American Express has acquired artificial intelligence-powered assistant Mezi, which co-founder and CEO Swapnil Shinde says upends the current “DIY” trend of travel search and booking into a “do-it-for-me” model.
“We use Uber to have someone drive us around, we use Door Dash so someone can get our favorite food and deliver it to us. We believe that the same kind of philosophy will apply to the travel vertical where everyone will have an assistant who will do their search for them, who will always have their back so all they can focus on is their travel,” Swapnil says of the app’s approach compared to those of traditional online travel agencies and metasearch sites.
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Founded in 2015, Mezi began as a virtual shopping assistant before pivoting to travel. The app allows travelers to submit requests for flights, hotels and restaurant reservations using text or voice messaging.
The app analyzes results from Sabre, Expedia, Priceline, TripAdvisor and others to provide recommendations and instant booking.
According to Mezi co-founder and chief technology officer Snehal Shinde, Amex has already set the "gold standard" in the concierge experience. "What we have been trying to do is to democratize the gold standard using AI," he says, which in turn "extends that engagement to a significant base of American Express globally."
Shinde says the app suits consumers’ communication preferences too. “More and more people want to communicate over messaging instead of emails and phone calls, and the same thing will transform the travel industry,” he says.
“It’s going to take time, but I think once you discover this mode of communication and this mode of travel research, it’s very hard to go back.”
Under American Express, Mezi – which won the OAG Award for AI Innovation at the 2017 Phocuswright Conference – will become a wholly owned subsidiary of the financial titan.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Once you discover this mode of communication and this mode of travel research, it’s very hard to go back.
Swapnil Shinde - Mezi
Through the app, users create a profile with their travel preferences, and the system automatically updates those profiles each time they conduct a search, strengthening the personalization of results. "We’ll have so much data coming into the platform that I think our AI will start learning much faster than it is learning today," Snehal says. "We can significantly ramp up the pace at which our AI can get better day over day, month over month.
According to Swapnil, a conversation with Mezi can span a couple minutes, a couple hours or even a couple weeks, “and Mezi will always remember the context of the conversation you’ve been having,” he says.
“Every time you talk to Mezi, it knows you slightly better than it did yesterday.”
To simplify the process for users, Mezi provides just three curated recommendations for each request. Users can ask to see more options or can refine their requirements to generate new results.
follows a $9 million Series A funding of Mezi in 2016 co-led by American
Express Ventures, Nexus Venture Partners and Saama Capital. American Express
also tested Mezi with a select group of cardholders during 2017.
AI-powered experience opens up exciting new ways for us to connect with and
serve our card members and creates opportunities for us to build more
meaningful relationships with them,” said Phil Norman, vice president of
American Express Digital Labs.
Bot and human
Snehal says one of the platform’s
unique features is the automatic collaboration that happens between the bot and
human assistants behind the scenes.
“If the bot
is not able to understand something, the bot will hand it over to the human.
The human will then train the bot and hand the conversation back to the bot. It’s
pretty seamless how this happens and as an end customer you never feel as if
you are talking to a bot versus talking to a human,” Snehal says.
"[The app] opens a new way for American Express card members to access travel and concierge services over a mobile interface, as Amex Platinum services are more human-powered," Swapnil adds. "With AI it allows us to significantly scale to more card members."
60% of the requests are fully handled by the artificial intelligence, and Snehal
says they want to achieve 80%, at least for business travel, in the next three
to six months.
In addition to the app interface, Mezi has a desktop experience targeted to travel agents. The
Travel Dashboard uses artificial intelligence to help agents process requests
logged one million conversations, and the system knows about 50 million words to
date. For now it only operates in English, but the co-founders say they
hope to add additional languages in the future.
See below for Mezi's product demo, as well as an interview with vice president of travel strategy and partnerships Johnny Thorsen, from The Phocuswright Conference 2017:
Mezi at The Phocuswright Conference 2017
Mezi's Johnny Thorsen at The Phocuswright Conference 2017