Thomson to introduce virtual assistant tool for holiday inspiration

Holiday company Thomson is set to launch a new travel search tool offering its customers an innovative way to find inspiration for their holidays.

In an industry first, the UK-based holiday company will introduce a travel search tool that will leverage IBM’s Cloud platform with cognitive intelligence. Thomson is trialling the new tool with customers after research showed that 77 percent of respondents considered that a virtual agent would be helpful when searching for a holiday. The experimental service is in beta and will be developed using customer feedback to improve responses.

The virtual assistant will enable customers to interact via a simple chat interface to get real-time responses and helpful suggestions on holiday destinations or experiences. The tool enables a personalised search using natural language as compared to the usual checkbox and filtering of e-commerce sites. The conversation tool is designed as to learn from every customer interaction and provide ever more accurate responses, Thomson said.

Jeremy Osborne, Director of Strategic Innovation, TUI UK&I said; ‘We wanted to test whether a conversational search experience would resonate with our customers as a new, fun and easy way to find their ideal holiday. By leveraging IBM Cloud Technology with Watson’s cognitive intelligence, we are raising the bar in the travel industry. We are delivering an interactive service experiment to our customers that offer holiday inspiration ideas and personalised search results based on customer interests. We are excited to learn how customers react and interact, what they get out of the experience and how it compares to the current way of shortlisting holiday options.’

Helen Kelisky VP of Cloud, IBM UK and Ireland stated: ‘Cloud is the foundation for innovation. Thomson’s new interactive and conversational search tool is a prime example of how organisations can tap into the powerful infrastructure of IBM Cloud to build a customised user experience, which will continue to rapidly evolve with customer feedback and preferences.’

The move is in line with Thomson’s announcement earlier this year to transform the way they inspire customers to book holidays in store and online. By 2020 the holiday brand expects to phase out brochures and offer a digital experience at every customer touch point, investing in more personalised, inspirational content for customers, it said.

More than half of London City’s passengers resort to online check-in

Research conducted at London City Airport has revealed that passengers are increasingly using technology with increased confidence for flight check-ins.

According to the research, in June this year, 53 percent of passengers checked in online and printed their boarding pass at home or downloaded it to their mobile phone – up from 43 percent the previous year, Luchtzak Aviation said in a release online.

The research also found that only one in five travellers – or 20 percent – used a manned-check-in desk at the airport – as compared to more than one in three, or 36 percent, who sought the assurance of a staff member handling check-in last year. Also, self-service check-in kiosks are becoming more popular as usage at the airport has increased from 10 percent to 21 percent in 12 months.

According to the airport, the findings demonstrate the impact of technology on the customer experience, the increased confidence of travellers in taking control of their journey, and the need to save time.

Declan Collier, CEO of London City Airport, said: ‘These findings show that 4 out of 5 people catching a flight from London City Airport are now checking themselves in, whether online or via a self-service kiosk in the terminal.

‘What really stands out to me is the obvious confidence travellers now have. You can provide all the technology money can buy, but your customers must want to use it. Much like shoppers using self-service check-out tills, or even self-service check-in booths at hotels, technology in travel and aviation is giving people choice – choice to own your journey and the processes needed to complete it. It is clear that air passengers have found the confidence to take control of their journey, save themselves time and do it their way in this digital age – a kind of digital DIY.’

The research also found that business travellers were the most likely to check-in online. Almost two thirds (61 per cent) of business passengers at the airport printed their boarding pass at home or downloaded to their mobile, compared to less than half (45 per cent) of leisure passengers.

London City Airport has the highest proportion of business travellers of any UK airport – around 55 percent of passengers, the report noted.

As part of efforts to improve passenger experience, London City is currently investing GBP16m in redeveloping its Western Pier, which houses 70 percent of its departure gates. The new pier will be 74 percent larger, with a contemporary open-plan layout, 600 additional seats and space for new retail and food and drink outlets.


BA launches digital platform for choosing holiday destinations

British Airways (BA), the UK’s national carrier, has launched a digital platform that is intended to help holidaymakers to choose their ideal holiday destination, through a visual and social online tool.

The new digital platform, named Picture Your Holiday, was designed by BBH London and created by Monterosa, a mobile agency recently acquired by BBH. The move comes after EasyJet created its own holiday CRM tool last October, which it called Inspire Me. Inspire Me uses a scroll bar to display varying budgets, airports and holiday themes for European customers.

The platform features a visual mood board that offers customers a range of interlocking images that show different holiday destinations and experiences, including beach scenes, mountain hikes, cityscapes, art galleries etc, which can be dragged into a concertina-style book. Once a selection of images has been compiled, BA produces a range of tourist destinations that suit the individual profiles that users have created. These ideas can then be shared with others through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and email.

The work is being supported by digital and outdoor activity, including interactive digital outdoor ads on touch screen LCD screens at Westfield shopping centre. The screens have been produced and built by Grand Visual in association with Kinetic Fuel, and mimic the online experience.

