Using AI to Recreate the Travel Experience—for Business and Pleasure
August 31, 2022
Chief Technology Officer of Onriva Dr. Mike Remedios has spent his career leading high tech in consumer internet companies. In this TechTalk episode, Mike has a conversation with EisnerAmper’s West Coast Technology & Life Sciences Practice Leader Amar Bhatkhande about how Onriva is using artificial intelligence to empower the suppliers and buyers of business travel, and he shares advice regarding the right time to innovate and disrupt.
AB:Great. Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and about Onriva's exciting technology platform.
MR:A little bit about myself first, because Onriva is the perfect thing to be doing right now. I started my job career thinking, do I really want to do something around technology or science? And I love that. The other area that I also love is surprisingly psychology. So, that's why I got a AI PhD and a physics undergraduate and computer science. And so you can think this is like a candy store of where I can actually do all of these things all in one place, in a career and a industry that I absolutely love. And the industry has completely changed and it's like wide open for innovation and disruption now. That's why I'm here and why I'm so excited.
AB:Candy. I always love candy. I have a sweet tooth for innovation as well. Can you tell me more about how Onriva is redesigning and modernizing legacy travel systems?
MR:I think that you got to think of the industry in kind of almost two sides. That there's the consumer side, which we all experience every day. And those of us who are lucky to still be traveling for work, there's the corporate side. The two are almost completely different. The consumer side has become a lot of eCommerce, full of abundance, and you can find anything everywhere. I used to work for Expedia and Travelocity and Last Minute, so, everyone's experienced that. Unfortunately, on the corporate side, it's still kind of stuck in this era of, we're only going to show you what you have to buy, what we think you must buy. Or you've got these policies that say, this is the way it is. And then anything else that we're not even let you going to see it. So we're trying to take the best of the consumer side and the best of the corporate side, bring them together.
And so rather than this scarcity mentality that corporate travel has and still has today, we bring this abundance of, we can see it all. You know that on corporate tools, 50% of the time people go off and go buy it on Expedia or Booking or somewhere else because they think they can find something better for their company outside of the tool. We say, you never have to go anywhere else. It's like the Expedia, Amazon, and probably eBay of marketplaces of travel all in one place. You don't have to go anywhere else. It's super convenient. We bring all of their inventory. We use AI to make it super simple to understand. And, most importantly, we take care of three different stakeholders.
You've got the passenger. We all know about that. You've got the travel manager who additionally has said, I only show you through the tool what I think you have to buy in the policy. But now we have to help them, not just show what they want them to buy, but all their other choices so that they don't have to go anywhere else, they can do all the reporting in one place. There's no leakage. And the third one is the supplier. Suppliers are the ones who never knew how to be able to get to the passengers directly. We now make sure all three are in a win, win, win ecosystem.
AB:So if I understand it correctly, you are leveraging technology to connect the suppliers and the buyers and the consumers of business travel. That's so fascinating. Are you working on any new technology developments that will help resolve for emerging challenges that you are seeing in the marketplace?
MR:Yeah. If anyone is trying to travel right now, they know that prices and availability of flights and hotels and cars are like crazy all over the world.
I just came back from a trip from Asia and it's like running the gauntlet. I'm going off to Europe tomorrow. And I'm worried about the same thing. And so you really want to have this great experience, but you have this high stress. Travel always was a little bit stressful. It's super stressful now. So, it's super important to have that, not just the selection, but the customer service that really is like your angel watching you. We try to do that with the traditional human angels in our customer service, but we also have AI. So we're always looking at the data, so we know whether you're going to miss your booking or you're going to miss your connection. And then we have the technology to really help our agents be proactive in going after and rebooking you and making sure that you're going to catch your new connection. And we have it in the app. We have it in our web. So, any way that you want to get it.
The other really important thing is we built our platform from ground up to be AI ready, AI extensible. So everything is a score. The whole platform scores everything just like a FICO score for credit. It can look at the nuances, the fuzzy logic, and we can imply and add little nuances to how we need to advise you. It's not a policy engine. It's what we call AI advisor. And we are patents around this. That AI advisor could do anything from, Hey, there's a better deal to, there is a problem with this because we have crisis 24, come in and tell us, these are the risks and concerns you have.
So, we bring all this information together in the old world, you had to talk to a travel agent. Who'd help you with it. In the new world, on Expedia or something you'd have all the inventory there, but you'd have to understand what are the things you need to work out for. We have the combination of the human side of the travel agent. We have the technology and the abundance of the computer. We bring it all together with AI and have a UI that is super easy to understand.
So it seems like you're certainly turning challenges into opportunities. Is there a use case you can share that demonstrates how Onriva's AI works in a real life scenario?
