Online chat could be the future for travel agents, but face-to-face interaction is still pivotal, says dnata’s divisional senior

Iain Andrew said agents, whether homeworkers or those in call centres or offices, should make themselves available to customers in the “most-popular channel”.

Speaking to Travel Weekly during Global Travel Group’s annual conference, Andrew said: “There’s a lot more to come from chat. I can see it being the next thing after apps. It’s something agents need to use to their advantage.”

Andrew said chat should be used in tandem with other channels such as face-to-face meetings, phone, websites, and artificial bots that answer questions.

Dnata, the parent company of The Global Travel Group and of trade-only operators Gold Medal and Travel 2, this week bought a majority stake in artificial intelligence specialist bd4travel, whose technology Andrew said could be used by homeworkers or high street agents, as well as online.

Andrew added: “Agents offer a level of expertise that I don’t think artificial intelligence (AI) will ever replace, but it’s important to give them the tools to do the job to the best of their ability. AI should be a tool for them.”

He said AI had the potential to narrow down searches for agents from hundreds of hotels to a “magic five” for a customer, drilling down options using the customer’s data. But he added that agents’ expertise provides the knowledge to pick the best of those left on the table.

“It’s not that we should be replacing agents with AI, but giving them the technology to quickly find the right product for the customer,” Andrew said.

“We still need really experienced agents behind these models.

“Holidays are an important purchase, so people want to make sure they’re getting the best deal.”

Gallery: The Global Travel Group Conference 2018