Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

In the AI world, travelling feels like staying at home

Artificial intelligence is increasingly becoming the silent partner that accompanies us when we travel

They say technology has taken away the charm of the experience of travelling, with people spending much of their time posing for selfies and locating the perfect angle of a scenery to get more likes on social media rather than actually living in the moment.

But what they forget is how technology has made travelling so easy and convenient. Artificial intelligence (AI) has now become the silent partner that accompanies us when we travel. It’s been present for years in the form of chatbots and personalized search platforms. Now, technology has decoded personalization without interaction with the help of AI, and the landscape is only advancing to improve customer experience.

RARE, a platform that helps travellers discover experiential holidays, uses a simple bot for users to leave contact details and queries on the website. “This is helpful and non-intrusive, as users leave their details and preferences, and we get back to them with suitable suggestions without pinging them repeatedly while they’re on the website," says founder Shoba Mohan. “It has helped us gain insights over the years and connect with our possible clients in a more meaningful way with real solutions."

Though RARE’s usage of technology is fortified with human connection, larger aggregators tell a different story. High-tech touch points can specifically be seen in online travel aggregators and booking engines like Mumbai-based Cleartrip. “We use machine learning in combination with data analytics to streamline search and discovery by retaining the travel-related information previously entered by Cleartrip users across platforms. We also use it to help customers make confident decisions on problems revolving around when to book and when to fly," says Rajiv Thondanoor, chief product officer, Cleartrip. The company uses a predictive model to identify best options for travellers. “We are able to simplify the decision-making process. For instance, customers looking to make a travel plan for the third week of November might be open to flying in the fourth week if they get better fares. Here, machine learning and data analytics capabilities are leveraged to govern decisions with the best available choice. These technologies, though at a nascent stage, can enhance the customer experience," says Thondanoor.

Others believe AI has the potential to disrupt the travel industry through tectonic shifts in the way things function. “AI at the Lufthansa Group is not only being applied to create personalized offers for actively subscribed customers but also has a more evolved use. Our aviation platform, Aviatar, is an area of AI leadership to create smart aircrafts, continuously learning and reducing disruption in aircraft operations, improving reliability further and contributing to making flying more sustainable, “says George Ettiyil, senior director sales (South Asia), Lufthansa Group Airlines.

AI has made quantum leaps in digital interactions on social media platforms, facial recognition technology for immigration services, customs and boarding. Facial recognition technology is being adopted as a part of the security processes in China, France and the US. This is likely to not only enhance security systems, but also speed up the process of immigration and boarding. A number of airports in India are running pilot projects on similar lines.

Hotels, on the other hand, have always been human-intensive experiences with customization and real communication at the core, but some are taking a futuristic view to personalization.

“AI can improve the buying experience by analysing vast quantities of data in real-time," says Jean-Michel Cassé, chief operating officer, Accor, India and South Asia. The Accor chain has introduced a smart room prototype in its headquarters in Paris. The room uses multiple connected devices, including Google Home voice assistant. Guests can decide the lighting, change their bed headboard or even settings of the audio-visual equipment without lifting a finger. It also includes solutions to induce sleep or wake guests. The company also offers an Accor digital card, which collects data and preferences of customers to curate experiences. With the card’s help, teams also gather information regarding food habits or choice of in-room amenities. “Of all the technologies affecting the world of travel, AI is one with the greatest potential," says Cassé.

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