Travel brands have been using chatbots for some time, on their websites and through Facebook Messenger, to engage customers with a conversational interface.
Now Emirates Vacations, the tour-operating arm of Emirates Airlines, is using a new strategy: putting an artificial intelligence-powered bot right in its online ads.
In a 30-day test at the end of 2017, Emirates Vacations tracked an 87 percent increase in engagement from consumers that saw the chatbot ad versus those that saw a standard display ad.
WayBlazer's travel recommendation platform powers the ads. Consumers click in the ad to ask trip-planning questions, and the bot responds with recommendations of destinations and packages offered by Emirates Vacations.
"Anything that removes the fiction, we want to try," says Ailsa Pollard, senior vice president of Emirates Vacations. "This is allowing consumers to remain where they are √?¬Ę?√?¬¶ putting it as close to them as possible, with limited friction."
The bot analyzes the user's intent based on the key terms in their query as well as the context of the page where it appears.
"For example if the ad is being displayed on an article from Cond√??√?¬© Nast Traveler that's talking about the Maldives, then the ad can understand that and prompt the user to consider some vacations in the Maldives for example," says WayBlazer CEO Noreen Henry.
"For Emirates, they view this as an extension of their site and to enable users to search for their products without having to go to their site but while they are researching travel and reading articles about travel."
In addition to destinations and packages, the bot suggests hotels, points of interest and third-party reviews. Consumers can click through the ad to go directly to booking on the Emirates Vacations website.
The ads will run in digital publications targeting travelers in nearly a dozen markets including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Seattle, and additional markets will be added in the future.
Pollard says Emirates Vacations will continue to tweak the ads with new content to better understand what is most effective for consumers.
"It is an ongoing test and learn. We see it as a constant evolution," she says.
"The richness of the data searches that we get and the conversations are used to constantly improve the chatbot and its responses."
Pollard says future analytics will show whether consumers who interact with the bot have "higher loyalty value and higher customer lifetime value with us. All of those things take months and years to build up so right now it's gathering the data."