News | Distribution | TechnologyLook who’s talking - chat bots and virtual reality unwrapped at THack MallorcaThis article was originally published onBy Gene Quinn | May 9, 2016 Some pretty big digital travel players made headlines last week with Booking.com unveiling its hotel chat service, and with early product testers sharing a peek at Google’s new Trips app. But that doesn't mean everyone else should go home.Playing into the world of product development and prototyping last weekend were 17 developer teams who gathered at THack Mallorca for Tnooz’s hospitality and activities-themed hackathon.Also in the mix were:• Booking.com and its first external testing of its API • Hotelbeds with three APIs: hotel bed bank, activities database and TaxiTime ride-hailing API • Rome2Rio’s multi-modal transport API • Musement’s activities API • Minube’s API for a ticketing platform for attractions • Xapix.io's framework connecting API endpoints to hacker project back-ends. Three of four prize-winning teams utilized the framework.More than 60 student and professional developers tackled contest challenges including two popular topics: spontaneous travel inspiration and assistance by new messaging bots to ease search drudgery.The hackathon was Tnooz’s first at a university campus – University of the Balearic Islands in Palma – and two of the judges’ four top picks were student projects.A team of three students from the Ukraine – Team LNU (above) – captured the essence of what millennials say they prefer in travel:• authentic experiences instead of ticking boxes in guidebooks • social media interactions to find and share those experiencesTeam LNU built a messenger bot drawing information from Hotelbeds and Rome2Rio APIs. The project won prizes as Best Student Team and People Choice in a vote by developers for total winnings of Euro 2,000.Team Snaping (above), a team of two developers from the university in Palma, built a mobile app that enhances printed maps. The app grabs photos of attractions and converts them instantly into nearby bookable hotels. The team pointed to the use case of tapping into existing distribution through tourism providers.Team Zoe (above), winner of Best Large Team and Euro 1,500, developed a prototype chat bot for use on Facebook, Telegram or other messenger services. Using preferences revealed by machine learning searches of a user’s social graph, the chat bot explored activities in Hotelbeds API and delivered hotel options through Booking.com’s API.The most entertaining hack of the 12 presented was Visionerds’s version of virtual and augmented reality. It was constructed cardboard, sticky tape, a Samsung smartphone and a pinch of scurrying about the enchanting city of Palma.The real-time use case saw the two Visionerds hackers leave the hackathon at the halfway point, travel to a Palma bar and hotel, capture videos and photos of the journey and interactions inside both, with patrons, and show up at the demo with a VR experience that:• presented a hand-made set of virtual reality goggles to the judges • played a video of the car ride toward the city • displayed a digital map with points of interest and hotel locations the vicinity through images inside the gogglesCool hack idea … clever execution … excellent use case for the “I need a hotel now” aspect of THack challenge “Destination Unknown” … and winner of the Best Small Team prize of Euro 1,500."Messaging, messaging, messaging" was the message of some other developers this past weekend. Team Mallorca JS2 made a compelling case on how chat bots will progress from today's simple versions to a possible AI-infused, sophisticated tomorrow.The projects reminded us that the biggest brands in travel don't have a lock on innovation -- and that there's a lively API ecosystem and a forward-thinking community of hackers ready to innovate.NB: Mallorca image via Pixabay.