Whether we like it or not, the robots are taking over. Countless industries have been affected immeasurably by the influence and impact of artificial intelligence, and those that haven’t been besieged yet are likely to experience the A.I tech revolution soon. As we become increasingly interconnected, more of us than ever are travelling regularly, and this is one sector which could be significantly redefined by the emerging A.I revolution.
What exactly does A.I. mean?
For many people, the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ conjures images of futuristic androids (or possibly Arnold Schwarzenegger). In reality, A.I isn’t quite that advanced yet.
In its simplest sense, A.I refers mainly to ‘machine learning’. It might sound scary, but it’s essentially just a piece of software that can receive information, and then use that information to dictate a response. This could be a simple answer to a question (i.e. when searching for something on the internet), or something more elaborate, like chess-playing computer programs.
As technology advances, though, so does the potential of these kinds of programs and systems. Many of us fondly remember the amusingly inaccurate chatbots of the early days of instant messaging, but those times are long gone.
Machine learning and A.I have become markedly more sophisticated over the past 10 years, and have become integral parts of many people’s day to day lives. Many of us even use home assistants like Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ or Google’s ‘Home’, without even realising that they apply the principles of machine learning constantly.
How has the travel industry already been affected?
In our rapidly-advancing modern era, the travel industry is in an almost constant state of flux, with travel trends regularly evolving and changing. The traditional ‘week-by-the-pool’ holiday has been subverted by millennials who prefer backpacking and ‘gap year’ adventures. High-net-worth individuals meanwhile are increasingly likely to look into something like a property investment fund, rather than a single second home abroad.
The changing habits of travellers are carving a path for artificial intelligence. Using data from sources such as website analytics, surveys, email exchanges and even telephone calls, A.I software is already being used by many travel businesses to map out exactly what their customers need and want, and how to provide this.
For many of these companies, this has proved so successful that it’s likely we’ll see the ways A.I is implemented in the travel industry broaden and expand fairly rapidly. There are also suggestions that it could take on completely new and distinctly more exciting forms.
How could A.I. become an integral part of travel?
Travelling is a complex, personal and ultimately human experience, and the ways technology can be involved are inestimable. There are, however, a number of generally universal facets of travel that consumers engage with – and A.I is already showing signs of becoming an integral part of these.
One of the most significant ways A.I is being used is to provide travellers with personalised recommendations and suggestions for their trips.
By learning from the choices of other travellers and users, A.I. software can develop a deep understanding of the likely booking habits of new customers – saving the global explorer hassle, and saving travel providers time and money.
A staple of the hospitality industry has been the personal concierge. Tailored personal services have been offered by all kinds of travel providers to make sure clients can easily source advice; this is not to mention feeling well treated, respected and valued as a consumer.
But A.I robot concierges could be on the horizon. In 2016 the Hilton hotel chain debuted ‘Connie’, an adorable if somewhat slightly sinister-looking robot concierge. As A.I. becomes more intelligent, and can draw on more sources of information, it could feasibly surpass a single person’s ability to provide advice on places to stay, eat, and explore.
What Will Travel A.I. Look Like?
While the prospect of humanoid I-Robot-esque hotel managers might be the go-to assumption for future travel A.I. systems, the real likelihood is that most of them will be screen-based.
The vast majority of artificial intelligence software is internet-based, and one of the biggest ways A.I. is making waves in the travel industry is through smartphone and tablet apps. It’s easier than ever for companies to develop their own app software, and by integrating various A.I. technology into these apps, businesses will be able to open exciting doors to new possibilities.
Independent travel apps are also gaining traction, and provide ingenious solutions for things travellers may not have even considered. From currency exchange services, to apps which can find you a vegan restaurant, travel apps are nothing new – but some are finding ways of incorporating A.I. more intelligently.
A great example of this is ‘Lola’, a chat app used to book trips, which smoothly combines messaging with a chatbot and a human advisor to find the best solutions for users.
This one’s a bit more of a reach, but could be more likely than one might first assume. Scottish travel agency Barrhead announced this week that it will be filling its stored with metre-high A.I. robots, which will ‘zip around the stores’ answering questions and directing customers to relevant advisors. On top of this, voice-activated holograms – or ‘Tensator Virtual Assistants’ – will greet and assist customers on entry.
A.I. like these is being targeted at customers at the discovery stage of the consumer journey – those people who are seeking information or advice, and haven’t made any decisions yet. The main purpose of the technology is to direct clients to human advisors, but as the technology advances, only time will tell if this remains the focus for these systems.
The Future of Travel?
A.I. is no longer an alien or sci-fi concept – it exists, it’s everywhere, and it’s making many of the things we do in our day-to-day lives easier. Some industries have cottoned on to the potential of this software quickly, and the travel sector is already implementing it in an increasing number of ways.
If there’s a concern about A.I., it’s what the knock-on effect will be for the people who currently provide the services that artificial intelligence could ‘take over’ in future. In its present state, the technology is mainly being used to galvanise and assist those working in the sector; but as many industries have seen, this could all change if it proves cheaper and more efficient to replace staff with these systems.
We can’t be certain what the future of the travel industry will look like, but the signs are there – and in years to come, who knows: maybe as you leave your hotel, you’ll be shown out by a Terminator asking if you’ll be back.