Tourism industry looks to AI to champion COVID-19 travel


As the world slips into the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, industries are scrambling to find alternative ways to keep businesses afloat as consumer behavior shifts and adapts to a changing norm.

As the Covid-19 era hastens the advancement of many technologies, enterprises are looking at tech to help improve business. One of the most desperate sectors that needs to start enacting change is the tourism industry.

Airline losses are mounting quickly as their revenues plunge to record lows in what was normally one of their most lucrative seasons.

In the U.S. alone, Southwest Airlines Co. lost nearly $1.2 billion during the third quarter—its biggest quarterly loss ever. American Airlines Group Inc. lost $2.4 billion. Alaska Air Group Inc. reported losing $431 million back in October. Rivals United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. also reported massive losses during the third quarter.

The pandemic has wiped out travel demand, bringing a decade-long streak of strong profits to a screeching halt. The four largest U.S. carriers have lost more than $25 billion this year so far.

Ongoing border restrictions and lower consumer appetite for international flights have changed travel as an industry.

Many experts consider that the business models of traditional corporate travel management companies have not evolved for decades, while the existing tools have not kept pace with the modern business traveler and are generally not affordable by smaller and mid-sized businesses.

Hotels used to feel more technologically advanced than our homes but as IoT, AI and consumer tech companies take the lead, the tech gradient has reversed — hotels now feel lower tech than our own homes.

Which is why a big change is needed.

Many in the tourism sector have heralded the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) to be the saving grace amid the pandemic.

AI is creating dramatic technological changes, which will also revolutionize the way people travel. Artificial intelligence is already helping major players in the tourism industry in decision making, managing predictive maintenance, and handling disruptions.

Ranging from smarter virtual assistants and real time chat bots to personalized concierge services, AI is all about utilizing data to create a better experience, and at a rapid rate.

An example of this was displayed during Madrid’s Fitur Tourism Fair, showed a prototype of a hotel offering tailored experiences and stays when customers check-in via a mirror equipped with AI-powered facial recognition.

That information is then used to provide the customer to rooms that compliment their habits and desires; through this smart room, everything within it is interchangeable depending on the customer’s needs and interests, even the choice of art displayed.

In parallel, Paris-based tech consultancy, Altran, is successfully developing a prototype of an AI coupled with an IoT solution targeted toward luxury hotels.

The service allows customers to open and close doors through WhatsApp, the ability to order food in 40 different languages based on speech recognition technology, as well as mattresses equipped with sensors that tips off hotels on the right time to serve coffee.

Other properties, such as the Palladium Hotel Group, have replaced paper brochures with virtual reality (V) headsets.

Governments are also jumping on the bandwagon to attract tourists far and wide.

Europe’s Georgia has recently developed a tourism campaign labelled “Emotions are Georgia,” that uses AI to detect genuine emotions from more than 70 million posts of travelers to trigger an emotional and accurate guidebook of the country.

“These posts are straightforward, heartfelt and uncensored reviews written by regular tourists who have actually visited the country,” Giorgi Chogovadze, Head of Georgian National Tourism Administration, was quoted as saying.

As we’re moving through the different examples, it’s becoming clearer that customization is the predominant theme here. Machine learning and AI is opening up vital information for travel agencies, hotels, governments, and attractions to pinpoint and match the desires, habits, and preferences of tourists.

Hence a personalized menu, preferred room temperature, lighting and other services offered helps increase customer satisfaction immensely.

Embracing artificial intelligence will benefit travelers as well as tour operators, the aviation sector and even hospitality. With the advanced progress that technology is making, radical transformation is all set to happen in the way people live and explore the world.

There is a plethora of ways the tourism industry can capitalize on the many technologies currently in play from AI, IoT, to VR and augmented reality (AR).

Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Customer service goes digital

With the major tech developments that are happening, customers are increasingly expecting instant responses from a company’s customer service arm. This has already surfaced with AI-powered chatbots on social media business pages as well as dedicated instant-messaging apps such as WhatsApp Business.

While the technology has been there for a short while, tech firms are attempting to tweak algorithms to make chatbots speak and answer questions in a more humanlike manner, while increasing response speeds to deliver customer service responses seamlessly.

2. Robot hospitality providers

Robotics is the most attractive facet of AI.

Although we’re still relatively far away from Star Wars-like hospitality, we’re edging closer.

Face-to-face customer engagement is an emerging trend within AI for the tourism industry, Hilton Hotels were the first to integrate this new tech through its welcome bot called Connie.

Connie uses AI and speech recognition to provide information to all customers who speak to it.

Examples like this will increase as AI-powered robots are increasingly able to improve their service by quickly learning and memorizing each human interaction to create a database that would later allow customization.

3. Analyzing data

Human error will always be a common theme when it comes to sifting through files, data, and information, but AI-powered machines can eradicate those errors, completing it faster, cheaper, and more accurately.

From that, the data processed by these intelligent machines can help industries shape their strategies based on customer feedback, needs, wants, and behaviors.

4. AR steps in

AI and AR have always had a natural relationship; this is a type of digital technology which enhances a person’s perception of their environment when viewed through dedicated devices or smartphones.

As smartphone penetration is increasing YoY, the step towards AR-enabled travel apps seems like a no-brainer. National tourism organizations, hotel chains and top tourist sites – they all use AR apps to improve the overall visitor experience with interactivity and instantly accessible information.

Some attraction owners and managers are using AR to provide tourists with AR-powered tour guides that can pop-up and provide further details and information on-site. Not only that, but the tech can be used to guide the user through the site to offer the absolute best experience the site has to offer.

The road ahead is rather long before AI fully takes the wheel in the tourism industry. However, travel and tourism companies are persistently trying to look for areas where AI can empower their services in the long-term.