Bringing the power of analytics and AI to business travel, Insteract way

Bringing the power of analytics and AI to business travel, Insteract way

Business travel booking is undergoing transformational changes with more millennials joining the workforce and technologies such as AI, chatbots and voice interfaces becoming the norm.

Start-ups such as Insteract Technologies use advanced data analytics and machine learning to offer customers the best options in line with the corporate client policy, cost and preferences.

Balaji Ramakrishnan, founder, Insteract, told BusinessLine in an interview that business travel should be managed by focussing on people productivity, and not on fixed rules and tight processes. Excerpts:

Traditional travel companies are getting defunct and being replaced by smart Start-ups. How big is the opportunity for India players?

The problem with traditional travel companies is, they are supplier-driven and still very much transaction-focused. Some travel companies provide tools that provide access to some aggregated content.

However, they still depend on the user finding the best logical option, which is tricky. Especially, when policy definitions like lowest logical fare and spending caps are static and open for misinterpretation.

The current tools are not smart. They lack the required transparency, personalisation and recommendations needed to find the relevant option quickly.

The other problem is beside the occasional supplier recommendations, travel companies rarely offer any insights into how businesses should optimise their travel spend.

At least 95 per cent of the organisations, which have some definition of travel policy, still use the e-mail to plan, approve and manage their travel. Given all these and the fact that the Indian business travel market growing in double digits, the opportunity to offer a better solution is huge.

What is the estimated size of the domestic business travel industry?

As much as 90 per cent of the $30 billion business travel in India is estimated to be domestic travel.

We in India are at the very beginning of using AI to improve customer service and personalisation. Some companies are focused on enabling AI assisted booking service i.e. voice-based or chat-based interaction, others are focused on improving the content and product personalisation.

With better access to technology and Internet, Indian consumers are maturing much faster. Travel companies are still playing catch up in building the required products and services. While we are seeing some use cases, shortage of talent is slowing the process.

To what extent do you facilitate personalisation of search experiences?

A business traveller does not decide on price alone. Attributes related to compliance, risk and comfort influence the selection.

Each of these, in turn, has dozens of expectations that need to be satisfied before a trip is approved and booked.

There is only so much a human can do. Insteract seeks to eliminate the time and effort in finding a relevant option by doing two things.

First, we derive a real-time cost range from the market. We do this using data analytics on the fares tracked and a real-time benchmarking of market fares. We advise the traveller on what is the lowest logical option available in the market.

Second, we provide only seven logical options that are curated based on company rules and traveller comfort.

Using unique algorithm and data insights, Insteract processes each option through dozens of parameters that map the behaviour of traveller in line with company policy.

The best match within the best budget is found under 30 seconds which otherwise would take 20 minutes to couple hours with existing options.

New apps, bots and software are expected to further revolutionise the industry. How does Insteract hope to ride the new wave of opportunities?

Our focus for the moment is to reduce the time and effort involved in booking a relevant travel option that satisfies the company and the traveller.

As we mature, we want to extend our platform to other tools of user interactions like enterprise apps and mobile apps. By using chatbots, we want to automate most of the standard support services revolving around a trip.

Blending business with pleasure is a cliche, but doesn’t it require you to constantly research and innovate?

Our focus till now has been to solve the evolving challenges in business travel. With regard to ‘bleisure’ (business and leisure trips), we work with partners who are great at content and servicing and are looking for a way to position them effectively. This allows us to keep the focus on the customer and make sense of their expectations and take the help of partners who can make better sense of how these expectations can be met.

What are your growth plans? How big is your client list? Are there going to be new additions to the list any time soon?

We are adding customers every week. In the last 15 months, we have added over 100 companies. In addition, we have over 350 small teams and business professionals who use the product to plan their business trips.

Currently, we are focussed on features to serve large enterprises. In the next couple of months, we will be expanding our web experience to book different types of products like accommodation and transfer.

We have completed a first round raising funds; in the coming months, will be starting to work on the next round.