Can Artificial Intelligence Transform the Travel Industry?

Artificial Intelligence is an emerging field of technology with the capability of making our lives easier in many ways. When broken down to its simplest definition, AI is the programing of computers/machine to conduct tasks that typically require human intelligence. We can already see the ways in which Artificial Intelligence has been seamlessly integrated into our lives and businesses. AI has been used to make data analysis and management easier for business, allowing businesses to process the plethora of data they are deluged with in seconds. And in recent years, technologists and computer scientist have managed to begin to program AI with the ability to perform even more complex tasks, making AI a valuable asset for business. Amongst those looking to benefit from this technology are business leaders in the travel industry.

The Travel Industry and COVID-19

The global travel and tourism industry is estimated to be worth around $2.9 trillion (as of 2019). Over the past few decades traveling has become more accessible to common people. The ability to travel and visit different countries has gone from a luxury saved for the very privileged few to an activity that more and more people can enjoy as airfare and lodging has become cheaper and more accessible.  There are many communities that have also built their local economies on travel, with tourism being a large source of income for them. The United States alone contributed approximately $580.7 billion to global tourism’s GDP. But like many industries in the year 2020, traveling and tourism took a nosedive as the result of a global pandemic.

Traveling and COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in many of our plans for 2020. The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 is a particularly contagious virus that is around ten times deadlier than the flu. The long-term effects that the virus will have on the health of those who have caught it is yet unknown, but many who have caught it and ‘survived’ have reported long-term lung, brain, and heart conditions, among other things. In order to combat the virus and stop the spread, almost every country on every continent restricted travel to and from their regions. And within each country there are varying degrees of quarantine taking place in order to reduce the number of people exposed to the coronavirus from increasing. As a result, many industries took a great economic hit because of this and the global travel and tourism industry was hit particularly hard. Without a vaccine for COVID-19, traveling in general is risky and airlines have had to reduce the amount of people allowed to board flights in order to fight the spread. Hotels have also been advised to reduce the capacity with which they fill their buildings in order to ensure proper distance is being kept between customers.

But hope is on the horizon as several vaccines have entered their final testing phases and could be widely distributed as soon as the end of 2020. If the vaccines prove affective and enough of us receive them, we can greatly reduce the number of COVID-19 infections globally. Once COVID-19 is under control, it is likely that the travel and tourism industry might experience a boom as people globally look to leave their homes and explore the world again. If this is the case, Artificial Intelligence may prove to be a useful tool in making travel and tourism easier, affordable, and profitable.

AI and Travel and Tourism

AI intelligence has the potential to greatly benefit the travel and tourism industry by helping to automate and streamline tasks traditionally done by humans and reducing the amount of human error that occurs with these tasks. By automating work and simplifying the process, business can save money and utilize their freed-up time to make traveling easier and more convenient for their customers.

Customer service within the travel and tourism industry has been vastly improved since the introduction. Hotels, airlines, and automobile services regularly deal with a large number of customers every day and it can be hard to deliver the best customer service when employees are swamped with work. With the advent of social media and instant messaging, customers are even more eager to receive quick and satisfactory information in shorter and shorter time frames. While it is impossible for a single human to field hundreds of thousands of customer questions in an instant, it is an easy task to a chatbot. Chatbots are AI powered machines that are commonly used by many businesses in order to improve customer service by providing quick and accessible knowledge to commonly asks questions that customers have. Using machine learning, a chatbot can be programmed to learn customer habits by analyzing common patterns in human when using an app or website or when on social media. With the information the chatbot collects, it can then learn to do things like give answers to frequently asked questions.

AI can also be used to improve face to face interaction as well. Like a chatbot that can be accessed through social media or an app and utilized to answer customer questions, it is possible to build a robot to do the exact same tasks in person. For hotel operators and tourism agencies, a robotic helper could help to reduce the workload on employees, allowing employees to focus more on quality with regards to the customer service they provide. A robot can be programmed to understand speech and recognize certain questions it is asks and deliver accurate information to these questions in response. Though we are still awaze away from having fully automated hotels, AI powered robots that accompany and help receptionists are already here. The Hilton has already deployed such kinds of robots with its pilot program that it has started with IBM.

Data analysis and predictive analytics are important tools for businesses looking to provide better services and save money, and for the travel industry, AI has helped to make these processes a whole lot easier. Institutions like hotels, airlines, and car rental services rely on customer feedback to make improvement to their services, so they often utilize tools like surveys to get a feel for where their customers are at. As these institutions deal with hundreds of thousands of customers every day, it would be quite impossible for a human being alone to process all tot the data that they collect on their customers on a daily basis. AI is utilized to quickly analyze customer behavior and offer predictions about the market and future customer behavior and choices based on the information they gain. Wirth more data being processed, businesses can more accurately address issue they may face and provide more innovative solutions to problems.

AI is not meant to replace human judgment but rather become another tool that we can use to improve our lives and our business operations. Only time will tell how these sorts of machines will improve the tourist experience, but the future looks promising.

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