- Vail Resorts is testing a chatbot to help skiers get information about nine of its ski resort properties. Emma, as the "digital mountain assistant" is known, can help find information about topics including weather, lift status, terrain, parking, traffic, rentals, lessons, lift tickets and resort experiences, according to a company announcement.
- Resort visitors can text questions by SMS to Emma at 77477. The chatbot is currently available at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe.
- Emma will hand off conversations to a live agent if it can't answer a question. The chatbot uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to answer questions around the clock during the ski and snowboard season. More information about Emma is available at a microsite.
Vail's test of its Emma chatbot is another sign that more companies in the travel, lodging and entertainment industry are developing technologies to provide stronger customer service through mobile devices for on-the-go consumers. Vail said Emma will get smarter as more people use the chatbot during this winter's ski season. One of the biggest promises of machine learning is creating apps and chatbots that gather data about their interactions with humans and provide more personalized experiences based on a person's user history. A positive customer service experience with a chatbot can help to deepen user loyalty and improve consumer perceptions of a brand.
Vail follows other travel companies in the chatbot space. Hotel chain Best Western last summer partnered with IBM Watson Advertising on an AI-powered ad that offered tailored travel tips and lodging recommendations based on travel preferences. Emirates Vacations also integrated AI-powered chatbots into display ads that let users type in questions and receive answers to travel questions based on their destination. A 30-day test of the ads showed an 87% gain in engagement compared with average click-through ads.
About half of U.S. consumers (52%) said they enjoy using chat platforms to get quick answers to their customer service questions. However, their reactions to chatbots tend to be less favorable, according to a survey by enterprise software developer CGS. It found that 40% of U.S. consumers prefer speaking to a human because chatbots don't provide detailed answers and can be less helpful and more challenging to navigate. About 25% of customer service and support operations will use virtual assistants or chatbot technology for customer engagement by 2020, according to research firm Gartner. By handing off conversations to a live agent if it can't answer a question, Vail's Emma could increase customer satisfaction and expedite Vail's customer service operations.