In 2016, global digital travel sales were $630 billion. By 2020, they are projected to reach $818 billion - an increase of 30 percent in just four years. This rapid growth is being fueled by new applications of technology to the travel and hospitality industries. Developments such as travel chatbots and virtual assistants, analytics-based fare forecasting, human-like interactions with digital virtual assistants and facial recognition scanning and surveillance are the new drivers of industry growth.
Along with these developments come heightened customer expectations. They want an improved customer experience through a streamlined UX, enhanced price transparency, faster services, easier searching and scheduling, personalized content, and even instant contingency planning.
Here are just a handful of the most impressive ways AI and data science trends are changing the digital travel space:
Recommendation engines and contingency planning tools
If you enjoyed a recent trip to Malta, could Thailand be your next destination? Personalized suggestion engines assess user activity, previous travel and search history preferences to advise on future trips, hotel bookings, car rentals, new travel routes, and even nearby points of interest.
Stormy weather on the horizon? A trip to Burma that is cancelled at the last minute does not need to be a total disappointment when your travel app suggests an alternate flight to Vietnam leaving in an hour instead. Disruption management tools like 4site are being designed to monitor weather and travel delays while tracking corporate travelers and to respond proactively if a flight cancellation or any other disruption is anticipated, putting contingency plans into user hands precisely when they are needed.
Flight and hotel fare forecasting
When hotels are apt to change room rates daily and airfare fluctuations often appear to have no rhyme or reason, wouldn't it be great to have a way to guess their prices in advance? Utilizing seasonal trends, historical fare data and several other factors, sites such as Fareboom are doing just that. By using Fareboom's self-learning algorithms, which can predict future hotel and airline prices, their users can more accurately anticipate their travel expenses.
Travel chatbots and virtual assistants
Whether users are meeting up with Connie, the robotic concierge; downloading Lola, the iPhone business travel app; enabling the Kayak skill on Alexa; or tapping into any of countless other forms of AI chatbots and intelligent virtual assistants, their trip-planning journey is getting a major boost from virtual assistants. Booking, transportation, schedule managing, making suggestions on sightseeing tours, comparing hotel amenities and placing your lunch order for you - these conversational bots are doing it all. Rather than replacing human agents, most of them work in tandem with humans to streamline the user experience.
Facial recognition surveillance and scanning
Anyone traveling through Dubai may soon become familiar with the Dubai airport's virtual aquarium. But while you're admiring the fish, keep in mind: This no ordinary fish tank! As guests enjoy looking up, down, left and right at the fish, AI-powered scanners will be using facial recognition to identify and maintain surveillance on them. While other airports and travel centers are sure to equip themselves with similar technology, we can look forward to not only safe travels, but also the elimination of long check-in lines; these scanners work with optimal efficiency in less than a second.
The future is bright… and powered by AI
As we enter a new era of travel and hotel technology, we can look forward to the optimization of these systems and more.
Watch for AI-based customer loyalty programs that increase customer retention through personalized rewards, sentiment analysis tools using TripAdvisor and other review sites or OTAs to enhance customer satisfaction and the increasing use of natural language processing (NLP) to assist with everything from basic bookings to processing information alongside human staff in emergency situations.
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