“Hey, it’s Mom. Have you booked your flight for Christmas?”
It’s an email we’ve all received in one form or another, one which essentially turns travel planning into a dreaded to-do list. People consistently say, “I still have to book this flight”; almost no one looks forward to starting a travel search.
This is the dilemma Alex Quintana, Hipmunk’s senior product manager, set out to solve. “Travel is inherently social and often a trip starts with a simple email,” Quintana said. “I thought that if we could enable people to copy Hipmunk in on the message, they could get a head start on travel planning. We would eliminate that dreaded “to-do” by enabling people to delegate to Hipmunk as a travel assistant.”
And thus, Hello Hipmunk, and the future of travel planning, was born.
Hipmunk today introduced a free personalized travel planning virtual assistant called Hello Hipmunk, powered by artificial intelligence, which simplifies travel planning through two features: Hello Email and Hello Calendar.
“Every day we look for ways to take the agony out of travel searching,” said Adam Goldstein, CEO and co-founder of Hipmunk. “We thought, why not start at the places people are already thinking and talking about travel: their emails and calendars?”
Hello Email automatically searches travel options for you when its address is included in an email that references travel plans, while Hello Calendar is designed to anticipate travel plans by scanning a user’s Google Calendar (with their permission) to infer where users are traveling and instantly offer the best options.
Say that you received the afore-mentioned email from your mom inquiring about your Christmas flight. Your reply could be something like, “Not yet, Mom. Looping in Hipmunk to book my flight: @hipmunk I need a flight from SFO to Atlanta from December 22 – 27.” Then, simply add firstname.lastname@example.org in the cc line before sending the email to your mother.
In response, Hello Email would instantly provide flight options via email to both you and your mom. The two of you could then decide together which flight worked best and book it. By enabling Hipmunk to be a part of the natural conversation from the beginning, you’re able to save both you and your mom time and anguish.
Imagine: no more typing into a search box and waiting for the results. No more frustration trying to coordinate travel with friends and family. By directly emailing or cc’ing email@example.com, you’re able to move on to more pressing tasks, or simply sit back and wait for Hello Email to do the search work for you.
While the responses are automatically generated, Hello Email, currently in beta, also uses humans to fine-tune its replies, so the program actually gets more accurate over time.
“We began training Hello in partnership with our customer service team, the Navigators,” Quintana said. “ We knew we needed to give Hello a deep knowledge of travel, so we worked to integrate the service with our Navigators to train Hello to answer customer questions. This allowed us to gain a deep understanding of the types of questions customers ask and allowed us to teach Hello how to recognize patterns and answer questions.”
Powered by Hipmunk’s patented calendar search technology, Hello Calendar anticipates users’ upcoming travel needs using their Google calendar. As with Hello Hipmunk, it negates the need for users to conduct an online search. Users give Hipmunk permission to access their Google Calendars and Hipmunk periodically scans them to find events that users are attending in another city. Then, Hipmunk emails flight, train, and hotel or vacation rental search information for those travel dates.
Let’s say that you have a trip to Santa Barbara for Valentine’s Day that you’ve been putting off booking travel for (for no particular reason whatsoever). Hello Calendar will automatically identify the trip and send corresponding personalized travel suggestions, eliminating the agony and ensuring the ecstasy of your Valentine’s Day getaway.
Hello Calendar also appears alongside flight results when performing searches on Hipmunk’s website, so that you can easily find the time that best suits your schedule to fly.
“Twenty-five years ago, we never could have imagined that we’d be getting information from computers with touch screens and our voices,” said Nancy Hang, vice president of product at Hipmunk. “Twenty-five years from now, we’ll wonder how we lived without artificial intelligence understanding our needs and helping us proactively. We’re excited to be leading the way in the travel industry.”