Matt Armstrong, head of marketing and distribution for BA Holidays, said: ‘We believe that by putting the fun and emotion back into searching for holidays, we can surprise people by suggesting destinations they may not have considered. By using generic destination images alongside lifestyle images we can showcase the wide-ranging appeal of the destinations we support.

‘This is a different approach from other tour operators and we hope it will make our holidays stand out in a very competitive market,’ he added.

Death knell for brochures as Virgin opens paperless travel outlets

Virgin Holidays, the travel agency arm of Richard Branson’s Virgin empire, has signalled the demise of the iconic holiday brochure with the opening of the first of two paperless ‘holiday laboratory’ travel outlets this weekend.

Virgin’s new hi-tech holiday stores will assist customers with creating their own vacations with the use of giant computer screens and iPads, and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent will be the first venue to host a new-look store. The second store is earmarked to open on July 8 at the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield.

The stores will rely on video and sensory experiences to fulfil clients’ holiday expectations, with no place among the hi-tech offerings for the printed word. Having created their own holiday itinerary using technology that records their movements, clients will have their own copy in digital format to take away with them. Sensory effects, including textured flooring, mood lighting and appropriate scents will all be employed to provide the client with a virtual taste of their preferred exotic destination. And as no experience is complete nowadays unless it has been shared with the world on social media, customers will also have the option of having their photo taken against a green screen to provide them with a shareable record of the vacation that they have just booked.

Virgin Holidays’ customer and sales director, Mark Anderson, commented, ‘Our holiday laboratories have been designed with one purpose – to harness the latest technology and the increasingly powerful influence of social media to create something really different on the high street. As our retail network has grown, we’ve increasingly seen the need to put ‘play’ at the heart of the buying experience and these two stores are the logical conclusion of that process.’


Virgin Holidays to deploy Amadeus technology

Virgin Holidays has announced that it will deploy technology from Amadeus to enhance fares and shopping services for holiday customers.

Amadeus is a travel technology partner and transaction processor for the global travel and tourism industry. Together with Virgin Holidays, it will offer services cemented by broad-ranging technology partnerships between the two firms. As part of the agreement, Virgin Holidays will migrate its online and call centre reservations to Amadeus. It will also introduce new fares and shopping solutions to boost sales conversions. A feature of the partnership will be what the companies call, best fare ‘findability and bookability.’

The system migration, which was completed in October, was the first phase of the technology agreement. The two companies are also planning to work to streamline data across multiple systems and to improve processes through increased automation.

Wayne Perks, product & commercial director at Virgin Holidays, said, ‘As a hugely popular brand with the travelling public, we wanted to ensure that the Virgin flair, which is so evident throughout our customers’ holiday experiences, is present in the trip planning and shopping stages. The only way to make this happen is by using best-in-class technology. Our aim is to make the pre-departure shopping and booking an enjoyable and stress-free precursor to enjoying the actual holiday. That’s why we are working with Amadeus to ensure that our customers will always be able to access the best fares on offer, and they will be able to do this effortlessly thanks to the advanced new technology we are installing.’


Virtuoso to help with travel planning

New York-based Virtuoso, a global travel agency network, has announced that it is conducting a virtual travel show that will help customers to plan their travel.

The company said that it was holding its virtual travel show on September 5. Customers who need to plan their travel can do so in the comfort of their homes or from anywhere where they have Internet connectivity. The firm said that the show would allow travellers to access invaluable travel information from well-known names in the industry, through a browser.

The show, to be hosted on September 5 between 1pm and 6pm local time, will be the firm’s first Mexico, South America and Caribbean Virtual Travel Show. Those planning to attend the event will have the chance to share ideas online with 21 of the world’s best South American, Mexican and Caribbean travel companies. In addition, Virtuoso’s travel advisors will be on hand to answer client’s questions. Customers can plan their own perfect getaway, or even have one tailor-made for them. Specific destinations that will be covered for the event include Chile, Mexico, Peru and Argentina. These destinations are already popular with active travellers, families, honeymooners and singles.

Like any other major show, attendees will be treated to offers, including free nights’ stay, spa services and resort credits. Hotel upgrades, complimentary round-trip transfers and special saving offers will also form part of the incentives that are available. In addition, the first 100 attendees could win cash gift cards.

Kristi Jones, president and COO of Virtuoso, said, ‘What separates this experience from a typical web search is that it’s interactive rather than one-sided and, more importantly, everything has been vetted by Virtuoso; there’s no clutter of unwanted material or concern that a product has been misrepresented. Whether new to the Virtuoso network or an established client, consumers will find value in the information exchange with some of Virtuoso’s most renowned travel companies, as well as access to some of the best travel advisors in the industry. Participants will come away from it better informed and inspired to see the world.’

Attendees need to register in advance at