Vikram Kohli, President, FCM Travel Solutions
FCM Travel Solutions is the corporate travel business of the Flight Centre Travel Group. The company is headquartered in Brisbane and operates a network spanning over 90 countries across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific and the Americas.
The year 2018 has been a year where the world is embracing smart technology in travel and hospitality. The industry has prepared itself to stay a step ahead of the increasingly tech-savvy traveller. With every passing day, technology is rapidly revolutionising travel by maximising efficiencies, improving experience and increasing choice and options for the average traveller worldwide, especially in the Indian market. Rapid penetration of smart phones, near field communication, in-flight WIFI, faster networks and many such advances are only accelerating the penetration of technology into every aspect of travel. Services like Self-Booking Tools, Travel Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Sharing Economy Services are not only here to stay but hold myriad and exciting possibilities for the future.
"Artificial Intelligence is changing the rules for the travel industry and the ability to predict the behaviour of travellers, which would unlock new revenue opportunities for travel players"
Technology developments in AI-led travel, have expanded enough to include driverless trains and cars, chatbots in travel booking tools, drones and even driverless ships. Artificial Intelligence is changing the rules for the travel industry and the ability to predict the behaviour of travellers, which would unlock new revenue opportunities for travel players. Global travel brands such as Marriott, Uber and Hilton are deploying AI solutions to understand behaviour of travellers and identify ‘attributes’ to enhance revenues and travellers’ experience.
These service providers provide travel services through a web-based platform with travellers experiencing human interaction only at the point of using the services. Sharing economy provides twin advantages of lower costs (compared to incumbent travel service providers) and an online interactive user-friendly travel management platform.
Artificial Intelligence is beneficial for both the business and the consumer. A few years ago, planning a trip had a list of time consuming procedures that had to be carried which includes a visit to the travel agent, booking the flight tickets and paying commission. The planning continues at the destination with things like finding a hotel, deciding on the places to visit and hiring a tour guide. But nowadays, in a technologically enriched and automated world with interactive machines, travelling has become very easy! Just searching the name of the destination would give the traveller all the possible recommended places to visit, nearby hotels and rates to compare, and flight rates via advertisements or push notifications. This is all due to AI.
Specifically, in the travel and hospitality industry, chatbots and virtual assistants are enabling a fundamental shift in how people interact with technology. Over the next decade, they have the potential to become a core part of normal experience across most everyday activities of people. Chatbots simplify the end-to-end booking process with natural language commands. Due to the amount of data required for true intelligence, there are currently only a few advanced travel applications with actual AI. Chatbot is a travel assistant designed to simplify life for corporate travellers by blending artificial intelligence with the expertise of a real travel consultant. It can assist in all aspects of travel via a 24-hour conversational interface, including Facebook, WhatsApp and in-app chatbot, answering questions, making recommendations and performing actions. It can pick up on cues, such as travel patterns and preferences, to update travellers accordingly; the more a traveller uses it the more intelligent the Chatbot becomes. So that, information delivered to the user is even more personalised. Most things marketed as chatbots are still interfaces placed over existing legacy systems, or they have humans hurriedly processing the commands at the back end.
Virtual assistants, on the other hand, perform tasks for an individual based on user information and access from many external sources such as user flight schedules, hotel availabilities, country events, weather, and traffic conditions. Scheduling is handled particularly well by virtual assistants. In the near future, a virtual assistant could scan its user’s calendar to identify events that require travel and, accordingly, offers to book flights proactively, while considering the traveller’s preferences and past booking behaviour. Virtual assistants would change the way people make travel plans as they increasingly become the new mediators between travel players and travellers.
However, security concern is one of the challenges, along with cost effectiveness and user acceptance, that need to be carefully evaluated while working out the pace and operating process for introduction of any new technology. Many researchers have suggested that increased model complexity would be the best solution, however, not enough research has been done to innovate against the multi-billion-dollar sector of AI.
The technological advancement of AI has already proven to achieve significant results in several industries due to its practical advantages. The travel industry is no exception in being one of the industries that were boosted by it. Predictions about the forthcoming future envision the development of personalised solutions which will further the technological advancement of the travel and tourism industry. Artificial Intelligence is now able to penetrate every element of the travel process, and it has made reaching our destination easier.