This is the continuation of a series of articles spun out of tnoozLIVE@TTE, recorded live at the TTE event Olympia, London. More clips to come! To learn more about how to bring tnoozLIVE@ to your event, please email Ella Sopp.
Codegen launched in 1999 and has been implementing artificial intelligence into its travel technology portfolio for a number of years.
Sales and marketing manager Mark Melzack explained that AI is an established part of its reservation platform, and is specifically applied within the packaging solutions component.
"We have built our own revenue management algorithms which means our clients, across multiple segments, have the data to optimise yield and revenues."
With AI having established a footprint within its core reservation product, Codegen has been applying AI to new areas. Reviews, Melzack believes, are becoming an increasingly important part of the conversion conversation.
"Everyone is talking about personalization, and we are using AI to analyse images and texts within a potential users social media posts so that our clients can present to them the most relevant results and therefore the ones most likely to convert."
It's AI-based product can work as a standalone solution or be integrated with existing services.
With a development team of some 450 based in its research and development facility in Sri Lanka, Codegen is committed to innovation.
"Artificial intelligence by definition will continue to get better but we are looking at how augmented reality and virtual reality fit into travel, what blockchain might be useful for."
Here's the video interview in full:
Martin Cowen: Welcome back to tnoozLIVE@TTE. Hope you've enjoyed this morning's run of interviews and we have another cracking line up for you this afternoon. Kicking off with our friend here Mark Melzack who's sales and marketing manager for CodeGen. Delighted to have Mark with us and obviously, we'd like to thank CodeGen for sponsoring us and helping us to bring this tnoozLIVE@TTE to all of you around the world. So Mark, CodeGen, what do you do and what are you doing at TTE?
Mark Melzack: So essentially CodeGen is a travel technology firm. We've been delivering travel technology solutions to the industry since 1999 and we work with clients all over the world delivering travel technology solutions, reservations' platforms and other products in order to give them the competitive edge and make sure they're successful in growing their business.
Martin: So I didn't come into this cold. I had a quick look online at what CodeGen are up to and there's a lot of AI and machine learning that you seem to be doing at the moment. There's also a lot of AI and machine learning around in Travel Tech Europe this year. So what's your take on AI and machine learning in the reservation systems space that you're operating in?
Mark: Yes and certainly I think artificial intelligence has been a bit of a buzz word for the last year or two. But we've actually been implementing and putting Artificial Intelligence into our products for a number of years. So TravelBox, our flagship solution, is an enterprise level reservations platform from end to end inventory management and distribution of travel products for multiple segments, from airlines to cruise lines, tour operators, resorts, attractions and entertainment and DMCs. And we give them the ability to use Artificial Intelligence in packaging software within TravelBox.
We've been doing that for quite a while and where we do that is with regards to packaging around revenue management algorithms and making sure their products that they deliver to their clients to the point of sale are the best ones that they can do in order to maximize yield, maximize revenue. And we've been doing that for some major clients for a number of years. More recently we've been looking at Artificial Intelligence as regards image analysis, text analysis, natural language processing and all the things around advance machine learning in order to give additional products that can either be sold standalone to our clients or other people or can be integrated into the TravelBox platform.
Martin: One of the things I was going to ask you is you got a portfolio product and I believe it's called FLAIR and it seems as if that will integrate with your existing solutions. And so what I wanted to ask is whether Artificial Intelligence is better as a standalone solution for your clients or whether it's integrate-able into existing products. I mean is there a difference between how the AI works in those two contexts?
Mark: I think it's about making Artificial Intelligence work for you. So it’s supplementing your current processes in order to make things better, to add value, to increase speed, to increase conversion rate. And in that sense, Artificial Intelligence products that we're promoting at the moment under the FLAIR AI toolkit include many separate products that can be either sold independently or used independently or can be integrated together to form a full solution.
So if I give an example, we have a product at moment called Review Spotter. It's an application to give clients ability to create reviews, customer feedback, and we analyze that feedback using natural language processing and other AI techniques in order for them to use that data and turn it into intelligence, intelligence that they can use throughout their company. So be it in revenue management or contracting or Customer Relationship Management or something like that.
All that lovely data they get from the customer feedback, we can use and give them intelligence so they can hopefully, use it in the business to increase conversion rates as well. So that's kind of a standalone version. But also what we're doing is using a similar platform to go out a number of ways and analyze all the data from online sources in order spring back destination information as well. So when our clients are thinking about how to sell their products and how someone online would go and search for their products, they might want to utilize that review data to be able to say, "Okay well I want to go somewhere that has great scuba diving. Or I want somewhere close to one of my favorite restaurants," or something like that.
So we can utilize and review information. We also analyze the data to get destination knowledge to give people better recommendations at the point of sale. So as a solution you can start set look at the standalone solution for review analysis. If you think about it in the bigger picture of sales and increase in conversion rates, we can actually use that data to generate more relevant products. So when thinking about it in terms of customization as well it kind of fits into that whole piece. So we look at a person's profile to understand more about who they are in order to offer them relevant recommendations at the point of sale. We're able to analyze, again using AI techniques like image and text analysis, their social media profile. So if someone goes and logs on via Facebook or Twitter, we can access that data, the post they put on these notifications. We can analyze what's interesting to them, what their likes are and then we can actually offer more relevant responses at the point of sale and push those recommendations to the top of the list.
