There is only a small but decisive difference between the ability of a machine to perform a human task and its ability to do it in a human way: empathy. Or not? The premise of the famous novel by Philip K. Dick published in 1968 Do the androids dream of electric sheep? was that empathy differentiates humans from robots. Undoubtedly, technology is eliminating this limit and it seems that robotics researchers are close to building machines capable of feeling cognitive empathy. In Spetember 2010, New Scientist reported that ROVIO robot car had tricked its rival into a game of hide and seek, an achievement that the article described as “a step towards the creation of machines that can intuit our thoughts and feelings and our intentions”
It is not surprising, that travel technology increasingly counts with artificial intelligence applications that are adding added value in the processes of marketing their products, and in the travel experience itself. And the trend will always rise, along with the cognitive advances of the machines in their performance of “human” tasks.
Next, we will see some of these applications:
The Chatbots are already old acquaintances of the tourist industry and have coexisted for a long time in very good harmony. It is true that we have been with the chatbots for a long time and it seems to be no longer a novelty, but it is also true that the technology that drives their language has managed to elevate its functionalities to much more advanced levels of sophistication. At first, they basically answered frequently asked questions. Today, in addition to being able to engage in conversations autonomously, they can perform management tasks and even carry out transactions. The bot is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, while it supports different languages and provides an immediate response to travelers’ queries.
2. Recognition of images
it is possible that we will soon retire boarding cards at airports and check-in and check-out at hotels. Validation of identity in some airports in the United States is already a reality. In Atlanta, Delta Airlines did a biometric face recognition test asking passengers to look at a camera located at the access gate to the boarding tunnel. The traveler’s face will be his new boarding pass, as reported by CNN. Thanks to this identification technology, the machines will carry out, to a large extent, the entry and exit registers of airports and hotels in the not too distant future. When the implementation of these systems is normalized, the identification processes will be greatly simplified, reducing the boarding time especially in international flights and omitting the tedious check-in procedure at the hotel reception. The biometric verification takes less than a second and everyone knows how to pose for a photo, although it has detractors like the defenders of privacy.
3. Virtual/augmented reality
Virtual reality allows a complete immersion in alien worlds. In the future tourists will be able to convince themselves almost naturally of the suitability of their place of destination thanks to virtual reality (VR, for its acronym in English) and augmented reality (AR). These technologies offer, for example, virtual tours of a hotel’s facilities, a 360-degree tour of Tokyo or circuits on computer-animated cruises. Because they can tell you how a site is, recommend an experience, show you beautiful catalogs with impressive photos … but nothing sells more than taking you for a few moments to feel firsthand what it is like to lie on a lost beach in Indonesia or observe the Himalayas from Kathmandu. Thanks to this technology, travel agencies and tourism companies can use Virtual Reality as a marketing and commercial tool, with the possibility of presenting in a more experiential way the products, the information and the way to travel. Here the question is whether one day virtual trips will ever replace the real vacation.
4. IoT and costumised contents
IoT (Internet of Things) refers to the increasing omnipresence of the Internet in the things we use every day, and how the interconnection of these objects affects our daily lives. IoT optimizes the operations of hotels, airlines and other travel companies by connecting smart devices, systems and processes. By leveraging IoT technology, the travel industry can achieve greater efficiency and a more personalized experience for guests. For example, some hotels are testing a cloud-based technology through which guests can use a portable device with RFID, a system that allows them to buy products or services at any point of sale without having to stop. Smart sensors automatically identify travelers through wearables and associate the purchase with that account. In the future, the use of this technology (which is still in its infancy) will expand to unimaginable limits today, revolutionizing the travel industry. Not only will it contribute to improving customer service and increasing revenue, but it will also facilitate the adoption of customer loyalty policies.
Artificial Intelligence is fostering a technological revolution in the tourism industry, as it manages to help clients and companies to simplify and segment all the commercial and management processes that take place during the booking of a trip.
However, empathy is currently the exclusive property of human beings, and it seems unlikely that machines can develop equivalent skills in the short term, despite what we advanced at the beginning of the post. Therefore, the travel industry must continue to focus its energy on training the professionals of tomorrow.