TripAc­tions brings AI to biz travel

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL - By Olivia Carville

Work­ers trav­el­ing for busi­ness are hard­pressed to care about book­ing a pricey flight or stay­ing in a lux­ury ho­tel, be­cause their em­ployer is the one pick­ing up the tab. But maybe they’d care a lit­tle bit more if there was some­thing in it for them. Some­thing like, say, an Ama­zon gift card.

That’s one of the of­fer­ings from TripAc­tions Inc., a Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia-based startup that just joined Sil­i­con Val­ley’s vaunted uni­corn club. On Thurs­day the com­pany plans to an­nounce it has raised $154 mil­lion at a $1.2 bil­lion val­u­a­tion. The fund­ing round was led by An­dreessen Horowitz, which is in­vest­ing in the com­pany for the first time, and also in­cluded re­peat back­ers Light­speed, Zeev Ven­tures and SGVC.

The com­pany aims to com­pete with es­tab­lished busi­ness travel play­ers, like SAP Con­cur and Amer­i­can Ex­press’s travel ser­vice, through an ap­peal to em­ploy­ees’ self-in­ter­est. Peo­ple who book through TripAc­tions’s plat­form can get re­wards like gift cards if they se­lect a cheaper travel op­tion, sav­ing firms money.

TripAc­tions is also in­creas­ingly us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence in its ser­vices, said its CEO Ariel Co­hen. The new fund­ing will be spent on ad­vanc­ing the com­pany’s ma­chine learn­ing tech­nolo­gies, build­ing up its global travel in­ven­tory and try­ing to el­e­vate the of­ten dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence of trav­el­ing for busi­ness, Co­hen said. The com­pany was founded in 2015 by Co­hen and Ilan Twig, af­ter they were both frus­trated by trav­el­ing for work and the scant real-time sup­port they could get when flights, ho­tels or rental car book­ings went awry. “Flights get can­celed and things hap­pen all the time, and we are good at solv­ing th­ese is­sues — and fast,” Co­hen said. If trav­el­ers miss their con­nect­ing flights, TripAc­tions will reach out to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive path and call their ho­tels to en­sure the reser­va­tion isn’t can­celed due to a late ar­rival.

TripAc­tions uses AI to stream­line the book­ing process, im­prove its user in­ter­face and add more and smarter op­tions for trav­el­ers. It uses the tech­nol­ogy to study the travel poli­cies of each com­pany, in­clud­ing its most fre­quently used air­lines and ho­tel chains. At the same time, AI al­go­rithms work to learn in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers’ pref­er­ences, such as whether they would rather fly in the morn­ing or at night, and if they’d rather stay in a packed con­fer­ence ho­tel or a bou­tique al­ter­na­tive.

The end re­sult, Co­hen said, is sim­i­lar to how Net­flix Inc.shows users the op­tions its sys­tems think would ap­peal to them. “That’s the way it’s sav­ing money,” he said. “Not by pro­vid­ing cheaper prices, but pro­vid­ing dif­fer­ent al­ter­na­tives.”

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