One year after announcing work had started on the project, KDS last week here at a client conference formally launched its new-generation self-booking tool. Neo is based on the concept of booking an entire trip, including transfers and hotels, by asking travelers just three questions: where their journey will start, where it will end and what time they need to be there. Live demos showed the technology delivering fully priced itineraries in just a couple of seconds. KDS CEO Dean Forbes said Neo is available immediately, on the web and via all mobile devices.
Forbes said Neo is intended to be a managed booking tool that is more attractive than any consumer alternative so travelers won't be tempted to book through public websites. Those among the 900 delegates who spoke with The Beat said KDS had succeeded in its ambition. "It's what we have been waiting for," said Société Générale travel manager Philippe Vanasch, who was involved in Neo's development. "This will change the way we understand booking tools. The trip is completed within a few clicks, which makes it much easier for users."
Two other development clients agreed. "I love it," said PricewaterhouseCoopers global business services and travel leader Mark Avery. "It challenges the whole Travel Management 2.0 issue of how do you keep people within the process, rather than give them the excuse to go outside? With this product, why would you want to go outside? From the corporate point of view, it's a big progression."
Fabien Dubo, IT project manager for Morpho, a French security products company, said he also believes Neo will minimize travel bookings through unmanaged channels. "This is a tool for Gen-Y," he said. "It's really simple—simpler than consumer sites. Neo will enforce policy without our travelers even realizing."
Neo works by synthesizing various publicly available web tools, such as Google Street View, with a series of internally developed decision-making algorithms. The algorithms rapidly compute and weigh millions of itinerary options to offer the most appropriate trip choices.
The booker begins by entering a trip starting point (which can include automatic global positioning system identification of the booker's current location, if using a GPS-enabled mobile device) and a destination, which immediately is displayed using Street View. Once the arrival date and time have been entered (as well as the departure, if there is a return trip), the system within two seconds displays a timeline indicating each element of the journey, including the price and duration.
One live example showed a trip from a KDS client's office in Rouen, France, to Times Square in New York. It included a taxi to the Rouen railway station, a train to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, a flight to Newark, a taxi to Times Square, another taxi to a hotel for accommodation and all the elements of the return journey. In this demonstration, Forbes decided he did not like the hotel offered to him, so he clicked on the hotel element of the timeline, which instantly displayed other available hotels that comply with his company's policy. When switching to an alternative, the itinerary and total price instantly readjusted to reflect the change.
The itinerary also is displayed lower on the screen as a provisional expense report, which can become the actual expense report. Noting a McDonald's restaurant in Times Square on Google Street View, Forbes decided he wanted to entertain three clients there and instantly created in the expense report an allowance of €60 to cover the cost of the meal.
Neo presents to the booker four separate itineraries: cheapest, quickest, greenest (Neo displays carbon emissions for each leg) and recommended. The latter balances cost and time, prioritized first by policy rules, then by preferred suppliers and personal favorites. Weighting for recommended options is set at the company level, and KDS said the next version will feature more configuration options.
Not everything about Neo appeared perfect. Some of the estimated ground transfer times looked wildly optimistic. Also, PwC's Avery said Neo's suggestions for multi-destination itineraries are not always credible. However, he added, that "more than 80 percent of our trips are point-to-point, and self-booking tools are not that effective anyway for multi-destination itineraries. Typically, the results are very credible."
"The algorithm is built so that it learns," said Forbes. "We won't be right 100 percent of the time. We have been testing Neo on ourselves. It suggested Oliver [Quayle, KDS senior vice president for products] fly from his home to our Paris office via Southampton Airport. It was smart enough to propose something he hadn't thought about before and now he is using that route regularly."