Barrhead Travel incorporates AI to improve call processing

Barrhead Travel is working with a new telephony system which integrates artificial intelligence to improve call processing and help it shape product focuses and marketing.

The agency’s sales and marketing director Nicki Tempest-Mitchell told Travel Weekly’s People Summit the company was looking at ways to use AI to improve customer-facing and back-office functions, with the telephone system offering a way to better direct customer enquiries clients to agents and staff with relevant expertise.

But she insisted it continued to pursue a “cautious approach” and had taken the decision not to incorporate “business data” in AI development, adding: “We’re just not confident enough that the information wouldn’t end up in the public domain.”

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Tempest-Mitchell was speaking in a session on technology and the workplace alongside Simon Powell, chief executive of Inspiretec, who urged firms to embrace generative AI while remaining mindful it is “not perfect”.

Powell described generative AI as a “game-changer” for travel agencies and tour operators, saying it could cope with many “mundane tasks” to free up staff and adding: “It will make so many fundamental changes to the way they work.”

He added: “AI is not perfect and humans are not perfect, but if you’ve got the two together you can get the art of the possible into something very different to what we know today.”

Powell said AI had helped Inspiretec, a travel technology company, to boost its coders’ productivity significantly.

Tempest-Mitchell said Barrhead’s telephony system was capable of monitoring the level of interest in a particular destination or product, which could then inform the businesses’ decision-making.

However, she confirmed the agency does not use AI for content marketing to avoid the risk of duplication with information elsewhere on the internet and a potential knock-on impact on SEO, adding: “You’ve got to ensure the content on your website is unique.”

Powell said AI’s flaws included its potential to “hallucinate” and produce increasingly inaccurate information, adding: “If it gets it wrong, it gets it really wrong.”

But he also said the errors were part of the technology “improving itself”, adding: “The speed of change is what I’d really like to get across to you today – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Both Tempest-Mitchell and Powell suggested jobs could be protected at the same time as businesses harnessing AI, and it was not an option to ignore the technology.

Tempest-Mitchell said: “It’s definitely not an aspiration to reduce the headcount. For us, it’s not going to take anyone out.”

Powell added: “Don’t be frightened of it – you have to embrace it. It’s going to happen whether you embrace it or not.”

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