Lola, a travel chat app powered by artificial intelligence,
is shifting to primarily focus on business travelers.
The shift means that the app will suggest business-oriented
hotels and flights appealing to business travelers, founder and CEO Paul
English said business travel was always one of Lola's
focuses but has now become its primary focus.
The decision came after Lola discovered that around
two-thirds of its users were business travelers, something that surprised English.
The company began running focus groups with road warriors
and found it could offer solutions that meet their three primary needs: personalization,
service and reward points.
Results are personalized to users using artificial
intelligence. English described it as "almost like a personal travel
algorithm we develop for each person" that delivers results suited to
them. The service component is met through the 15 travel agents Lola employs to
facilitate bookings or help change plans.
Bookings primarily are made through a GDS, enabling Lola's
customers to earn rewards points. Previously, Lola booked through the Expedia
Affiliate Network, which it still uses for some hotel bookings.
Lola will have a new component going forward, giving users
the ability to book their own flights or hotels within the app if they choose.
"We will still have service as an integrated component,
but we will also have self-service," English said.
No additional staff members were hired to facilitate the
switch to business travel. Instead, English said Lola reallocated its engineers
to work on its new business features. The Boston-based company has around 50
full-time employees and a handful of part-time employees.
Right now, Lola is focusing on servicing individual road
warriors. As it develops features for companies to manage their travelers, its
target client will be small companies with five to 50 employees, English said.
Users who download Lola by the end of 2017 will get free
service through 2018. Sometime in 2018, the company plans to introduce pricing
for the usage of travel agents, but it will remain free for users who self-book
using the app.
English maintains that artificial intelligence, which helps
Lola parse customers' requests in its chat interface and personalize offerings,
will not replace travel agents. Instead, he said, it will help make them more
efficient and serve more customers.