In the past five weeks, online travel companies have been rolling out their bots for Facebook messenger.
First to jump in was Skyscanner, followed by Expedia, and Hipmunk.
Metasearch rival Cheapflights was first out of the blocks two weeks ago with a combined flight and hotel search bot for Facebook Messenger.
Arguably the most fully featured bot integration yet debuts today from Kayak. It's based on the English-language version of the US website and mobile app for the Priceline Group-owned metasearch company.
Like the bots of its rivals, Kayak's Messenger bot can answer basic, natural-language search queries for flights or hotels.
But unlike others, it strives to cover multiple stages in a traveler's typical journey.
It starts with the ability to answer basic inspiration-related queries, such as, "where can I go for 600 dollars?" or "romantic getaway for 700 dollars."
If a user already has a destination in mind but isn't sure about the best time to travel based on price, Kayak's bot can offer advice based on the average monthly prices for destinations.
Unlike others, Kayak's bot includes tours-and-activities recommendations thanks to its integration with aggregators such as GetYourGuide and Viator.
If a customer decides to book, they will remain within the Facebook Messenger app shell. (In other words, a person is looking at the Kayak website within the Facebook messenger browser.)
A customer can link their Kayak profile with Messenger. After a purchase, the itinerary would be delivered via Messenger.
Alternatively, a customer without a Kayak profile can input their personal details and payment information as a one-off transaction.
Trip status alerts ("your flight is ready for check-in", "there has been a gate change, etc.") can be pushed inside Messenger and optionally appear as push notification on your phone.
Matthias Keller, Kayak's chief scientist, says the integration will slowly get smarter as more artificial intelligence software is added to it and as customers engage with it.
For instance, already today, if a customer has done a flight search and then days later does a hotel search, the bot will ask, "Hey, is this hotel actually meant for the trip to New York?" If a customer says yes, the bot will auto-populate the last search parameters for dates to help find a hotel or activities.
If a customer has linked their Kayak account with Messenger, and he or she has listed a home airport in their profile, Messenger will suggest that home airport by default in its searches, too.
If the user didn't list a home airport, the bot will try to divine it from the user's search history on Kayak's desktop site and mobile app. If the customer doesn't link Kayak and Messenger, Messenger will hunt through the user's text history to see if a home airport has ever been mentioned.
Keller's team wants to add more features, such as giving travelers the ability to run more fine-tuned searches, such as for "only nonstop flights".
In Tnooz tests, Kayak's bot was fairly responsive. But it stumbled occasionally -- as many natural-language software tools do -- when it came to recognizing informal ways of inputting dates.
The next-most comprehensive bot tool is from Hipmunk. On June 23, the smaller rival US metasearch released a full-throated bot for Messenger. Or more precisely, its AI-based tool Hello Hipmunk (which began with text-, email, and Google Calendar-based interactions) was integrated with Messenger and with Slack.
Unlike Kayak's tool, Hipmunk's tool doesn't have tours and activities suggestions or enable the purchase of a rental car reservation.
Kayak has had to rethink its approach to Facebook because of the introduction of the bot. Until now, its Facebook page was all about customer support. Now that it is adding the bot, it is having to identify and redirect customer support queries to the appropriate channel. (The bot can't handle them today.)
In the past year, Kayak has done a lot of experimentation, integrating with Amazon Alexa and with messaging platform Slack.
Play with Kayak's Messenger bot, here.
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