So again, standalone great but as a full solution it's really giving tour operators and other client sectors the ability to provide better responses to hopefully increase conversion rates because that's what we're aiming for. We're trying to help our clients increase conversion rates online. So if you think about it and you think about the big companies, and you're going through a search and you're looking for a certain itinerary or something. We get so much back, you know, hundreds and hundreds of results and there's so much choice. What do you choose? What's important to you? It's not specific to you as a person. So we, using the integrated platform of the FLAIR product, can provide relevant recommendations so that you're more inclined to click that book button.
Martin: You mentioned that you work across travel verticals. I'm just wondering with say cruise, tour operators, bed banks and airlines, OTAs, you work across the whole spectrum. I mean is there any one segment sector that you think is more open to these AI-related conversations than the others?
Mark: I think when it comes to personalization and online conversion you know the OTA, the tour operators with a b2c website or any market sector for that matter who wants to personalize the customer journey can get the best out of these tools. So it is definitely cross segment.
I think specifically with regards to reviews as well, we all know how important reviews are these days to actually convincing people to actually book, right? It's kind of like, okay so I see a price you kind of got what you want but what are other people saying about it? And that's when people go to different websites and you might lose them to booking abandonment. They go and find something else and they get offered something else. So we provide that data at the point of sale. We can push those reviews into the platform so you can see what people are saying about your product and that kind of gives us the edge to make the difference between people abandoning and going back to them. And that works across multiple segments whether you're booking a cruise or tour or a hotel, you know, you want to know what people are saying about it. You want the journey to be personalized so it's important to you. So I think its cross segment.
Martin: And that sort of review piece, is that becoming more and more important because of the vast array of choices that people are used to with the big guys. I mean is the review now becoming more critical to conversions?
Mark: Without a doubt and everyone we speak to especially at the show, at TTE 2018, is saying the same thing. They see what we're doing and they're trying to get more out of the data. It's pretty standard for someone to go and get customer feedback, right. If you're not doing it you should be doing it because you want people to report back on their experiences of your products and services and you want to use that data to promote your brand. But we're finding that the smaller agencies, the smaller tour ops, you know it could be anything from a niche specialist to a bigger company still might not be getting the most out of that data. So yes absolutely we're finding people with particular reference to reviews wanting to know more about what their customers are saying about their products and services so they can get closer to them so they can gain more loyal customers. But then they can use that to bring in new customers as well because you know, what's better than people sharing their experiences.
Think about when you want to book a holiday, what's the first thing you do? You talk to your family, you talk to your friends, look at reviews site, you want to see what people have really thought about that. The difference between our platform and others is that because of the AI, because of the natural language processing, we're able to drill down into that really rich data to categorize review content. And understand what people are saying about location, about the service, about the hotel itself and all those types of things.
Martin: That's interesting. I'm looking at a leisure trip myself and finding myself increasingly looking for reviews. And some of the sites that I look at our able to segment reviews so if I want to look at what people have said about the beach I can do that and that's something that I've noticed more in the past few years.
Mark: It's definitely a trend. I think the most important thing that differentiates CodeGen and Review Spotter is that we automate that process. A lot of people are still getting manual customer service forms, bringing the data, putting it into a platform and trying to go through it and kind of categorize it and analyze it and work out for themselves. Our system can be deployed very quickly. It's all automated and it's all using the latest techniques so it's cutting edge.
Martin: A couple of years ago big data was the buzz word and it seems as if big data has now sort of morphed into AI and machine learning to make the big data actionable. I mean these are all proprietary solutions that you developed yourself. And I was looking online I noticed that you've got quite a strong R&D DNA in your business. How do you transition from your R&D lab, if it is one, into actual products?
Mark: Yes that's a really good question. So we have over 450 people based out of Sri Lanka where all the clever stuff happens. You know the project management and the development and that's where our research and development team is. And what we say is R&D is in our DNA, yes because it's really important to us that we're always continuously innovating and developing new products so that our clients and new clients can use and to give them the cutting edge products.
So we were working on AI a long time ago and we've developed extremely good automated packaging solutions which give our clients much better packages to sell and easier ways to revenue manage throughout the customer journey. But when it comes to Research and Development, we're also looking to the future. Yes, big data analysis is something that we do, have been doing for a long time but the important thing is rather than just analyzing the data is what you do with it and the intelligence that you can gain from it. So that's why from our own R&D Department, we developed new products like Review Spotter, the Personalization Engine as well that we're showcasing here at TTE alongside our revenue management platform as well, have all come out of R&D. And taking it from R&D through to the product marketing stage to actually distributing that throughout the market is a big challenge and it's what we're continuously striving to improve all the time. But as you see from the stand, you know you have got great big branding, we've got a lot of promotion going on with regards to our new products just to give the market the idea that we're more than just TravelBox. Our clients know that it's really important to us that we get that message across.
Martin: Okay so you just mentioned, just so wrapping up, you mentioned in passing, looking to the future. Is the future just Artificial Intelligence getting better, machine learning getting better or are there other things lurking in the background that we might be talking about in a couple of years time?
Mark: Yes I mean, I think you know AI's always improving from our perspective for products, it's always getting better, they're always learning and developing new techniques. The important thing is that we're developing it in our products today and have been for a while. Looking to the future we're also looking at VR and how that will impact the travel industry as well and obviously the blockchain to understand how that will change the travel industry. Future gazing is something that we specialize in and have been doing for a very long time.