Your artificially intelligent travel agent is officially here

September 8, 2015

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Technology has shaped the travel industry since its inception. The age of the sailboat was replaced by the age of the steamship, which was replaced by the age of the jetliner. Likewise, the days of visiting a travel agent were replaced by services like Expedia and Travelocity. Those services, however powerful, have left a lot to be desired.

“Pana is an on-demand travel concierge,” Devon Tivona, CEO and Co-Founder of Pana said. “We book flights, hotels, cars and food for travelers through a messaging interface.”

Pana is using computer learning to revolutionize the travel industry once again. Their technology essentially brings travel agents back into the mix, only it digitizes them and makes them available 24/7 on a smartphone.

From a consumer standpoint, using the service is simple. You simply message Pana and tell them what you need. For example, if you say, “I need to be in New York from the 5th to the 7th.” Pana will send you several options for flights and hotels to choose from. Just like a human travel agent, Pana learns your preferences and improves as it gets to know you.

While that may seem reminiscent of the human powered travel agents of yore, Pana is a technology company.

“We like to say Pana is machine intelligence, mixed with human support,” Tivona said.

It turns out that when you’re messaging Pana, you’re just as likely to be messaging a computer as you are a person — and you’ll never know the difference. When a message comes in, their computers parse the information to automatically get you the information you need. If the computer can’t figure it out, the message is forwarded to a human. It’s like having the Terminator as your travel agent; only with John Connor hanging around to make sure it doesn’t try to kill everything in sight.

“Every time you message the service, we’re essentially trying to pass a Turing test,” Tivona said. “We’re trying to convince you that we’re a real person. We don’t want this to be like a conversation with Siri.”

Pana is a graduate of Techstars, though the company went through that program with a completely different product. Prior to coming up with the idea for an on-demand concierge app, the company made a local recommendations app. Basically, when you were somewhere new, their app would tell you where to go and what to do while you were there.

“It was a really cool technology, but we had absolutely no market,” Tivona said. “It’s an app you’d want, but not an app you’d pay for. So, we pivoted.”

So far, the pivot seems to be working, and the company recently announced a $1.35 million seed round led by none other than Techstars.

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