Zenner is an AI-powered app that provides travellers with real-time travel advice and assistance, a service that is vital during the pandemic. Globetrender speaks with Elad Schaffer, the company’s CEO, about how to keep travellers safe, productive and calm, and why it is time to improve the traveller experience.
What is Zenner?
Zenner is an AI-powered travel assistant that keeps travellers safe, productive and feeling zen. Our travel assistant, Zenny, provides real-time travel advice and assistance. It’s like having a guardian angel watching over you, and answering any question you might have, to ensure your trip is delightful and stress-free.
Zenny tracks everything from up-in-the-skies to down on the tarmac, then uses AI (artificial intelligence) to provide early detection of flight cancellations or delays, give assistance when making a tight connection, provide guidance on ever-changing health and immigration requirements and much more.
Who is it targeted at?
Zenny tracks and protects the journey of any traveller, both experienced or inexperienced, on both business and leisure trips. Zenny is currently available through select partners, as we deploy the service at scale.
Our partners are: larger corporations who make the service available to their entire workforce; travel agencies that include the service as an add-on for their customers; and credit card companies who embed Zenny as a benefit to their cardholders. Over time we will look to make it available to more travellers.
How are you innovating?
Travel has seen a lot of innovation around how we book trips – Expedia and Booking led the way for consumers, while TripActions and TravelPerk are leading for business travellers.
But when you think of what happens after the booking – the traveller’s experience has not fundamentally changed in decades. We still face uncertainty, are surprised by queues and delays, and face confusion and ambiguity as to what to do when things go wrong – it’s just not where we should be in 2020. Zenner is here to change it.
What are its main features?
Our travel assistant, Zenny, is available to the traveller through SMS, WhatsApp and other common chat applications. We wanted to make it easy to interact with Zenny without needing to download yet another travel app.
As soon as Zenny is aware of your trip, it starts monitoring your journey every step of the way, offering advice both proactively as well as in response to your questions.
- Detect flight disruptions (cancellations, delays) ahead of time, alert travelers and assist in rebooking to other flight
- Give timely advice on how to navigate a tight connection
- Provide alerts on changes to the trip – gate/terminal changes, expected wait times, where to collect your bags
- Tell you what to expect at the airport, airline and destination in so far as Covid-19 risks, health and entry requirements. For example – are restaurants open? Do I need to wear a mask? Is a health declaration required?
- Give traveller wellbeing tips – from places to meditate and unwind through to a reminder to take a deep breath and keep zen.
We keep enriching Zenny’s smarts with new data sources to offer more intelligent assistance, while adding integrations with service providers that can enhance the travel experience.
Can you book flights/hotels on it?
No. Zenny is designed to support the post-booking travel experience. We feel there’s enough innovation and competition in the booking stage of travel, so we partner with players who facilitate the booking, and focus on the travel experience. However, in cases where a traveller experiences a problem, such as a cancelled flight, we assist in instant booking to a new flight, and in the future – grounds transportation and hotels.
When did you launch and why?
We started Zenner a year ago in 2019 – Daniel Green and I are longtime business partners and this is our second start-up together. We always combined passion for data with love for travel. Daniel is a walking encyclopedia for anything travel – travelling with him is an incredible experience – I can blindly follow him through the airport, he would know the shortcuts, the perks and what to do when things go wrong (including predicting delays before the pilot even knew). We wanted to turn “traveling with Daniel” into a product – one that ensures every travel experience is as productive, safe and stress-free as possible.
What problem are you setting out to solve?
Travel is a stressful and time-consuming experience, where travellers are at an information disadvantage, faced with the risk of flight delays and cancellations, needing to make tight connections or navigate an unfamiliar airport. Covid-19 made this an even more uncertain environment, with constantly changing health and entry requirements making the travel experience that much more stressful.
How does Zenner employ artificial intelligence? What functions is it performing?
We use AI across the fusion and interpretation of data into insights and recommendations – such as whether a flight is likely to be delayed and what are the travellers options for a resolution, what’s the expected waiting time in the airport, and much more. We also use machine learning to improve and enrich how Zenny understands the travellers’ questions and communicate intelligently the most relevant information back to them.
When you ask it questions, is it always an AI that answers? Or is there a human element?
In the vast majority of cases, Zenny (AI) is the one proactively alerting the traveller and answering their questions. Where Zenny doesn’t know the answer, it escalates it to a human travel expert. When that happens, the traveller knows the reply came from a trusty human. We are transparent about it and are entirely comfortable providing human support as needed. It’s the traveller experience that matters.
Why is this product particularly useful during this time of global pandemic when travel is severely disrupted?
If travel was stressful and unpredictable before Covid-19, it has become even more so now with the pandemic, and with additional considerations around health and safety now added to the traveller’s list of concerns. The need to restore confidence and ensure a safe, smooth and stress-free travel experience has never been so obvious.
I see you are an Israeli company from Tel Aviv – why is Tel Aviv such a hotbed for tech innovation?
Tel Aviv is a wonderful place to build a company, find incredible technology talent and enjoy a culture of innovation.
Coming from Israel, the Startup Nation, means you grow into a culture of entrepreneurship, of “yes-we-can” state of mind and “against all odds” mentality. It’s that mentality that encourages entrepreneurs to build new things, be comfortable with failure and have the determination to keep going. Also travel is in the DNA here, it’s really common for people to take a year off to travel before they start college.
What are your ambitions?
We’re making Zenner into Waze for air travel – a trusted assistant to keep you informed, anticipate and resolve issues along your trip, and keep you traveling with confidence no matter how many times you’ve previously done this trip. The future traveller will need three things when on the road – their ticket, their passport and Zenner.