Travelaer has linked up with Icelandair to develop the airline industry's first search and booking Facebook Messenger bot.
The conversational interface encourages flyers to search for the flights which suit their schedule best and offers optional Iceland stop-over packages. The bot also has a customer service element, answering common travel questions with text, photos and video replies.
For the time being, the bot only works in English.
While bots have been front-page news over the past few months, Icelandair is the first to take bookings within Messenger, according to Travelaer's chief experience office Mike Slone.
He explained why airlines are reluctant, so far, to offer bot bookings.
"Bots are fairly new and most [airlines] don’t have a strategy for conversational commerce, which include bots. Second, their booking engines don’t have advanced or flexible APIs that allow them to conduct flight searches and bookings away from their websites."
The rise in popularity of messaging apps means that airlines - and other travel suppliers - need to rethink where they can engage with potential customers. Guðmundur Óskarsson, director of marketing and business development at Icelandair, said its research suggested that messaging apps were now more popular than social media. He said:
“We know what platforms our customers use and want to embrace new ways to communicate and offer valuable interactions with them in that space. The launch of the bot is another step towards our aim of customers being able to book a flight anywhere at any time."
Or, as Slone put it, "The Icelandair approach we are working on is anytime, anywhere, booking. That means booking where customers are, using messenging."
He added that Travelaer has approached a number of airlines about developing a Messenger booking bot, but found that "most airlines aren’t even answering customer questions on Facebook Messenger, much less thinking about booking."
The reasons behind this could be cultural, as airlines struggle to find where conversational commerce sits within the organisational structure. Slone noted that "the reservation or travel agent teams are typically not the same teams answering questions on Facebook."
Icelandair adds that a second phase, which will provide “additional functionality for enhancing the user experience,” is still in development.
Click here to visit the Icelandair microsite dedicated to its Facebook Messenger bot, or watch the explanatory promo clip below.
Additional reporting by Kevin May.
Related reading from Tnooz:
Bots lack the consistency users expect (July 2016)
Allo, can Google have your attention please, travel execs…(June 2016)
Airline software company Travelaer thinks it can work around siloed IT (May 2016)