Los Angeles-based Elves has launched a service enabling users to book travel in a chat environment, with their requests fulfilled by a combination of real people and artificial intelligence (AI).

Elves is available in app form for iOS and Android devices. The service can also be accessed via Facebook Messenger, and it will soon be available on Google Assistant.

According to CEO and co-founder Karim Elsahy, Elves' supply of hotels, flights and activities comes from Sabre, Booking.com, Viator and LBF Travel. Users can make and change reservations via the platform. 

Elves currently has a team of about 50 people working to fulfill users' requests (these are the "elves" at the company). The AI learns how people handle bookings so the process can be automated the next time a similar request is made.

"The convenience of real-time assistance from the elves, with the support of a sophisticated tech engine, delivers a uniquely personal experience," Elsahy said in a statement. "We are what an OTA should be."

According to Elsahy, while Elves' user base of around 250,000 globally has doubled in the last six months, its workforce has been reduced as the AI can handle more requests. He maintains that people will always have an important role at Elves, but as the AI is bolstered, fewer people are necessary.

Elves is focused on leisure travel, but the service does attract some business travelers. Most are from start-ups or similar environments, not companies with managed travel programs, Elsahy said.

The service is free to users. Elves monetizes from commissions from travel sales.

The service will also grant requests outside of travel, Elsahy said. For instance, he forgot business cards on a recent trip. He sent Elves a photo of his card, and replacements were sent to his hotel the next day.

Elsahy is an architect by training, but he and his wife, Abeer Elsisi, built a business specializing in outsourcing jobs. The two then spent some time working in San Francisco integrating AI and other technology, funneling that experience into the creation of Elves.

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