MR:We have quite a few of those. Rather than asking you to think about whether you want to fly through a certain connection, or you want to pick a time of travel, which is a typical old world way of doing it. We compare every single possible choice you could make behind the scenes. And then our AI will then go back and score all the other combinations that you could have. And then there's almost like a red, green, yellow, and it will tell you, Hey, this one that you want is okay, here are some of the reasons why maybe it's not the best. And here are some that are better. So it's more like a recommendation engine. So it will help you make better choices.
So for example, in the old world, you'd say you have to book in the morning or in the afternoon or in the evening. We don't ask you to do that anymore because we look at, if you picked a flight that was in the afternoon, for example, we now look at everything that's two hours before, two hours after. We look to see whether there's a better one. We look at real time data coming back from the search query. And when we will score that against the others, if we find that there's one that would be better in the morning, we'll make that highlight that and say, that's a better recommendation.
We also look at all the duty of care as well. And we make sure that they're hearing not just what they particularly picked, but now you can look through the whole day and say, even although I picked one that was in the afternoon, here are the best ones for the morning. Here are the best ones for the evening. And if you hover over them, you'll actually see the reasons why.
And we allow our customers to use their own wording, so that if they want a certain tone or a certain way to explain why they can see the flight, but they're not allowed to book it. They know that we have all the flights there. We know that the company is saying, we'd recommend that you don't actually use this one. Or we say you can't book this one, even though it is there. And that way we can see what people are looking for. That gives us the data so we can tell suppliers, this is what people are looking for.
We now have a perfect overlay of demand supply. And what is the travel manager trying to manage through their contracts or through their duty of care. This way it's like the human being was sitting over your shoulder, advising you.
AB:Oh, that is a great example of the role technology can play in providing a better experience for all parties involved. I'm going to shift the gears a little bit. EisnerAmper provides accounting, tax and advisory services to innovators, entrepreneurs. I'm curious. Do you have an example of how you have partnered with the service provider to help you achieve a business goal?
MR:Crisis 24 is our partner for worldwide crises or warnings. Whether it's COVID or disaster or there's backup or there's bad weather. So we give those real time feeds from them. And so we can overlay that on the information and let people know either for relation to their destination, their hotel, their flights. Or if you're a travel manager and that says to me and go, and then you look at all your people we can see now where they are. We can see whether they're flying in the sky, where they are, where they're going to land. You can look back to see where they came from. So if they came from somewhere that happened to have been a COVID hotspot two weeks ago. You now can actually see who your people are and you can message them as a group and tell them specifically what you want them to do. If they're flying into an area next week, you can say, don't go to Miami or where it is next week.
Or if you're already there, you can message them and say, stay safe. Don't go into any group meetings and come home safely. So, we overlay that information. We try to take the best of what is available. Content is a really obvious example, but it may be a technology too. And the build versus buy we bring that into the platform. Because we know that the platform is always evolving and we always want to plug and play the best of what we can buy versus what we have to build versus what we innovate, which is our secret source and how we bring it all together.
AB:That's great. For those who have been hearing my Tech Talk podcast, they know that we continually emphasize the value of having conversations. Therefore, for my last question, I would like to know if there is a recent or a memorable conversation that has helped you clarify your future ambitions on Onriva's AI?
MR:One of my favorite people I work with is somebody you might know. I know you worked in London before. So I used to work for Brent Hoberman, who was the founder of lastminute.com. And he and I did a lot of things together. And then it was like a true 24/7 internet job. And in the middle of one of our crazy deep dives into something we were doing, and it could have been something that we were thinking of doing or what went wrong on something. But anyway, it was the middle of some crazy, crazy middle of the night thing. And you never know when you're going to have one of these conversations. He said to me, "Mike, in dealing with these things that we deal with. Take conventional wisdom, turn it on its head, and think about whether that's the better thing to do. Or, think of it this way. If you do it first, you are doing it for your customer. If you do it after others have done it, you really do it for yourself".
Translation for today is like, think out of the box and be bold about doing what's right for your customers, connect the dots and do what's right. Never be afraid to innovate and to disrupt. If you think it's the right thing for your customer and really lead rather than follow.
AB:Well, customer first. I absolutely agree with it. For us, our clients always come first and that's you have to focus on. I'll take that from my next podcast. I always keep on using these, whatever I've learned from the previous ones. I'll never forget that.
Mike, thank you for taking time to have conversations with me today and thanks to our listeners for tuning into Tech Talk. Subscribe to EisenAmper podcast or visit EisnerAmper.com for more tech news, you can use.
Transcribed by Rev.com