Amex GBT Pushes Ahead Into Automated Bookings With a Chatbot Acquisition

American Express Global Business Travel on Monday said it acquired 30SecondsToFly, a technology startup specializing in artificial intelligence. It allows users to book travel through its virtual assistant, called Claire, on Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and SMS.

The terms of the deal, which completed October 8, were undisclosed.

This latest announcement in the corporate travel sector follows Corporate Travel Management’s acquisition of Travel and Transport at the end of last month. In August, FCM Travel acquired travel booking platform WhereTo for an undisclosed sum.

Artificial intelligence developers at 30SecondsToFly’s will join Amex GBT’s team of technology experts as part of the acquisition.

Self Service

With fewer travel consultants on the horizon, this latest step towards artificial intelligence could become a growing trend. In November 2018, Lola, which combines augmented chat with artificial intelligence and access to travel consultants and customer service specialists, entered into a five-year partnership with Amex GBT.

The company 30SecondsToFly says firms can automate their customer conversations by routing chats to Claire, which either completes the task or transfers to live consultants “for the finishing touch.”

“The 30SecondsToFly technology will enhance the travel experience for GBT’s clients’ travelers by increasing the number of service options available to them throughout the trip lifecycle,” Amex GBT said in a statement. “In addition to live chat via the Amex GBT Mobile App and Apple Business Chat, travelers will be able to initiate automated servicing requests from their favorite messaging service.”

Access Denied

With this purchase, Amex GBT may also gain an edge over some rivals who already offer 30SecondsToFly to their clients.

The company is used by FCM Travel, part of Flight Centre Travel Group, and Adelman Travel. In August 2018, FCM integrated Claire into its mobile travel assistant SAM, to give business travelers more capabilities to self-book.

Will Amex GBT now pull the plug on them? One value-added reseller, Element Travel Technology, has already been told it can no longer offer 30SecondsToFly’s software.

Amex GBT told Skift that no decision had yet been for FCM, and it will be be assessed in the coming months.

Skift approached Adelman Travel, but it declined to comment.

In 2018, American Express, which has a 50 percent ownership stake in Amex GBT, bought personal travel assistant app Mezi. At the time Mezi was was being used by several corporate travel agencies, including Adelman Travel, Casto Travel and WTMC. Five months later, those partnerships were terminated.

“If you just partner with someone, you will have to share the application sooner or later,” said German business consultant Wolfgang Strasser. “Amex GBT likes to have the upper hand on further developments, and the universe within American Express, with its card business, is big enough and it could find further use there, as well as share any ongoing costs.”

Strasser claimed that chatbot technology is one of the “last missing links” in Amex GBT’s Neo travel booking tool. Amex GBT bought KDS in 2016 to accelerate its online booking technology.

“Instead of paying for developers, they can buy something that already exists and has proof of concept, thanks to FCM, and let the same development team continue to improve it,” he said.

Photo Credit: 30SecondsToFly allows users to book travel through its virtual assistant, called Claire, on Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and SMS. Robin Worrall / Unsplash

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