Planning a trip usually involves either slogging through dozens of choices online to find the best deal or hiring a travel agent to do the legwork. Now you can turn to a new kind of travel app that bridges the gap between the two.
These hybrid services combine artificial intelligence with human agents to curate and book travel options according to your preferences or handle problems you encounter on your trip. You communicate through online chat, e-mail or messaging. Some services are specialized: Hello Scout suggests local activities for guests at partnered hotels, for example, while Emma is for booking hotel rooms. Fees are all over the map: Emma is free; Lola, a full-service app, is free, but there’s currently a waiting list to use it; and Hello Scout is free for chatting, but booking is extra. Pana, another full-service app, costs $19 per month or $199 a year. Sites such as Kayak, Hipmunk and Expedia have gotten into the act, adding features that let you text, e-mail or chat about reserving flights or hotels.
The services’ personalized recommendations aren’t always ready for prime time, says Douglas Quinby, of Phocuswright, a travel-industry research group. Expect improvement as more users sign up.