46 | Business Travel News | July 17, 2017 www.businesstravelnews.com
Technology EDITED BY AMANDA METCALF
BY ELIZABETH WEST
Artificial intelligence-powered travel app Mezi is poised to launch its
"for business" product, according to CEO and co-founder Swapnil
Shinde. The company has partnered with Adelman, Casto Travel and
W Travel on the corporate front. It also has forged agreements with
luxury travel provider Bluefish and Seat 1A. Shinde told BTN the company is deep in negotiations with additional travel management companies. At presstime a company spokesperson said Mezi had struck an
agreement with American Express, but the company was not at liberty
to disclose whether it was American Express Global Business Travel or
While VP of travel strategy and partnerships Johnny Thorsen said Mezi
will court corporate customers directly, the company is tracking TMCs for
its initial foray into business travel. With about a dozen partners, Mezi has
beta-tested the early form of a white-label app that will allow agencies to
increase their current output by at least five times, according to Shinde.
It will do it by providing TMCs a travel messaging platform powered by
multiple bots that address low-hanging traveler requests like simple point-to-point bookings, reminders for phone numbers, flight status and hotel
change requests. When a request is too difficult for the bots to service, it
shifts to a human agent. Each time an agent takes the reins, though, the AI
platform learns so it can address future requests. Currently, the bots can
address 60 percent of flight requests, according to Shinde.
The traveler needn't know when they are talking to a bot versus a human, as the AI enables the bot to take on human personas. Because every
exchange happens via chat, data is added constantly to the stream, creating a dynamic profile for the user that will increase the platform's ability
to personalize recommendations. The platform also will digest corporate
travel policy and preferred partner agreements, as well as market conditions, to provide value-based, compliance-driven recommendations.
But, said Thorsen, the AI capabilities also have the power to change
what a company considers compliant. "Travel management is a gray area
with many variants. [AI] will drive the creation of self-thinking travel policies, where as long as the traveler is meeting [a value] target on a combination of, say, five variables, then the booking is cleared. The moment I
drop below [a minimum value threshold], the policy will kick in and get
me back where I need to be, but I don’t want to spend a minute looking at
emails or approval requests. I want the tech to manage it on my behalf."
Natural language processing and the messaging format also will allow clients to track engagement and emotional words like "sorry" or
"urgent." Should the platform detect an increase in the number of distressed travelers, for example, the agency can look for disruptions. As
a satisfaction metric, corporates might look for positive words, as well.
"No one has a clue about the emotional state of what's happening during [an online] booking," said Thorsen.
The Broader Vision
There's more to Mezi's strategy of targeting TMCs than accessing their
clients. The company wants to become the next-generation content ag-
gregator and agent operating system, not just an improved communica-
tion channel and travel personalization tool. "We’ve gone beyond the
AI chatbot technology," said Thorsen. "Those are exciting, but imagine
if you wanted to start a TMC today. You would have problems with just
taking GDS [content] because there is so much out there that is not
included in the GDS. Mezi has an environment where we can live-dem-
onstrate how we integrate Sabre, Expedia and Priceline content into
one joint interface on the back end. The traveler can benefit from this
mix of content, but so can the agent. We have created the beginning of
a brand-new travel agency operating system where we can consolidate
Mezi for Business Launches
with TMC Partners
bookings made from different
content sources into a super PNR.
We don't care—and our partners
won't care—where the content is
from because they have a single
interface to manage and deliver
Marc Casto, president of Silicon Valley-based Casto Travel,
said these changes can't happen
fast enough for his clients. "For
them, this type of technology is
so two years ago." The agency
plans to launch Mezi to all clients
by early September. In the meantime, Casto said, the company is
in "active beta" with key customers. Getting there wasn't simple.
"In many ways it is like adding a
new GDS to the mix. We are setting up our teams. We have new
procedures, training, etc."
Dealing with agents' concerns
about AI solutions contributed, as
well. "We contend with that internally, and there are some who look
at [AI solutions] fearfully," said
Casto. "It is actually the exact opposite. AI helps remove repetitive
tasks incumbent on our industry
but that don't drive revenue. [We
want to] provide customization
to the traveler and focus agent
capabilities where they can matter most. On the other hand, I've
also been very vocal that as an industry we are facing a labor crisis.
We are looking at Mezi as a force
multiplier so our agents can have
the best impact on the traveler.
We are not looking to reduce head
count in any capacity."
Asked if it was going too far
to suggest that a technology like
Mezi would be the next travel
agency platform, Casto was
clear: "I don't think that does
necessarily go too far. At present,
it is still a play largely focused
on midmarket, but that is not
the endgame. The endgame is
more philosophical. I believe we
are seeing a fundamental shift in
travel management: Every traveler has to be convinced of the
merits behind managing travel.
The focus should be entirely on
Thorsen said recent conversations with a number of large
corporates underscored that
idea. He cited the mobile-only
approach, natural language processing to eliminate forms, dynamic traveler profiles and personalization. "Individually, these
are not ROI high-dollar drivers,"
he said. "It's about believing this
change is coming."
"We have created
of a brand-new
where we can
into a super PNR."
—MEZI'S JOHNNY THORSEN
What Mezi Does
Its bots & automation
help TMCs communicate
with travelers &
What Mezi Plans to Do
It aims to the be next-
corporates & TMCs—
& agent operating system.