How a Hackathon led to Sabre’s First Generative AI Product for Hotels

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Generative AI is still young, but some travel companies are encouraging workers to experiment as they determine how the tech will be used in the future.

Sabre wanted to know how generative AI could improve the customer-service experience for hotel operators, so the company made that topic a category for an internal innovation competition last August.

One of those teams developed an idea for a customer-service chatbot, and the pitch to Sabre executives went smoothly. There was a prototype by October. 

And last month, that competition idea became Sabre’s first generative AI product for hoteliers. 

“That’s nine months from idea to deliverable product. That only really happened because we’re giving the team flexibility, the opportunity to experiment with these new tools and these new ideas and bring them forward,” said Scott Wilson, president of Sabre Hospitality, in an interview with Skift.

The chatbot tool is called Concierge.AI.

It was designed to answer hotel operators’ questions about any of Sabre’s products without them having to pick up the phone. The generative AI essentially has access to all of the training materials for Sabre’s hotel software products. The hotelier can ask the chatbot a question in everyday language, and then the chatbot draws upon the training materials to provide an answer. 

The Sabre customer service team also uses the tool when hoteliers call, which Wilson said can be especially useful for new call center agents. 

“It’s a strong double-digit reduction in calls and call time. So fewer people are coming to call at all because they can self-help completely, or if they do call because they didn’t use the tool, our agents are able to use the tools themselves,” Wilson said.

“Call centers have turnover anywhere, and so you can get a new agent and have their level of productivity go up many [times]. That’s been a huge gain for us.”

The prototype had an accuracy rate of about 75%, Wilson said. By the time of the release, the tool’s answers were accurate around 93% of the time, he claimed – though Skift hasn’t tested the product. The AI comes from Sabre’s ongoing partnership with Google, which has the Gemini generative AI model.

How Sabre’s Hackathons Work

Google famously encourages employees to spend about one day per week experimenting with tech. Sabre doesn’t have anything that formal, Wilson said, but its couple of hackathon events each year are meant to encourage innovation.

Sabre started the G-Blitz competition — where Concierge.AI was born — in 2021. Participants from across Sabre’s six main offices worldwide select teams of around five people, and they’ve given free reign to develop and pitch a product within one of three categories. The project can be focused on tech or a new idea around policy or market approach. 

The latest competition had 40 teams and more than 200 participants. 

At the end of the work session, the top projects are invited to pitch their ideas to Sabre executives. Winners get credits toward items in an employee gift catalog. Three of the winners recently presented their ideas to the tech committee of the Sabre board of directors. 

There’s likely more to come with Concierge.AI, Wilson said. With future advancements, the tool could complete tasks for the customer instead of just sharing information, he said. Some hotels have asked about the possibility of licensing the product as a guest-facing tool, though he did not say if there are plans for that.

“There’s a real opportunity to take this concept and turn into … self-help on steroids,” Wilson said.

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