The travel industry was one of the most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel makes a comeback amidst uncertainties around COVID, the industry is taking advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) to make travel planning easier and reaching the destination safer. The travel industry, like many other AI-driven industries, is making rapid progress by leveraging AI-powered tools and solutions available right now.
In a nutshell, AI is seen as a key enabler in making the overall travel experience smoother for travellers. It is also seen as a helping hand for travel companies to improve their business. From understanding travellers, predicting their behaviour, improving travel experience, to revenue management, AI is integral to the comeback of the travel industry.
AI is also being used for data analysis, calculations and problem solving. Here is a look at how AI is being applied in the travel industry right now.
Facial Recognition is considered as the pinnacle of AI advancement, but facial recognition as a technology has been around for nearly two decades. While it was never widely deployed in the travel industry, facial recognition systems and airport security scanning devices are slowly making their presence felt at big international airports and could even be preferred due to the shift in travel caused by the pandemic.
These systems work by capturing a photo of yours when you enter the airport and then matching it against your boarding pass and travel documents associated with that boarding pass. During the first capture process, the image recognition systems use algorithms to create a mathematical representation of your face, allowing airlines to run algorithms on it. When passengers board the flight, another camera is used to match the identity. While there is a concern around user privacy here, the technology could become more prominent now.
Robots and automation to aid customer service
Robots are now increasingly replacing human agents in the travel industry. They can be seen in the customer services department to help travellers with things like finding their boarding gate. The Heathrow Airport in London has already employed such robots to guide passengers in terminals and UK-based inventory management company Vero Solutions expects robots to replace check-in processes by 2030.
With automation already driving many areas of airport operation, including passenger services to luggage manoeuvring and security, robots are set to replace customer agents at airports and concierges at hotels. In Virginia, Hilton McLean has deployed Connie, the robot powered by IBM’s Watson as concierge. These robots are able to replace human agents because of their ability to speak multiple languages, improve and evolve constantly.
AI assistants and chatbots
The days when you walked to a travel agency to book your travel plans are long behind us. This is mainly because of the advancement in data science. Travel agencies now increasingly use AI and intelligent chatbots to help travellers with their booking and accommodation. These AI agents are also able to help travellers with booking vehicles online.
Intelligent chatbots, on the other hand, are becoming part of communication apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, etc. Major travel reservation platforms like Booking.com, Skyscanner and Expedia use such chatbots to communicate with their clients and are usually reserved to handle easier tasks such as finding booking details, travel information, setting price alerts, etc.
AI-based applications for flight forecasting
The ability of AI to take historical data and offer predictions makes it profoundly useful for making business decisions. This same concept is being used for AI-driven flight forecasting as well. There are now a number of applications that use this technique to help travellers find the best price at the right time and even allow them to set alerts for future travel dates.
You will find this even on search platforms like Google where Google Flights offers a trend data helping you understand whether the pricing is high or within acceptable threshold. Hopper is another application that uses machine learning and flight databases to predict optimal pricing, and its extensive database makes the app one of the best in the segment.
Data analysis and data processing
The use of AI that is visible to the end users, travellers, passengers, clients, and customers is the one related to the customer service industry. However, AI is playing an extremely important role behind the scenes. It is helping the travel and tourism industry with data gathering and processing, helping these companies draw useful conclusions about their customers, business practices, and pricing strategies.
The travel industry is a treasure trove for data and the data generated each day is fed to an AI system to help companies sort through these vast sets of data accurately. The task that would be daunting for humans, AI can do effortlessly and offer results that might be better than humans at times.
The travel industry is also using AI to gauge the sentiment of travellers online. They are using AI tools to track social media sentiment about their experience. Whenever a customer posts about a particular flight or a bad experience onboard a flight, there is a tool to analyse that sentiment using a smart algorithm and offers recommendations to resolve the passenger’s concerns or take feedback.
Smart baggage handling
Airports will soon use robots and AI to fully automate their baggage handling system. Airports are estimated to handle millions of bags each year but also struggle with baggage claims and identifying lost bags. With a fully automated baggage system, AI and robots will be able to smartly handle lost luggage. In the Netherlands, the Eindhoven airport has already implemented an AI system for baggage handling.
The system does not require customers to print any luggage labels and all they need to do is simply take a picture of their luggage and upload it. With the help of a track and trace system, they can always keep track of the status and location of their luggage. The system deployed at Eindhoven airport relies on cameras in the baggage handling area and image recognition algorithms to track the luggage.