Ever since Artificial Intelligence or Machine Intelligence burst onto the scene in the mid 20th century, it has gradually and inextricably made inroads into every aspect of our lives. AI can replicate human cognitive abilities and this feature has made it particularly indispensable to the human endeavor. One of the greatest success stories of AI is the travel industry. Over the last few years, this behemoth of an industry and the avant-garde technology have paired up to take both business and science to unprecedented heights.
The sky is the limit when it comes to devising enterprising ways in which AI might be deployed to enhance the travel experience and in the process generate staggeringly high revenues. It is a win-win scenario where both the tourist and the industry stand to gain. Gone are the days of rushing to airports only to realize that a person’s flight has been delayed by hours. Those particular frustrations can be circumvented with the help of Google Flights, which relies on AI to alert the flyer regarding delays well in advance of the airlines. Flying has never been simpler with Google Flights guiding people to best booking options and any reputed frequent flyer website giving them tips on how to make the most of their accumulated air miles.
Yet another common gripe for travellers and before the advent of AI-powered tourism was that no travel package could meet their expectations. Tour operating companies thrive on goodwill. If they cannot deliver what tourists want, they would soon be edged out of the competition. That is why; today more and more travel agencies are harnessing AI to tailor packages that can cater to the unique demands of their targeted clientele. A survey by Booking.com threw up the surprising data that one-third of travellers would willingly share their travel history if it helped them get a package of their choice. That is what the major players of the travel industry are tapping into. With the help of AI, they have created personalized trip planning services that help them test the waters on what tourists expect from the travel packages. Their online tool quiz visitors and request their feedback on multiple categories like ‘food and beverages’, ‘shopping’, ‘spa’, ‘adventures’, ‘relaxation’, ‘travelling with’ and ask them about their past holidaying experiences. Then an algorithm trawls through the gigabytes of data and creates numerous tour package combinations of relevance. That is why there will always be a suitable package and itinerary for even the most fastidious traveller.
Not to be left behind, hotels too have joined the AI bandwagon with chatbots. For years, booking friction has been a cause of concern for hoteliers. Only a small fraction of the number of people who show interest in the hotel ends up booking a stay there. To solve this problem and to increase interaction with prospective guests, hotels link their Facebook pages to virtual assistants or chatbots- another product of AI. Guests can communicate with chatbots and ask them questions regarding the services offered by the hotel, discounts on rates, cab-booking services among others.
Voice assistants and chatbots have also made their way into hotel rooms. Cosmopolitan Las Vegas and the Edwardian Group Hotels blazed the trail with their AI assistants Rose and Edward. Other hotels can borrow IBM’s Watson Assistant for Hospitality or Amazon’s Alexa to heighten the on-property experience. They will ask after the guest’s needs, arrange for transport, place orders, book tickets- essentially be a personal assistant to the people during their stay at the hotel. AI can also be calibrated to anticipate the guests’ needs by dipping into a database created by the hotel with inputs from their past stay.
Some hotels are fielding AI robot concierge, and the trendsetter was the Hilton Group, which launched ‘Connie’ in 2016. This humanoid concierge works much the same way as a chatbot. It greets guests when they arrive at the hotel and using speech recognition technology answer any question they might pose. The bot learns and becomes more efficient with each iteration. Not only does it increase the wow-factor of the hotel, but it can also help take the load off the harried and over-worked front desk and thus boost all-round efficiency. Other hotels have upped the technological ante by deploying bots that can help with room service and hotel laundry.
Yet another novel device that hotels are utilizing to enhance their guests’ experience of staying there is the smart electronic bracelet. Disney grabbed headlines a few years ago when it introduced its ‘MagicBand’. Visitors to Disney amusement parks who wear the MagicBand enjoy certain perks like being able to jump queues, cashless purchase of souvenirs, food, and beverages etc. Bigwig hotels have tweaked this technology to extend similar benefits to their guests. Hassle free cashless transaction offered by AI operated electronic bracelets is the chief draw for travellers. Hotels too benefit from it. The AI maintains a record of all transactions made with the bracelet. This helps hotels gauge their guests’ spending habits and prepare profiles that will be instrumental in crafting future offers, deals and packages.
All the players of the travel industry are turning to AI for reputation management. Customer reviews can make or break their reputation. That is why travel agencies and hotels are installing benign tracking tools that trawl their social media pages. If they come across any negative reviews, they immediately alert the authorities who try to understand where they went wrong and incorporate changes that will improve their services wherever necessary.
Artificial Intelligence has become indispensable to the hospitality industry and it has raked in a fortune. However, travel agencies and hotels will not be resting on their laurels and the search is on to find more ingenious ways to use this groundbreaking technology. Competition drives innovation and no one wants to be left behind.