Personalization. That one word holds the key to passenger loyalty. Today is all about delivering tailored solutions and information to meet the demands of your passengers, creating a memorable experience in the airport and onboard the aircraft.

Yet delivering such highly personalized products or services is not always as easy as it seems. It requires understanding passengers’ travel behavior, preferences and requirements.

Much of this information is already available to airlines and airports through their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) databases, social media, reservation systems and numerous other sources of information.

Cognitive

The challenge is that 80% of all data available today is unstructured. It’s also growing quickly, from just a trickle a decade or so ago, it’s become a torrent of information – almost 90% of data was generated just in the past two years.

And given the volume, we’re not even aware what data is available – dark data that you don’t even know is there. 

The advent of cognitive computing, led by IBM Watson, has the potential to unlock this treasure trove of information. Using natural language processing and machine learning, IBM Watson is able to reveal insights, patterns and relationships across data. It’s able to answer complex questions and interpret data to provide contextual and relevant answers.

A game changer

Cognitive computing is the interaction between artificial intelligence and business intelligence. And that makes IBM Watson a game changer. 

Terry Jones, Chairman, WayBlazer

Exploit data

So what does that mean for the air transport industry? “Airlines and airports already hold huge amounts of data on their passengers that, if properly structured, would yield tremendous potential to offer unique services,” says Terry Jones, Chairman of WayBlazer – an innovative company offering the first cognitive travel platform.

“For example, somewhere among all the data held by my favorite airline, is information that I always book seat 4F. But they don’t do anything with that information.

“Yet there’s an opportunity to use that data, with very little effort, to greatly improve my experience with the airline,” adds Jones.

IBM Watson

By leveraging IBM Watson cognitive computing capabilities, WayBlazer is pioneering technology that takes unstructured data from the across the travel industry, garners insights and provides answers that are relevant and personalized.

For example, were you to type ‘Romantic getaway in Italy this summer’, most browsers will provide thousands of results that broadly fit this description.

However, using its proprietary technology along with IBM Watson components, WayBlazer will deliver a relevant set of hotel recommendations that are romantic and in Italy, best visited during the summer, based on available information.

No more clues but actual personalized recommendations provided with confidence. A reservation can then be quickly made, allowing the traveler to experience the improved and personalized travel planning process.

WayBlazer trawls through all the available data – hotel sites, reviews, news reports and social media – finds the best answer and presents it in a logical way, backing up its recommendations with evidence.

AI meets BI

WayBlazer is already working with hotels and travel services to offer a range of value-added services.  “Cognitive computing is the interaction between artificial intelligence and business intelligence. And that makes IBM Watson a game changer,” says Jones.

“IBM Watson understands natural language and can make sense of it. It’s also a learning computer which gets better over time. It’s better old than when it’s new. And finally IBM Watson gives advice with confidence whereas other browsers merely give us thousands of clues.”

Jones maintains that this information provides a real opportunity for the air transport industry to leverage all the data it has and to make it work for them.

“Cognitive computing gives you the edge. It puts you where your customers are and is always available. That translates to increased loyalty and revenue.”

Travel opportunity

Therein lies the opportunity for airlines and airports. “For the air transport industry, cognitive computing, and IBM Watson in particular, is a significant advance,” says Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer at SITA. 

“That helps deliver our drive towards personalization and it can be used in a myriad of ways,” he adds. “It allows airlines to sell services that are relevant to their passengers. It can provide the right answers to specific questions. And it can also act as a concierge beyond the airline or airport.”

Mobile

Mobile, above all, is becoming the favored platform, according to the 2015 Airport IT Trends Survey. It holds great promise to improve the passenger experience by giving passengers a smooth flow, end-to-end, through the travel steps.

Already airlines and airports are using mobile and beacon technology to deliver personalized information, whether it’s way-finding, gate changes or commercial offers. See ‘New heights for insights’.

“Cognitive computing allows the industry to take information on the move to a whole new level. It allows airlines and airports to take personalization much, much further.”

Travel companion

By sharing their data and integrating  traveler information, WayBlazer can provide passengers with travel information and recommendations beyond the airport, becoming an indispensable travel companion.

Many Millennials are more than willing to share their personal data if they can get some benefit in terms of information or a value-added service. 

It also holds significant potential to augment ancillary revenue. For airlines and airports, it allows them to use all the data available to provide new products and service while creating deeply personal, tailored experiences for their passengers.

Understanding where your passengers are going, when they are going and why they are travelling, means being able to place services or products that are truly relevant.

Real-time resolutions

One of the most promising applications is the potential to use cognitive computing as a CRM tool. “Imagine if a passenger has a problem with their ticket and begins using Twitter or email.

“They can actually start to have a live conversation with the airline, relying on WayBlazer featuring aspects of IBM Watson technology in the backend to resolve issues on the go and in real-time,” says Peters.

“And the biggest benefit of all these services is a passenger experience that is deeply personal that undoubtedly will encourage brand loyalty and revenue for those airlines and airports that use it.”

Artificial intelligence and cognitive computing may appear to be far off in the future but looking at applications such as WayBlazer and other like-minded companies using IBM Watson technology, they are already here.

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