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Artificial Intelligence

10 AI Travel Trends for 2020 and Beyond

The travel industry is on the verge of another major disruption led by artificial intelligence. In this article, we explore 10 major AI trends in travel business and suggest what to expect in the future. 

The travel and hospitality industry has long become digital-first. Buying tickets, booking accommodation, planning out routes and activities, renting cars—all this is usually done online via automated tools.

Now, as we’ve entered the new decade, the industry is on the verge of another major all-permeating disruption: travel AI.

In terms of matching and surpassing human intelligence as a whole, today’s AI isn’t very close to the sentient android navigators and omnipotent tech systems of sci-fi films we grew up watching.

A truly self-aware, creative, adaptive, multipurpose AI might still be decades in the future, but AI consultants have already found numerous real-life applications, benefiting businesses and consumers. Neural networks expand and evolve, machine and deep learning models excel at detecting patterns, and AI-based systems designed for highly complex specific tasks keep proving effective.

Travel is actively undergoing waves of digital transformation too, with big data, machine learning, and AI at the forefront of the technological change.

Travel is actively undergoing waves of digital transformation, with big data, machine learning, and AI at the forefront of the technological change.
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AI and Intelligent Travel Solutions In 2020s: What to Expect

Five years ago, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai predicted that soon we would be moving from the mobile-first era to the AI-first one. Today, it does seem like we’re well on our way to living out that prediction, and in 2020 travel is a stark example of this shift.

Below are the top 10 transformative trends in travel AI for the new decade.

1. AI for Airport Congestion Management

What do peak holiday seasons have in common? Apart from supposedly bringing joy and excitement into peoples’ lives, it’s undoubtedly scores of distressed travelers swarming in busy airports and stations.

As the number of flights and passengers increases, both during seasonal peaks and yearly in general, the level of stress, accidents, and travel-related frustration at airports rises.

What can be done about this? Some airports battle the stress levels by having an army of dogs in their employ, roaming the premises for passengers to pet. Others go for AI solutions, like Pittsburgh International Airport, one of the first airports to use real-time AI tech to estimate and report the times passengers spend in lines based on current and historical visitor data.

Additionally, using predictive analytics to forecast flight delays and evaluate cancellation propensity can also be of service. Demand forecasting data also comes in handy, providing alerts about spikes in reservations and potentially overcrowded roads and destinations around busy periods.

2. AI for Air Travel Baggage Handling

The 2019 SITA Baggage IT Insights show that in air travel around 25 million of baggage pieces are lost or mishandled annually. When put into perspective, there’s an obvious improvement in airport baggage handling systems (compared to more than 40 million bags lost in 2007, when there were half as many travelers in the world), but the numbers are still staggering. Air traffic and passenger count is to double by 2035, so can AI put an end to the lost baggage problem on such a scale?

First and foremost, it’s a question of data gathering and sharing among airlines and airports globally. Separated AI-based handling systems have been a thing since mid-2010s. But like with any AI-driven system dealing in personal user data, especially exchanging it across borders, there are several kinks to work out. First, a global network of connected systems sharing and accessing billions of data points in baggage tracking will need to be technically robust and ensure rigorous data quality control. Second, it will also need to comply with a variety of regional regulations regarding data privacy and security.

Once there are the agreements and technical requirements in place to allow such a system to effectively operate, there’ll be the stage of enforcing new standards in order to control the weakest points in baggage travel tracking: checking in and loading, transferring between aircrafts, and unloading after arrival.

After that, with automated handling and seamless data sharing at every point of the journey, intelligent AI-based tracking will drastically minimize baggage mishandling.

3. Travel Chatbots Coming into Their Own

Hotel and flight booking is the most essential and most confusing step of trip planning at the same time. Travelers scout countless websites to find the best option, while being forced to enter the exact same information every time they visit a new booking website. Today, meaningful customer experience is what makes a difference, and AI-powered chatbots are here to help with this.

According to Salesforce, 86% of customers would rather get answers from chatbot than fill out a website form. In many cases, travelers tend to search for their perfect option on mobile, which makes form-filling even more daunting and uninspiring. AI-powered chatbots, on the other hand, can process all important information via today’s beloved communication method—messaging.

From the business standpoint, chatbots free up the valuable time of customer service reps. As Salesforce further discovered in their research, when aided with AI chatbots, agents can now spend most of their time solving more complex problems, while chatbots are successfully dealing with simple and repetitive user requests.

However, chatbot development goes far beyond booking. In air travel, chatbots are used to generate boarding passes, deliver announcements, and instruct travelers. Automated and personalized, they can remind your customers about the schedule, provide with wait time estimates, and answer any questions about in-airport navigation.

Today, meaningful customer experience is what makes a difference for online travel businesses, and AI-powered chatbots are here to help.
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4. Intelligent Travel Recommendation Services

In 2020, AI will continue conquering travel and hospitality services, including on new territories. This includes a surge of AI-based solutions for travel destination research and accommodation, with personalized recommendations based on each customer’s habits and history.

