Best Western Is Turning to IBM Watson’s AI to Help Travelers Plan Summer Vacations

The hotel chain is also debuting a chatbot

Best Western is running a summer campaign that uses IBM Watson's artificial intelligence to provide travel tips. - Credit by Best Western
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Ahead of the July 4 holiday, Best Western is debuting an ad campaign to provide travel tips, destination recommendations, special offers, and of course, local accommodations. That’s standard fare for the summer. The difference for this campaign? Best Western is turning to artificial intelligence with IBM Watson.

The campaign, which begins today, will run across IBM’s Weather Channel app and and use Watson’s AI capabilities to have a text-based conversation with users. When a user clicks on an ad, they will be prompted to share what their plans are for the trip before getting specific ideas. There are also plenty of Best Western-based messages along the way such as prompts for how to make a reservation or what’s included in a hotel.

Using Watson, IBM ingested a variety of data from both Best Western and other sources to better understand the travel category; data like travel itineraries, parking information for various destinations, and tips on how to stay hydrated. The AI’s ability to process natural language then allows it to communicate back and forth with a user in a more human-like way.

The target market for Best Western’s campaign includes both business and leisure travelers along with urban millennials, the companies said. The campaign will also provide the brand with a trove of new data about consumers such as which questions they ask, what they’re interested in, where they’re going. The campaign also comes just two weeks before Best Western will debut a new chatbot aimed at helping rewards customers.

“We have very strong understandings of our rewards customers,” said Best Western Chief Marketing Officer Dorothy Dowling. “We have more than 35 million customers that are part of our Best Western rewards program, so we have a lot of knowledge in terms of what their behavior looks like in terms of booking as well as qualifying and understanding what they want to do in market.”

While Best Western is the first hospitality brand to use IBM Watson’s advertising suite, it’s just the latest campaign created by Watson Advertising, which debuted a suite of new products last fall.

Other brands that have used Watson include an undisclosed entertainment brand, which used Watson ads to recommend shows for people to watch based on their current mood and interests. Watson-powered campaigns usually take between four and 12 weeks depending on their complexity, according to IBM.

Ad campaigns powered by Watson for other brands have had average engagement times of between two and three minutes—far higher than a standard banner ad, according to IBM Watson Chief Revenue Officer Carrie Seifer,

“The last two years, we’ve had these Watson ad units available to advertisers where it really uses AI inside of the ad units to have a much more sophisticated conversation between customer and advertiser,” Seifer said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.