Travelling has become way easier these days. Have you ever wondered why? Well, the development of communications technologies is one thing for sure. But let us not forget about another factor — machines that are becoming smarter with each breath we take. Artificial intelligence imitates our brain processes, detects patterns, learns and helps us make our vacation perfect.
We all can see how we book and make travel arrangements have evolved. We’re no longer a global society wandering around the world with guidebooks in our hands, taking pictures on film cameras and booking through travel agents on the main avenue. We all now post vacation pics on Instagram and nag about delayed flights on Facebook and Twitter.
According to Statista, the travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries with a total contribution of over 8.2 trillion U.S. dollars in 2017. In addition, the direct economic impact of the tourism industry, covering accommodation, transportation, entertainment, and attractions, reached approximately 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars that year. No wonder that such an expanding industry uses technology as groundbreaking as Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Let’s dwell on the most successfully implemented applications of AI in the travel industry.
Online Customer Service and Chatbots
The most visible manifestation of AI are undoubtedly chatbots that are basically virtual assistants with the ability to hold a natural language conversation with a human. How do AI chatbots work in travel?
The Dutch airline KLM was among the first to embrace bots and chat apps, sending their passenger boarding passes and flight information via Viber, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and other chat apps.
Companies like Hipmunk, Expedia, Skyscanner, and Cheapflights have also something to say in the sphere of using AI for customer service. “We see AI as an evolutionary part of travel,” notes a Skyscanner spokesperson. “We’ve always believed that people would go from click-type-tap style searching to a conversational format. Interestingly, those using our bots treat them in a very ‘human’ way – ask for the bot’s name, send an emoji or sticker of appreciation.”
Hilton hotels went even further. Their chatbot is a physical robot named Connie who helps guests at check-in and advises them on local attractions and things to do.
With proper pre-programming, chatbots can further improve the quality of the entire travel experience, from automatic reminders prior to arrival to suggesting entertainment venues and transportation facilities in the vicinity of your stay.
Specialized Smart Apps
Due to our increased love for gadgets, people are more inclined to arrange journeys using smart apps. We can actually spend many hours glued to the smartphone screen in search of the best place, best price, and the perfect itinerary. In this case, AI-based software can produce super-personalized suggestions for prospective travelers based on the analysis of huge data sets.
For example, with the help of the Expedia Skill app, customers are able to get information on their upcoming trips and flight details or rent a car, all that with a plain voice command.
People are always looking for the best price while booking flights. However, the flight price generation engine operates according to a specific set of standards. The machine learning algorithm can detect anomalies after a considerable fare increase, considering a combination of features that led to such an increase.
Travel agents can assist their customers in spotting the best time to book a hotel or buy a cheap ticket if they take advantage of machine learning. When the desired option comes into sight, the app will notify the user.
AI tools that work with machine learning, machine vision, and natural language processing can handle large data sets and several data sources in real-time. Based on the results, the AI system can identify suspicious activities and create risk scores for a better comprehension of each payment transaction.
By incorporating AI-enabled tools, travel companies will be able to distinguish between trusted payers and those who are not, detect anomalies with the highest precision and speed and, therefore, secure online transactions.
If you aim for efficiency, AI can have a huge impact on speeding things up for travelers. A business traveler arriving at his or her destination late after a long trip may very well be glad to use an automated check-in and hit the sack. Marriott International, for example, is testing facial recognition software in two locations in China, which reduces the average check-in time from three minutes to one. The technology was developed in collaboration with Alibaba and will expand to all global locations if the feedback is positive.
Data Processing and Data Analysis
Finally, we should not forget that the scope of application of artificial intelligence within the travel and tourism industry is not limited to customer service only. As a matter of fact, one of its most favored and powerful uses is to collect and interpret data in order to get conclusions about business practices, customers and pricing strategies.
The major advantage of AI in this particular field is its capacity to go through vast amounts of data in a quick and accurate manner, where human work would take considerably more time and effort and potentially contain more errors. The Dorchester Collection hotel, for instance, applied AI to sort through customer feedback obtained via surveys, reviews and online polls, for the purpose of getting a clearer picture of current opinion, in real-time.
To boldly go where no one has gone before
“After years of hype, hospitality and travel companies are now delivering real added value for consumers by integrating artificial intelligence into online search and booking platforms,” says Greg Oates from Skift, a travel and tourism news agency.
Artificial intelligence in tourism comes with the power of automation, thus making travel more niche and targeted towards travelers. AI can assist travel agents in analyzing travelers’ profiles by considering their preferences, budget, location, eating habits, and so on, thus leading to personalized and tailor-made offers.
Deploying AI in the travel industry can save businesses time and money, while potentially eliminating human error and allowing tasks to be performed quickly, whenever wherever.
Travelers, on their part, have been equally enthusiastic about welcoming these new technological changes as well, while everybody would be glad to make travel simpler and more enjoyable. From booking flights to selecting hotels, the development of AI in the sector has revolutionized and automated almost every procedure. It has also given rise to various business models such as Careem and Airbnb.
As the technologies become more developed, the union of AI and intelligent personalization could lead to the emergence of companies that are predicting your dream vacation before you have any idea of your own. The futuristic chatbot will already know your preferred airport, dates, times, mode of transport and your travel companion from your emails, Facebook, Twitter and calendars — if you grant the required access, of course. Just don’t expect it to arrange the weather for you… well, at least for now.
More about the use cases of AI in the travel and tourism sector will be covered in the second part of this article.