Travelers have long grumbled about clunky online interfaces for booking travel. Etihad’s test of a more conversational style is welcome. It may wake WhatsApp to the possibilities.
Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi’s state carrier, on Tuesday signed an agreement with technology firm Astra Tech that allows customers to make flight bookings using artificial intelligence within chat app Botim, Astra Tech said.
Botim, which is mostly known in the region as a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) app, relaunched as what it calls an “ultra app” on Monday.
One of the services it provides is a generative pre-trained transformer (GPT), AI technology that rose sharply in popularity following the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November.
Under the deal between Etihad and Astra Tech, the airline’s clients will be able to book flights just by typing in the basic details of the service they require, with the technology then completing the booking itself.
Astra Tech has said its GPT is the first that works in the Arabic language. It is also available in English.
“Through the Botim GPT module developed by Astra Tech, flights and other travel-related services are integrated into the Botim app, offering a convenient and innovative way for customers to book Etihad flights,” Astra Tech said.
Astra Tech bought Botim last year for an undisclosed sum from about 12 investors, Astra Tech founder and Botim CEO Abdallah Abu Sheikh told Reuters last month.
Botim is one of the top three digital remittance providers in the UAE, one of the other services the app provides, Sheikh said.
Sheikh is the main shareholder of Astra Tech. He said one of its bigger investors is Abu Dhabi artificial intelligence firm G42, which is chaired by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a brother of the country’s president and the UAE’s national security adviser, who oversees a sprawling business empire.
“We also had a few more strategic investors that we’ll be announcing hopefully soon,” Sheikh said, adding they include “strategic” institutions from the region as well as one or two international institutions.
(Reporting by Yousef Saba; Editing by Jan Harvey)