With paperless boarding passes, biometric self-service security and in some places robots to assist customers as they make their way around terminals, it is clear to see that technology is impacting the way we travel.
However, as well as changing journeys themselves, technology is having a significant impact on every part of the travel process.
With the announcement earlier this month that travel agency Thomas Cook had gone into administration, it is clear that even established brands are in danger of collapse. Therefore, the need to keep up with customer demands for a frictionless booking process is of high importance in the industry. Technology is one way of achieving this.
This evident in Booking.com’s travel predictions for 2020. The company believes that 2020 will see travellers increasingly looking to technology to make decisions when planning a trip. Tech-led recommendations will be at the heart of this, with travellers expected to put their trust in artificial intelligence for recommendations of new places to visit, places to stay and things to do, based on preferences and previous habits.
According to Booking.com’s recent research, 44% of those surveyed would be willing to use an app to pre-plan their activities, with 46% happy to use apps to make it faster and easier to research and book.
According to Technavio, the global travel technology market is expected to grow by $6.4bn between 2019 and 2023.
Because of this, those in the travel and tourism industry are increasingly looking for new channels to reach customers in ways that appeal to their need for convenience, speed and user-friendly digital experience.
EasyJet recently launched an feature designed to make “your Instagram travel inspiration a reality”. Found within the easyJet app, Look&Book allows customers to upload an image, and then find out where the image was taken, along with how to book flights to said destination.
Aditi Mehta, Solution Strategy Director for Travel at PROS believes that the near future will see more airlines investing in this type of technology in order to compete:
“Because of this trend, airlines are investing heavily in technology to offer more tailored, personalised experiences via their online and mobile channels. They see this as an opportunity to own the end to end experience for a traveler and help them find exactly what they are looking for when it comes to price, location, time, and add-on services like hotels and tours. The travel companies that are able to provide this experience seamlessly and in real-time will be able to capture market share and have more sustainable business models in this digital economy.”
AI and travel planning
AI and machine learning based travel planning is also expected to become a key part of creating a more personalised travel experience. Such technology is already used to scour the internet for the cheapest flights, but is now being utilised to organise other elements of a holiday.
Apps such as TripIt, which takes travellers travel plans and automatically orgainises them into an easy-to-understand itinery, have grown in popularity. According to Deliotte, consumers have begun to expect personalised recommendations based on past behaviours, indicating that the travel planning process could be due a major transformation, on a similar scale to the move from physical travel agents to online services, if customers are willing to part with enough personal information.
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Launched a few years ago, travel app Lola uses natural language processing to understand users’ travel needs, and then generates a series of recommended itineraries based on this. For more extreme trips, there is GOEX,an app which uses AI to assess how dangerous a trip will be, based on a variety of factors, allowing users to plan accordingly.
Although it may be a while before AI is wholly responsible for the travel planning process, Booking.com found that there is an appetite for this technology, 29% of global travellers would be willing to let a computer plan a trip based on previous holidays.
Andri Kristinsson, CEO and co-founder of Travelade said:
“The key advantage of adopting AI to do this is its ability to sort through vast amounts of data, quickly and accurately, giving a clearer picture of what is going on in real-time. In the near future, we’ll no doubt see a rise in innovative travel startups that are able to make use of such technology to find solutions. For example, providing travellers with the tailored experiences they seek, but also serving to move them away from the overcrowded cities of Venice and Reykjavik, to more unique alternatives, such as Verona and Húsavík, continuing to expand holidaymaker’s vision and experiences.”
Furthermore, voice assistants are also predicted to play an increasingly important role in travel planning. Earlier this year Dutch Airline KLM became the first to offer an “inspirational service” via Amazon Alexa. KLM’s Travel Guide offers personal advice based on preferences for flight duration, budget, travel dates and specifications.
Sunil Bannur, Europe business head for travel and digital at Sonata Software said:
“Chatbots are revolutionising online customer service and there is already widespread use of them on social media platforms, messaging apps and digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana. Customers can get immediate responses to questions that travel agent representatives may not have the answers to as readily. In years to come we can expect to see some ground-breaking innovations. Chatbots will be incorporated into vehicles to act as tour guides that answer questions from holidaymakers. Or giving suggestions or ideas for an excursion or restaurant or activity when you are in the resort.
“Virtual AI assistants have been surfacing all over the world and we can expect to see better and more advanced versions that will provide us with automated real-time help. These Virtual AI assistant/auto ticketing machines will answer frequently asked questions or offer directions as well as dispense travel tickets, with the AI machines learning from each human interaction to further broaden their knowledge to improve the accuracy of their responses.”