With all of the things going on in life, finding the time to plan a trip can be tough.
That’s why Paul English, a co-founder of Kayak, recently launched Lola, an app with a messaging interface that connects users with a team of travel consultants who can take care of every step of the planning process. The app utilises a combination of AI technology and an experienced staff to provide travellers with an alternative to many of the DIY travel websites out there today.
I had the chance to test the app on a recent trip to Los Angeles. I had previously booked my flights and accommodations, so I used the app to get real-time airport information and activity suggestions. Here’s how it went.
The app is invitation-only and works on a first-come, first-serve basis. When you sign up, you'll most likely be put on a waitlist for a few weeks. The company is planning to offer memberships later in the year, but right now, users get a year for free when they sign up.
Next, you'll be asked to note your travel preferences so that the team over at Lola can determine the options best suited to your needs. You'll be asked to select the type of hotel you prefer, from luxury hotels to family-friendly accommodations.
You can choose which amenities are most important to you at a hotel, from Wi-Fi and pool access to the restaurant selection. You'll also be asked to select your favourite hotels, with options that include various major hotel brands as well as Airbnb, independent hotels, and B&Bs.
The same option will apply for the types of hotels you'd like to avoid. You can specify whether you prefer to stay in two-star, three-star, four-star, or five-star hotels.
The app will also ask you how many nights you typically stay at a hotel, whether that's one to five days or more than 20. You can choose your preferred budget from the beginning, or you can specify it through the messaging interface.
Next, you'll be asked to provide your airport preferences. Once again, you'll be asked to choose from your favourite airlines and those that should be avoided. The app will also have you select your preferred cabin.
Next, you'll be connected to your travel consultant. At this point, you can message them to let them know what you're looking for. 'The goal here is to have the app do anything that you'd expect from your executive assistant,' English told us.
Different consultants might help you throughout your trip. I was switched from my original agent to a new one at this point, and she asked me to specify what kinds of recommendations I'd like to see.
The Lola team is a mix of travel consultants and customer service experts. For my trip, I asked Emily to suggest beaches I could explore in the area, as well as recommendations for new restaurants and local destinations that are worth seeing.
The suggestions were sent back to me within the hour, and included quirky finds like Eighty Two LA, a combination arcade and bar. Not only did Emily give me a description of the venue, but she also included information on whether it has a cover charge and whether I'd need to get there early to avoid crowds.
Emily gave me two restaurant suggestions, including a description for each that you can click into to see the company's website and its location on a map. You can also use Lola to book reservations at restaurants.
The app gave me suggestions that went beyond tourist traps to offer a more memorable experience. They will offer activities based on the weather forecasted during your trip, and they can even book tickets for activities you'd like to try.
I didn't specify a particular budget, though you have the choice to, which is why my options ranged from free suggestions to luxurious rental cars. Lola can book rental car services for you, as well as check up on delayed pickups at destinations like the airport.
If you're interested in specific activities, feel free to let Lola know, as they do hand-pick experiences for you. The staff is available for users 24/7 should any emergencies arise.
Lola can also provide you with current TSA wait times, information on flight delays, gate status, and assistance with seat preferences on flights. They will also help reconnect you to another flight should you miss a connection.
Lola is currently available in the US since the app only processes US dollars at the moment, but they can help you book trips to anywhere. They plan to expand to Australia, Canada, and England in the fall. Lola is currently available for download on iOS.
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