How is Artificial Intelligence Helpful in Travel
Did you know that travel is one of the largest industries in the world in terms of global economic contribution (direct, indirect and induced), with over $8.9 trillion in value in 2019 alone?
As we have seen with other industries, travel will likewise be changed drastically by AI and other emerging technologies. In 2020, the travel industry has suffered significantly from the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In the short term, travelers will choose to travel inside their country more and to opt for car transport rather than airline transport. In the post-COVID-19 era, several travel companies will need to invest in AI, robotics, and automation technologies as travelers value social distancing and safety.
Here are some of the ways that travel is likely to be impacted by AI in the near future:
Hotel Bookings by Voice Command
The ability to search by voice command is becoming more powerful and effective every day. Soon, we’ll find voice-powered reservation systems in place at many hotels. For those who own hotels and similar businesses, it is a good idea to learn what kinds of results come up when you search for your hotel or tourist attraction by voice on Google.
AI Concierge Services
Both Amazon (Alexa) and Apple (Siri) want to be able to operate in hotel rooms around the world, serving as virtual assistants to guests by activating appliances and answering basic questions. Already, the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas is planning to equip each of its 4,700 rooms with Amazon’s Alexa to provide its patrons with a more modern and efficient experience.
Travel Service Chatbots
As mentioned elsewhere throughout this book, AI-powered chatbots will soon serve as the primary method of customer interaction for many businesses, including those in the travel industry. There are already several chatbots available through the Facebook Messenger platform.
Many of these will also soon be available for use on websites for travel companies, helping clients to make reservations and answering their questions along the way. You can learn more about chatbots in the corresponding section of this book.
Check-in Through Facial Recognition
Because of the many advancements in biometric technologies, facial recognition tools are being used more often in various businesses, helping people to save time at airports, in hotels, and even at large conferences and events. Facial recognition technologies also make it easier to identify and catch criminals, which in turn leads to better safety for those who are traveling or attending events at tourist attractions.
Already, Finnair, an airline company based in Finland, has started to test the use of facial recognition tools at its Helsinki airport, with the eventual goal of having customers check in without having a physical boarding pass, which will make their wait times much shorter. Hotels may also use tools like this to replace room keys in the future.
It’s also worth noting that there are fundamental privacy concerns related to the use of facial recognition technologies. One of the main challenges is determining who should own the data and where all that data should be stored.
Many people would be uncomfortable with the thought of their facial recognition data being kept by the government or other entities, fearing their personal data could be vulnerable to theft or simply feeling it would be a violation of their privacy. There are several projects currently being worked on researching the use blockchain technology to ensure that the data would be protected and stored in a trustworthy manner.
I would recommend that there be more public discussion about facial recognition technology and the issues surrounding it, such as the possible need for legislation regulating its use. This would help the general public to become more educated about what the use of this technology entails.
Creation of New Travel Products Based on Travel Reviews
With the advent of big data analysis and artificial intelligence, it is now possible to analyze huge amounts of travel reviews and comments to identify possible demands for new business opportunities in the travel industry. For instance, one traveler might post a comment on a site like TripAdvisor that a certain city has limited transportation options.
Another may leave a review on a hotel’s website stating that their stay would have been more enjoyable if room service had been available. These types of comments are posted by travelers in massive quantities on many different types of websites. Thanks to AI, the analysis of this data can be used not only to improve products and services that already exist in the travel industry, but also to launch totally new travel-related businesses.
Smart Travel in Smart Cities
Currently most cities worldwide are still operating using “second industrial revolution” infrastructure, namely roads, transportation and buildings that are becoming obsolete due to various factors such as energy inefficiency and outdated technology. Soon many of them will be converted to so-called “smart cities,” where sensors will be used to collect and manage data related to information such as traffic and tourist flows, air pollution and communication within the city.
These sensors will then, in turn, provide input into how all of these components can better work together, helping the whole city to run more efficiently. This will be mainly powered by the Internet of Things technology, but artificial intelligence will also play a key role in the future of smart cities, as it will be needed to analyze huge amounts of data. The Internet of Things will work together with AI to create harmony within these smart cities.
From a tourist’s point of view, smart cities will offer several benefits, as moving around will be easier and more efficient and there will be fewer traffic jams. Also, obtaining city-related information will be much easier in smart cities thanks to virtual travel assistants and robot-guides providing personalized travel recommendations.
For example, a virtual travel assistant, which might be in the form of a chatbot on your smartphone, could analyze the knowledge it already has about you, combined with data obtained from sensors throughout the city, to tell you something like, “I know you like Chinese food. The restaurant coming up on your right has the highest rated dumplings in the city.”
Similarly, a robot-guide, which might be a large display sign or a robot on the street, could greet you by name as you walk by and inform you that your favorite clothing store is located across the street. These are just a couple of examples of how the travel experience could be made so much more convenient in a smart city.
Self-Driving Cars and Mobility as a Service
Over the next few years, we’ll likely see many cities adapting to the use of more self-driving cars, buses and taxis. Since self-driving vehicles virtually eliminate the factor of human error, their use will greatly reduce the number of traffic accidents. Also, because many traffic jams are caused by the improper driving habits of humans, an increase in the number of self-driving cars will lead to a decrease in heavy traffic congestion.
Mobility as a service (MaaS) is a movement that aims to reduce car traffic by making it easier for travelers to get around using other modes of transportation (http://maas.global/).
This concept, which is growing in popularity and has been nicknamed the Netflix of transportation, is already being implemented by a Finnish company with its app called Whim. This app offers travelers the best options, as alternatives to driving a car, for getting to their destinations door-to-door as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
These options could be in any number or combination of modes of transportation, including public, private, and even cycling. It will even handle booking and payment for you, making it as convenient as possible to leave your car at home, or even give up owning a car completely. In addition to Helsinki, Finland, Whim has also started testing in West Midlands in the UK, with plans to expand to other regions soon.
Other Robotic Tools
Hotels, tourism offices, and other travel-based businesses will soon be able to employ robots in place of traditional human workers. We’ll take a deeper look at this concept in the chapter devoted to robots in this book, where you can read about the Henn na Hotel in Japan, which is operated almost entirely by robots.
In addition, several AI-powered applications will change the travel industry, such as language translation apps, which will help tourists to better communicate anywhere in the world, thereby making the travel experience easier and more enjoyable.
Chatbots will also be widely used in the travel industry for things like making hotel reservations or booking flights, making almost every aspect of planning a trip easier and more convenient. This book has an entire chapter devoted to chatbots, in which they are discussed in detail.
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