From booking flights, hotels and rental cars online at the lowest possible price to acting as a virtual assistant to help you plan a trip, there’s no question Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed the way we travel. But how much is it doing to enhance or disrupt the industry from both a consumer and a travel agent perspective? Is it a good thing or a potential negative? I was curious so I sat down with Megan Harris, the Managing Director of SYZGY, which recently conducted a major AI study for a Q & A on the topic. Her answers below:
Q: How is AI changing the consumer travel experience?
A: “From the consumer perspective, AI in the travel industry is all about securing better travel experiences. AI makes booking travel easier, ensures travelers get the best price and helps them avoid inconveniences. AI, specifically machine learning, can make the whole experience more enriching through its ability to crunch data, see patterns, and recommend the optimal personalized experience–often in real time.”
Q: Do you have some examples?
A: “Sure, AI, for instance, has been embedded in the websites of online travel agents like TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Booking.com for a while. AI powers recommendation engines that consider a traveler’s previous choices and what other similar travelers have booked in making recommendations.”
Q: It’s also used with chatbots right?
A: “Yes! AI powers virtual travel assistants that act as travel agents and/or tour guides. Travelers use them to help plan their trips including transportation, hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Most often, these assistants take the form of chatbots but with the rise of voice interfaces like Alexa and Siri, travel assistants are starting to feel more “human” and less tied to a particular website or service offering.”
Q: Are there other places where AI technology is being implemented in the travel industry?
A: “Robots are finding their way to hotels and cruise ships and soon may even automate airport baggage claim. The Royal Caribbean cruise line introduced a robotic bartender, called the Bionic Bar, back in 2014. And Hilton famously unveiled its robot concierge, Connie, in 2016. Connie can provide recommendations for restaurants and attractions and information on hotels. Travel insiders predict more robots and automation at the transactional points of a traveler’s stay—hotel check-in is one example—while retaining human interaction with others.”
Q: Wow that’s fascinating, but also quite a change for the industry?
A: “True, combined with technologies such as virtual reality for onsite tours of destinations and lodging, travelers will be able to accurately and easily plan and enjoy their idea of a perfect vacation. There will be fewer surprises and a few less human service personnel along the way.”