How a digital assistant is fuelling Tourism Australia's content and consumer insights trajectory

Australian tourism body explains the process of rolling out its AI chatbot capability and the internal and consumer benefits it's triggering

More extensive and informative customer sentiment analysis, improved engagement through personalised next-best actions and content gap recommendations are the big wins Tourism Australia is seeing after investing in chatbot technology.

Tourism Australia GM strategy and transformation, Paul Bailey, told CMO that when it comes to the promotional body’s owned website, the overarching ambition is to help consumers plan their trip to Australia in a more simplistic, easier way.

“The way we design content and applications on the website is about elevating the ease of planning your trip to Australia,” he said. “What consumers were telling us through the customer feedback platform online was that they want content that’s more relevant to them. It’s a very hard question to answer - it’s almost like turning nearly 6000 pages, many of which are translated into many languages, into dynamic fields and search. But we are not Google.”

The impetus to find ways to better target content led to a review of what channels and technologies could support such a customer need. Chat was selected as a quick test-and-learn app.

Bailey highlighted the ability to sit a digital assistant on top of the main Tourism Australia website, as well as ultimately integrate it with other technology in TA’s martech stack, as key reasons for the investment.

“It also gives us an ability to create specific guided flows, plus a machine learning environment to create the next-best answer by seeing how people engage,” he said.  

Having canvassed the market, Tourism Australia selected Stackchat as its technology provider. A former relationship with Stackchat’s co-founder, Marcus Robinson, who previously worked with Tourism Australia on its Adobe platform rollout, gave him valuable insight into the business and the challenges of managing a complex website with complex user needs, Bailey said.

“We wanted alignment to our creative capability as well – we didn’t want a robotic chat or just solving for a live chat person,” Bailey continued. “The [Stackchat] platform is robust and allows us to have our own Australian character to come through via tone, voice and context. We are promoting the unique character of Australia in a technical environment.”  

First use cases

Key to any technology rollout is to take baby steps, and Tourism Australia marketing technology manager, Manjit Gill, said the approach was no different in rolling out the digital assistant.

“We started with a small percentage of audience and a controlled environment of about 5-10 per cent being exposed,” he said. “That helped us iron out bugs as well as train the AI and identify any content gaps. We did a lot of in-house testing across business units as well and made changes on the fly.”  

The first use case was initially planned to run alongside Tourism Australia’s fresh 2020 UK marketing campaign, which was due to go live in January 2020 but paused at the last minute as a direct consequence of the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020.

“It [the chatbot] was designed to support a campaign flow and that meant it was very contained and ensured we could turn it on and off,” Bailey explained. “We had also ensured it had that campaign character and was well aligned to our UK campaign.

“We reassessed the value and decided that testing in mid-2020 was the perfect time. It meant we could garner insights into what customers were feeling and what they were looking for and needing from us as a tourism body during a pandemic. The chat capability became an insights tool for us while testing it.”

So the ‘Chat Mate’ assistant debuted to UK audiences, a collaboration between Tourism Australia, Stackchat and digital partner agency, Digitas.

Questions being asked by consumers still largely oriented around making their planning a trip to Australia easier, but were indicative of the impact the bushfires then global pandemic was having on consumer thinking. For instance, many questions related to how to travel safely to Australia, what Covid protocols to expect and things like quarantine conditions when travelling to and around this country.

These were quickly identified as areas Tourism Australia had content gaps. “All of this provided us with great analysis for the content team to look at the questions, and which content we were missing and the best user path to pull people through,” Bailey said.  

The Tourism Australia team integrated the chatbot with its website content management system (CMS) in order to leverage owned content, as well as push consumers to partner sites where appropriate. At this stage, the platform does not integrate with any social channels, although the technical capability to do so is there.

Following the UK, a small version of the chatbot was created for the Australian market, with a test undertaken in April 2021 to support the ‘Australia on sale’ government initiative.

In this case, the desire was to connect domestic travellers to the right support agents as quickly as possible. This tied into a program known as the ‘Aussie specialist’ program, featuring agents trained in selling both Australia and core products across the country.

“It was a great test – we worked with Stackchat to integrate the Aussie specialist program into the chat, so when you went in, you could find the top three specialists in your area,” Bailey said. Geolocation, content type and sentiment was used to identify the best agent plus the best content to support the conversation a consumer was having.

As part of the activity, an automated email was also triggered to the consumer, including the contents of their chat, experiences referred to and next-best action recommendations.

“That trigger-based email was automated and a big win for us – there were no additional resources required,” Gill said. “We leveraged multiple technologies internally, including Adobe Target as our recommendation engine, then Adobe Campaign for the emails, plus the chatbot, and connected it all together.”   

Measuring success

As Bailey highlighted, any technology being adopted by Tourism Australia is judged on both customer and business success factors, as well as the ability to quickly integrate with the wider stack and scale if pilot are successful. Both the UK test and Australian launches have given Tourism Australia useful learnings and the confidence that the chatbot can scale.

“Our Aussie Specialists numbers here are about 2500, but internationally it’s over 30,000 agents. The chatbot needs to be able to be deployed on the fly and with a high degree of accuracy before it gets integrated into further technology and scaled up,” Bailey said.

For Bailey, the biggest internal benefits of the rollout are customer sentiment analysis and finding those content gaps.  

“The speed of analysis and insight is something we are still adapting to. We are getting 80,000 chats from the UK for example, but they’re seeing three times the amount of content and it’s more insight than we have had before,” he said.  As a result, Tourism Australia processes have been tweaked to more rapidly circulate content and sentiment analysis to teams.

Key measures of the chatbot’s impact from a customer perspective include the fact that chat users spend 2.7 times longer on the Australia.com website and chalk up twice as many page views as regular users. Tourism Australia has also seen 81.5 per cent positive user feedback overall, with 50.7 per cent of respondents rating their chat experience ‘great’ and 30.8 per cent rating it as ‘good’.  

For Bailey, the accuracy of the chatbot is a big highlight personally. “Because we had more time to ensure we are accurate, we got to 60 per cent, which I thought was pretty good and we launched at that level. And we were not fully integrated,” he said.

“To be further down the integration funnel and to be at 84 per cent accuracy for AI results is phenomenal. That’s the bot creating its own results based on user interaction and content on the site.”  

Overall, Bailey said the chatbot has proven its worth as a capability making it easier for consumers to plan and engage with Australia as a destination.

“We’re getting to understand who is further down the path and what that means. We don’t have that answer yet and we don’t know how granular we need to be,” he said. “In the UK, where they have a better understanding of Australia, the might be different to the US and possibly China.

“We also haven’t integrated offers or deals in yet as there is no point at this moment in time. We are careful on when we bring in the rest of the pieces from the website.”  

The next cab off the rank is to test the chatbot with translations and launch in the Japan market. Following that, Bailey was looking to launch the capability in bubble markets such as New Zealand and Singapore.

“Next year, as we have time on our site, we’ll look at the US,” he said. “Longer term, there are also markets like China, however that is more about in-chat applications, such as sitting in WeChat.”

Gill stressed the chatbot was a great example of building a platform with the customer front of mind while collecting data at the back end, further fuelling Tourism Australia’s customer data platform (CDP). Added to Tourism Australia’s Unified ID foundational technology, this all supports creating stronger connections with consumers.

For example, Bailey had in his sights next-best action recommendations on the types of content that should be shown to those consumers who leave the Australia.com site.

“It’s helping us understand the user journey then personalise not only through chat but also other channels,” Gill added.  

Read more on Tourism Australia's technology and marketing approach:

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