Over the last couple of decades, the online travel industry has soared. Every year, consumers spend nearly U.S. $1 trillion at online travel sites. Nevertheless, many find themselves frustrated by the overwhelming volume of information and all the options they must sift through in order to book a trip.
“The average person must search more than 20 Websites before they find the destination and accommodations they are looking for,” says Felix Laboy, CEO of WayBlazer, an upstart firm that specializes in travel searches and bookings.
WayBlazer, which aims to streamline travel purchases by providing data to major business and consumer sites, has turned to IBM’s Watson and its cognitive computing platform to introduce natural-language searches and improved filters for delivering highly relevant results.
“We are looking to use both structured and unstructured data and better understand grammatical and syntax relationships to move beyond the basic information that is now available at travel sites,” says CTO John Faith. “IBM’s Watson can read through an entire library of books and documents about travel, and also can plug in blog posts, tweets and reviews in order to provide more relevant recommendations.”
The goal is to make it extremely simple for consumers to find the travel information they desire and book an entire trip at one location online. WayBlazer’s Insight Engine uses a cognitive cloud from Cognitive Scale to manage the data and generate results.
For example, if a person searches for a romantic vacation in Italy’s Amalfi Coast, he would view entirely different results than if he searched for budget travel in the same region. In the former instance, a site would provide specialized boutique hotels and activities ranging from wine tastings and spas to special restaurants. In the latter situation, the person would view budget hotels and less expensive activities.
Laboy says that next-day or same-day recommendations based on weather and other factors become a reality. “If it’s going to rain, then it might suggest something indoors.”
Creating a Cognitive Persona
In addition, WayBlazer will examine click behavior, purchase patterns and other data points to learn about a person and adapt accordingly. “Over time, the system will create a cognitive persona,” Laboy explains.
“You might be a foodie or a family traveler. You might be a business traveler or a luxury traveler. Or you might be different types of travelers at different times. The idea is to make the experience highly relevant.”
The company is also working with hotels and other travel firms to create a different type of experience. “You might want a certain hotel type or brand— such as a luxury hotel near a marina—and specify certain criteria, such as a fitness center or 24-hour room service,” Laboy says. The goal is to “find exactly what you want, where you want it.”
WayBlazer has already entered into a partnership with the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau to use cognitive search and learning technology across various channels to generate insights, as well as relevant, location-aware content and offers. The firm is now looking to license the system to others.
“We aim to transform what is now a cumbersome experience into a simple and enjoyable process,” Laboy concludes. “Machine learning and cognitive computing are giant steps forward.”