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Artificial Intelligence can disrupt travel in a big way, believes Ithaka, a Bangalore-based startup that has created a travel-planning app based exclusively on chat.

Ithaka is a personalized travel planner that helps users plan custom itineraries based on their interests and preferences by chatting with a travel expert. Currently, these experts are mostly human, but Ithaka is fast moving towards a hybrid human-bot model and has created a bot, nicknamed ‘Sparrow’, which will help it automate its business model in chunks.

“It is very crucial for us to maintain the human touch because users love it, but also to automate to tackle scale. We are selecting parts of the travel planning flow, and reducing human dependence by introducing intelligent features,” says Rahul Singh, chief product officer at Ithaka. “This involves using our rich user data to have machine learning-driven recommendations.”

Ithaka, founded by Singh and Ameya Sahasrabudhe, who serves as CEO, currently helps travellers plan trips in Thailand and Indonesia, and is looking at expanding its reach to other South-East Asian countries shortly. Bootstrapped till now, the company recently raised a seed funding of $325,000 from angel investors, including Ankit Gupta, co-founder of Linkedin Pulse.

Chatbots have been around for a long time— mostly on messaging platforms and customer support apps. However, what has changed now is that natural language processing and the ability of bots to learn over time has improved dramatically. So the ability for a user to communicate with a machine using fluid text messages has increased.

The current chatbot frenzy is fuelled by the fact that Facebook, Telegram and many others have opened up their messaging platforms, creating a rush to make chatbot-based interfaces for millions of users on these platforms. Popular travel companies like Expeida and even banks have launched chatbots on these platforms. Independent apps like Ithaka borrow the conversational interface but don’t rely on other platforms like the Facebook messenger.

Whether chatbots will be better than graphical user interfaces at planning a trip, making bank transfers or disseminating news, is yet to be seen. In February, The Information reported that chatbots on Facebook have a 70% failure rate and that the company is scaling down chatbots on messengers.


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