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Is AI the future of travel?

Oct 30, 2018 |

Insider

| by Christopher Bensley
How artificial intelligence will impact group travel

If you’re like me, you long for the good old days when people, yes people, helped you. A real person answered the phone and your travel agent took care of your flights and filled out forms. But artificial intelligence, or AI, is here to stay and it will only get more ingrained in our lives. How will AI impact group travel? How could it potentially alter the up-close experiential nature of educational travel?

Examples of AI in the Travel Industry

In reality, AI is already affecting group travel, at least on the fringes, and probably more than you realize. AI technology is constantly improving and becoming more reliable, and the travel industry is taking advantage to save on administrative and customer service tasks. AI can perform tasks in speech recognition, data analysis, problem solving, and personalization, while potentially eliminating human errors and performing tasks quickly, at any time of the day.

Future AI will help find and book the best flights and plane seats for you and tell you where and when to travel. It may even replace the need for a local guide by giving your travelers superior information as they meander through Machu Picchu or Olduvai Gorge.

While many of us despise this thought, we may not have as much control as we think. AI may shift our world and become the ONLY way to do certain things. Before getting carried away with Kubrick-esque visions, let’s start with four of the most significant ways AI technology is currently being deployed:

1. Chatbots and online service support

The obnoxious personal assistant is getting better, both with online chat and within social media platforms. As travelers demand faster online response times, AI responses beat old-fashioned customer service - if you are impatient or willing to use it (I will resist as long as I can!). Hotels and airlines are adopting this, but it will likely extend quickly and your audience will expect it.

2. Social media to find out and respond quickly to issues

Despite the current backlash against Facebook, social media is here to stay and is being adopted by all age ranges, across a variety of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Social media tools can “listen” to your sentiments before, during, and after your trip. If you express frustration about a hotel you are staying at, an activity or logistical snafu, your travel supplier can learn about it and respond more quickly—even if you don’t complain directly to them—in a bid to rectify the situation and keep your business.

3. Data analysis and machine learning for sales and enrollment

In the hotel and airline arena, machine learning is emerging as a hidden persuader to support the sales process. Using big data and AI, companies are starting to personalize the buying experience, offering what you like based on your past behaviors. Whereas in the past your travel agent knew what you wanted, machine learning used by travel providers can guide their travelers on destination selections and services based on their past preferences.

But is personalization as good as it could be? Not yet, according to a recent survey by Mindtree, an India-based company specializing in AI technology services, reporting that only 23% of respondents rated the offers relevant to their interests. As the technology improves, expect the enrollment process to be easier as AI fills in required information based on prior interest, including upsells like single rooms, room upgrades, meal preferences, and even extensions.

4. Facial recognition technology and blockchain

Airport travel has benefited from TSA PreCheck, but facial recognition and other automation will continue to allow for speedier entry and exits. Facial recognition technology will eliminate many paper processes, allowing travelers to easily move through security, customs, and boarding. If you’ve read about blockchain technology (a secure, linked system of record-keeping), it can be extended to restaurants, shopping, and activities with a simple facial scan. It may take time for these devices to appear in tourist sites, but the day will come. Plus blockchain technology data can be called on to more quickly complete purchases with traveler-stored data.

Group travel will only start to notice these AI intrusions in our processes in the near future, but expect it to come and be ready. The other AI promise is Virtual Reality, so that you don’t even have to travel to have an immersive experience. That’s a future I can do without.

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