Going further, AI-powered travel assistants of the near future will be equipped with smart reminders and analytical capabilities to calculate and add corrections to travel itineraries on the go. They will also be able to automatically take into consideration things big and small like flight mile bonus count, newly discovered local events, the current geopolitical climate, cultural cues, selfie-stick bans, and more. This will result in more engaged customers, and more dynamic personalized vacation experiences with inconveniences and risk factors mitigated.

5. Smart Trip Planning

AI-powered chatbots can conveniently answer all the questions regarding your booking, but what if AI planned the whole trip for you? For example, Utrip uses machine learning algorithms to create highly personalized travel plans. Whether you are up to classic touristic sightseeing in Rome or prefer outdoor activities somewhere in the mountains, the Utrip app can book a hotel, choose a restaurant, and plan activities—everything based on your previous traveling history and tastes.

Watch the video below to see Utrip in action:

We help travel companies reinvent their customer experience with AI.

6. Overtourism Prevention

The annual number of travelers worldwide more than doubled in 15 years from 2003 to 2018, according to the World Tourism Organization. Overtourism becomes an increasingly more pressing problem: pushing out locals with a rising rent, exacerbating physical wear-and-tear of famous sites, and sometimes overburdening local economies and ecology to the point of unsustainability.

AI solutions can help travelers navigate entry caps and no-go zones, carefully manage and plan vacations abroad, come up with alternative routes, and recommend similar but less traveled destinations instead of tourist traps.

7. AI for Exposing Untapped Destinations

Helping travelers discover new destinations isn’t just about mitigating overtourism and getting true ‘local’ experiences. It is also about leveling off the distribution of tourists around the world, and about helping undiscovered and less-known destinations to get exposure. There are, in fact, still much more places around the world where travelers are welcomed rather than not.

The number of tourists and travelers on a global scale is only to grow, and it’s a matter of sustaining places of interest both less known and those too popular for their own good. It’s a question of creating better, more inclusive databases for travel agencies and personal-use recommendation services.

8. AI Travel Security

Besides indisputable advantages of AI in driving customer satisfaction and revenues, the technology also plays an important role in travel safety. Security systems in airports, stations, and busy tourist hubs are getting a considerable boost with AI-driven tech.

After AI fills up its data belly with relevant data points, it becomes far better at identifying security threats than a human being. For example, the Evolv Edge checkpoint system can automatically detect weapons and any other prohibited or dangerous objects by analyzing data collected via facial recognition and millimeter-wave technologies. Currently, Evolv Edge allows for 10x faster throughput than traditional X-ray systems.

Other AI-based security tools might not be so visible to customers. For example, aircraft manufacturer Airbus uses AI to predict and prevent potential aircraft system malfunction. The machine learning tool collects huge amounts of data, which then run through an AI-based application for maintenance planning.

AI plays an important role in travel safety, from airport security to aircraft maintenance.
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9. AI and Commuting

Car-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber have always been all about using AI and big data in every facet of their services. A continuation of their quest for convenience, cutting costs, and industry sector domination, self-driving cars are their next heavy investment.

Extensive testing going on for years now, a number of robot-taxi services are expected to launch in the early-to-mid 2020s around the world. It is possible that full automation of public transportation systems and moving on to driverless buses and trains will be soon to follow.

The almost-there rise of the unmanned vehicle will bring about a lot of complicated socio-economic changes and questions; but the major change that’ll be unequivocally for the better is a much higher travel safety, as AI is to ensure fewer crashes and casualties on the roads.

10. AI for Breaking Language Barriers

There are multiple applications of natural language processing for text and speech recognition, and various smart tools for dealing with unfamiliar situations and communication abroad are proved to be the most prominent.

Real-time audio-translators are becoming a notable fixture in travelers’ digital arsenal. With Google Interpreter and its Smart Reply function freshly released for mobile, the tech giant is again getting closer to breaking the language barriers between people, giving options to translate speech on the fly from and into 44 languages.

Along with the already popular Google Lens and instant camera-aided translations, Smart Reply and other similar technologies by other companies will encourage more people to travel to places with different languages spoken. As real-time audio translation tools mature and become more readily available, more people will be confident to travel on their own rather than in groups, thus getting more authentic, personalized and less curated experiences.

Real-time audio-translators are becoming a notable fixture in travelers’ digital arsenal.
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In Conclusion

AI has been permeating every industry around the world. In many cases, companies still use AI as a means of raising brand awareness. In other cases, the presence of AI is already having a very real impact on business processes and customer satisfaction.

The 2020s are to become an era of many technological shifts. Internet of everything is likely to become truly omnipresent, quantum computing is to have commercial and real-life impact on the society and tech, hyper automation and distributed cloud are expected to be the major strategic technology trends of the next few years.

Society, on its part, is experiencing a cultural shift toward accepting the widespread adoption of AI as inevitable. As much as some don’t want to admit it, the culture of instant gratification is only flourishing, and AI plays huge role in this. People start to worry less about how machines get their information and gladly accept the convenience provided by them.

As the AI-first approach is changing the technological landscape, resetting the course of digital transformation and heightening the demands, more AI-related changes in the travel and hospitality industry are soon to follow.

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