Travel manager plans to use AI to build a virtual travel manager brain that revolutionises flight searches and bookings

Adrian Lopez, Head of AI, who plans to revolutionise the use of AI in corporate travel Picture: Supplied

Adrian Lopez, Head of AI, who plans to revolutionise the use of AI in corporate travel Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 4, 2024


Artificial intelligence is barging into pretty much every business out there, whether it’s law, creative work, search engine optimisation with corporate travel also hopping on the AI train.

Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) recently launched its own AI Centre of Excellence to explore this tech and how AI could be a co-pilot to support FCM travel managers.

As a result, Adrian Lopez was brought in as Head of AI to spearhead things.

According to Lopez, his vision is to build a virtual travel manager brain that revolutionises flight search and booking while preserving human expertise.

“I want travel managers to have tangible help from AI. Any information needs to be readily available at their fingertips,” said Lopez.

The head of AI also revealed that he envisions a future where AI assistants support managers by automating repetitive, low-value tasks like policy checks, freeing them up for high-touch customer service.

“I want people to be using AI. I’m in the process of preparing training materials, tools, internal chatbots,” he said.

“The head of AI also said that he recognises some customers will have concerns though, and he’s committed to rolling out AI ethically and securely.

“We apply a lot of restrictions. The process is a lot more comprehensive than just typing some things into ChatGPT.”

Here are 5 ways Lopez plans to use AI to assist travel managers in their jobs at FCM.

Starting with the low-hanging fruit

FCM revealed that Lopez and his team are starting with “low-hanging fruit” projects aimed at streamlining behind-the-scenes workflows before exploring more disruptive applications in order to put AI into action.

“First up is AI-powered email triage. Machine learning will analyse inbox messages and automatically classify them by priority. This helps managers focus on high-priority bookings first,” said FCM Travel.

According to Lopez, its already being piloted and will soon reach customers.

“If we start saving a few seconds on every action for travel managers, we’re going to end up saving a lot of time. With half a million emails to parse monthly, even small individual time savings add up,” he noted.

Virtual travel managers - preserving expertise

Looking ahead, Lopez wants AI to help close an imminent knowledge gap as many senior travel managers are nearing retirement, taking decades of expertise with them.

“How do we make our travel consultants as good as the most senior ones?” Lopez questioned.

His vision is AI travel assistants that soak up all that collective knowledge, creating a “virtual travel manager brain” for the next generation. Junior managers could tap into these AI tools to match the skills of their most seasoned colleagues.

AI would also enable easy knowledge sharing across FCM’s 97 global markets. Local insights from one region could instantly benefit managers worldwide through the AI assistant. It’s the ultimate travel manager training programme.

Revolutionising travel search and booking

Further afield, Lopez aims to transform the flight search and booking experience with AI-driven personalisation. Think Google Flights on steroids.

The head of AI said that understanding individual traveller preferences and company trip policies, AI could surface the most relevant options and predict the best flight.

“I want to work on this so we give travellers the option of one or maximum two flights. This tailored pre-screening by a virtual assistant would save endless scrolling through irrelevant results,” he said.

Lopez feels traditional online booking tools fail business travellers with information overload but AI promises to reduce the stress of travel planning by quickly zooming in on the optimal flights.

“It’s a frictionless, personalised booking experience travel managers could only dream of before,” he highlighted.

The human touch remains key

Some may view AI as a threat, but Lopez believes it will augment human strengths rather than replace managers.

He highlighted that AI excels at rapidly analysing data to automate simple tasks and this leaves managers free to focus on emotional intelligence - building relationships, reading preferences and providing a human touch.

“The booking part is almost a commodity. We need to make it seamless as possible. The value is the extra experience,” says Lopez.

The head of AI expressed that he sees AI as a collaborator working behind the scenes so managers can be present in the moments that matter most to travellers.

The future of corporate travel?

And finally, though AI is gaining momentum in consumer travel, FCM aims to become a pioneer on the corporate side.

Lopez’s passion for innovation is driving real change that will soon touch customers, whether it’s AI- enhanced workflows or virtual assistant features.

The head of AI is committed to rolling it out responsibly and securing traveller trust.

“It’s still early days, but the travel experience could look radically different thanks to AI. One thing is certain though - travel will never be the same again,” he said.