, in any language. He will respond to them by qualifying the request, asking the relevant and necessary questions to find the best offer and he will select the best stay from the database provided to him, according to needs. All while checking availability. Then he will send his proposal to clients,” explains Yacine Bakouche.
For now, Botler is in the “training” phase. “You have to ask him a lot of questions to train him to give answers that are in the direction you want to give him,” adds the director of Best Of Tours. For example, we don't want it to encourage customers to spend a weekend in Bali. We can decide what tourism we want to have and customize it.”
Botler will also be accessible via a chatbot, directly on the agency's website. “It won’t take us more than 6 months to also install it by telephone,” continues Yacine Bakouche. Customers will be able to call Best Of Tours, chat with Botler and ask for advice on their trip, for example, at any time.
Create a cooperative system with DMCs and agencies
If all these tools are first tested on Best Of Tours' in-house sites (Boticonline in particular), they are gradually offered to the Group's customers and partners.
“Our objective is to pool development costs with travel agency, tour operator and DMC partners. We want to create a cooperative system that is based on company data and not on Google, to avoid that in the long term, only Facebook or Google will be able to offer stays in such a personalized way,” explains Yacine Bakouche.
Best of Tours therefore offers a “package” to DMCs, around €300 per month, which includes putting their offers online on Boticonline, providing a personalized mobile application to offer to their customers - with the key commissions on sales of partner activities carried out via the app -, a 360° camera to take scans and videos of the hotels and destinations they offer and access to Botler.
For travel agencies, the formula includes the personalized application in their colors with the destinations of their choice, flows to their stays and access to Botler for around fifty euros per month. “The more partners we have, the more we will be able to grow our data center, which works on the development of Botler,” explains Yacine Bakouche.
For him, the way businesses operate in the future will come down to an intermediary platform, with data as input and distribution as output, hence the importance of data.
“The more of us there are, the more we will have the capacity to adapt all together, so as not to be at the mercy of very large companies or technology companies, which can do this job very well because they have all the tools. You only have to look at what Kayak or Booking have done to the hotel world..."
For Yacine Bakouche, travel agencies will find it difficult to resist the hyperpersonalization enabled by AI, especially since the automation it implies will lead to a reduction in costs for the companies that use it.
“Do you think that customers will want to pay 30% more for their trip because Jocelyne will welcome them at the agency? », he says, a bit provocative.
If he is not in favor of job cuts, he also does not want to bury his head in the sand and find himself against the wall. “It’s dangerous to wait and see. If tomorrow, an American company offers personalization to all French people, in their language and with all the services, we won't have to come and complain!
Tourism professionals must be aware of this and ask themselves what they want to do: continue to fight among small operators or see if there is another strategy to adopt between tourism professionals?, questions Yacine Bakouche.
Everything happens much faster and we won't have time to prepare things once they're here. Currently, many professionals are happy to have passed Covid and do not ask themselves these questions, but we have no choice, we will have to ask ourselves.
For the director of Best Of Tours, it is urgent that the entire profession tackles these issues head on and engages in debate. For his part, he has just launched a blog, TrobelAI, entirely dedicated to artificial intelligence, particularly in the tourism sector.
At the same time, it will provide tourism professionals with an online form for those who would like to benefit from the agency's tools.