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Of tech-savvy travellers and emerging technologies: Mark Meehan

Travel portals are increasingly employing AI and automation to improve the user interface and user experience, says Mark Meehan, managing director for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, Travelport

Travel portals are increasingly employing AI and automation to improve the user interface and user experience, says Mark Meehan, managing director for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, Travelport

India has always been a land of travel. A few recent surveys have revealed that India has some of the world’s most digitally-advanced travelers, who use smart devices, and technologies more and better than their global counterparts. They use voice search to research their travel destinations, smartphones to book tickets, social media to share their experiences, and online check-ins and digital boarding passes to avoid the queues at airports.

The evolution of consumer behaviour and the travel industry is a cyclic process, each contributing to the other. Today’s consumers seek hassle-free, personalised experiences at every stage of their travel journey; and with so many choices for every kind of service, their brand loyalties are fragile. The only way for players in the travel and tourism industry to survive and succeed is by delivering outstanding experiences at every consumer touchpoint. This is where emerging technologies – as they are commonly referred to– will have an increasingly important role to play.

Several international airlines, for instance, have started using artificial intelligence (AI) to deal with social media inquiries, and virtual reality (VR) to offer a preview of the cabin space and on-board facilities. Similarly, hotels and travel companies are designing VR-based websites and apps to offer customers a virtual walk-through of hotels and nearby attractions. AI can deliver digital interactions that are conversational and personal. Online travel agencies like Yatra, MakeMyTrip and Goibibo have introduced customer service chatbots that respond to user queries. Chatbots are also used around the world for making reservations and suggesting hotel and room options. These conversations can then be analysed using machine learning to understand customer demographics, profiles, and preferences, and derive data-driven insights. Travel agencies can use this information to better customise itineraries and experiences for travellers.

Well-personalised services can lead to greater consumer satisfaction and repeat transactions. Travel portals are increasingly employing AI and automation to improve the user interface and user experience. Some rail travel portals, for instance, employ accurate location-based algorithms to predict the arrival of trains and to map train and bus routes. This allows travelers to easily plan and switch between the two transportation modes when making reservations.

When it comes to airlines or hotels, AI enables customers to easily select and compare tariffs and relevant offers for the various combinations of travel dates. They can also be automatically notified of cheaper alternatives available.

Social-media listening tools are useful for business to gauge consumer sentiment before, during and after their travel. If a traveller shares their experience on social media, the listening tool can analyse the intention and the context behind the post. This can help the businesses to take the necessary actions – such as providing additional information, suggesting more options that meet the customer’s requirements, offering them a discount on their next trip, improving specific aspects of their service, and more – to deliver an even better customer experience.

Using Big Data and Machine Learning, airlines and airports can build recommendation engines that can help them personalise offers for travellers. The internet of things (IoT) is already helping hotels, airlines, and travel companies streamline their operations by connecting smart devices to systems, and processes. IoT-based travel applications can enable travelers to get real-time notifications on their flight status, directions to their boarding gate, and instructions on security checks. They can also help tourists get useful information on sightseeing, entertainment, and food once they reach their destination.

Business travel is on the rise in India and around the world. Travel managers who seek ways to reduce costs often need to undertake the painful task of sifting through huge data silos of varying types and different sources. Instead, they can make use of AI-based travel platforms that unlock insights from internal and external data sources to help them optimise travel programs, control spends, and enhance the travel experience.

It would be fair to say that emerging technologies are enabling the transformation of the travel industry to Travel 4.0, like Industry 4.0 is doing for manufacturing. In the process of delivering seamless, personalised experiences for customers, the travel industry will probably help in ensuring that ‘emerging’ technologies are well and truly have ‘arrived’.