Rathi Murthy, Expedia’s head of technology explains how AI is changing the travel industry

Ritu Jha–

Rathi Murthy, Chief Technology Officer and President of Expedia Product & Technology says when the pandemic hit and the company started receiving unprecedented volumes of calls for cancellation, they invested in AI driven technology.

“We invested money during that time to build an AI-driven chatbot to take our calls. And that’s really where we started to leverage our data. Our virtual agent is equipped today to take more than 300 million calls,” said Murthy, one of the keynote speakers at annual IIT Bay Area Conference held Sept 16 at Santa Clara Convention Center, California.

Since then, all of Expedia’s departments, whether for travel or partner concerns, have been driven by AI.

When asked by moderator Ayan Mukerji, CEO Infogain, about how is Expedia using Artificial Intelligence to improve the experience of travelers, she said Expedia entered the travel industry 25 years ago. At that time, it was a house of 21 digital brands. Not everyone knows many of these brands really belong to the Expedia Group.

“We still have about 70% of the travel ecosystem offline. We want to be the powerhouse that transforms the travel industry by providing our services.”

Today, Expedia is powered by more than 70 petabytes of data and 20-plus years of tech innovation, making it one of the world’s largest travel platforms.

“Our Smart Shopping algorithm calculates 1.26 quadrillion combinations of rate descriptors for hotel room types. It’s almost impossible for travelers to compare all of them according to individual preferences. Here we leverage AI. We can embrace travelers’ experiences across our platform through AI,” she said.

Expedia recently introduced Generative AI (GenAI) to enable travelers to choose from a variety of options. “We know booking patterns, travel preferences, pricing, and availability. Not knowing how our traveler is going to use this data because planning a trip is complex, we give them options according to their preferences mentioned in meetings, comments, and feedback. We’ve seen travelers facing difficulty in making a choice. So we introduced the GenAI.”

Speaking about the precautions that Expedia is working on while using AI, she said: “There is a fear of getting carried away by responses from AI models which could prevent us from providing relevant options. We have been creating a responsible AI. I think this is super important because we all need to ensure that we use AI for good.”

Another worry is rising costs. “I think the cost down the line is going to get crazy. The more we keep using it, the fear is how much efficiency can we drive and how expensive it is going to become for us.”

Sharing her experience of working with partners and tech providers seamlessly, she said: “Our business is connecting partners at some point. We have to connect with a large number of suppliers, airlines, foreign police, cruise lines, hotels, and suppliers. That’s one side of the business which is really the strength that we bring to the table. On the tech side as well, we have spent a lot of time working on a giant transformation. It’s like changing the tires when the cars run together 100 miles per hour because we’ve been transforming the business, and driving the innovation so quickly. We can’t do it all alone.”

Murthy was previously a senior Vice President and CTO for Gap, Inc and CIO for Enterprise Growth at American Express, and was named Top Woman in Cloud Innovation in 2014, and among the Most Influential Women in Payments in 2015.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been interested in creating and driving transformations. For me, it’s mostly the joy of leveraging technology to drive business value. I’ve been fascinated to go across many different sectors. I have worked with healthcare, e-commerce, media, Yahoo, and finance sector, FinTech companies, and retail. It is a perfect fit for me, a dream that is coming true and I’m having a lot of fun.”

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