Chatbots are helping travelers book train tickets, while digital assistants are answering questions about flight departure times. A popular hotel in Japan is staffed by robots, and AI programs are helping major airlines plan their routes.
The travel and hospitality industries are growing increasingly tech-enabled, if not fully automated. And while travelers can save time and money using these technologies, will they miss the personal interaction that used to come with buying tickets, asking directions or finding the right accommodation? Will travelers still feel they’ve had a unique travel experience if many of the logistics are handled by algorithms?
Major travel and hospitality brands have been grappling with these questions as they further automate services like planning and booking, which were previously handled by people.
It’s a legitimate concern, as there is always the potential for new technologies to distance brands from consumers. But technology doesn’t have to feel like a faceless, digital intermediary. In fact, it can draw brands and people closer together, and make travel feel even more personal than it would otherwise.
Here are a few examples of where new innovations have made travel more personal, efficient and fun:
Voice search – Alexa might not have a pulse, but it’s a program many use in their homes on a daily basis. Bringing voice search programs into hotel rooms, like Alexa for Hospitality, means bringing an assistant you’re accustomed to using at home into your travel experience. By using voice commands, just as travelers would at home, they can leverage Alexa for hotel information, contacting guest services, playing music in their hotel room and other functions that allow for a fully personalized experience.
Immersive experiences – Selecting your lodging by looking at websites and travel brochures offers a two-dimensional view of where you will be staying. But virtual reality tours and 360-degree photos show travelers the view from all angles. Instead of distancing the traveler from the experience, technologies like these eliminate a lot of the guesswork, and offer a new kind of transparency that allows for informed travel planning. In a virtual reality tour, travelers have a better understanding of what it’s like to actually be at a resort and can feel more confident in their booking decision. By viewing 360-degree photos, it’s even possible for vacationers to know what view they’ll be waking up to in the morning.
Automation – Increased automation of the travel experience means that not every interaction will be driven by human beings, but this doesn’t have to detract from a truly personalized vacation experience. For example, with so many vacation rental booking sites available, it’s hard for people to sift through different pages to find the best fit for their travel needs. To more easily locate the best, most personalized options, automated platforms like VacationRenter can simplify the process, showing you the perfect properties to match your search.
One company taking automation to the next level in Japan, the first-ever hotel almost entirely staffed by robots, is planning to open as many as 100 new hotels by 2021 and hopes to sell as many as 1,000 unmanned reception systems to other hotel operators. Even without a human staff, the mostly automated hotel is a smash hit and provides travelers with new ways to personalize their travel experience, for example, by choosing which front desk robot to check in with and using facial recognition to enter their rooms.
These new advancements show that technology can make travel feel more personal. It’s up to travel and hospitality brands to ensure that their customers experience the convenience and enhanced personalization that comes from automation.