Artificial Intelligence has been among us for longer than we realise, but we are getting closer to exploring and exploiting its full potential. Our way of life could be completely transformed over the next few years, not even decades, and the power to reshape norms that AI has is already visible in the travel industry.
Starting from the smallest contributions, assistant chatbots have existed for a long time. They can be annoying sometimes, when you have a very specific question and you just want to reach a human operator as soon as possible, but most of the time they are great at answering technical questions and saving customers the time of scrolling through tedious terms and conditions.
AI robots have started being used by different travel service providers. Already in 2021, MSC Cruises deployed a robot bartender on one if its ships, capable of speaking 8 languages, dancing, dazzling guests with its space knowledge and, of course, mix cocktails. Hotels have also started using robots for services varying from check-in to luggage carrying and room cleaning. In the realm of aviation, Emirates launched the world’s first robot check-in assistant at Dubai airport last year.
A step forward in the direction of automation, facial recognition and biometric technologies are increasingly being used to streamline travelling, especially at airports. In Europe, airports in Lithuania and Frankfurt were among the first to adopt some form of contactless travel. British Airways is also testing biometric boarding on selected flights, allowing passengers to skip showing their passports. Most recently, Portugal’s 5 biggest airports announced they would be implementing biometrics seamless travel by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, in October last year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) successfully tested the first fully integrated, biometrics-based digital identity travel experience, from shopping for flights to arriving at the destination, on a journey from London Heathrow (LHR) to Rome Fiumicino (FCO) with British Airways. According to IATA, the test flight illustrates the potential of a future, fully integrated, digital travel experience, leveraging biometrics through the optimisation of five key stages of travelling: personalised offers, simplified orders, effortless travel requirements check, simplified and secured check-ins and contactless airport experiences.
AI is not merely changing the way we travel; it’s revolutionising the very essence of our travel experiences, making them efficient, intuitive and deeply enriching.Jane Sun, Chief Executive Officer, Trip.com Group
Beyond the potential for seamless travel, AI is being deployed to create highly personalised holiday itineraries for travellers. Last year, just months apart from each other, all the major travel booking platforms (Expedia, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Trip.com) launched ChatGPT powered travel assistants, all of which having the capacity to suggest destinations and activities on the individual traveller’s needs, requirements and personal preferences. This has the potential to completely revolutionise the way we travel in a way that, instead of spending hours scouting possible destinations and things to do, minute-planned journeys can be presented to us in mere seconds.
Lastly, once reaching a destination itself, the full potential of AI through augmented reality (AR) is still untapped. Last year, Google Maps rolled out AI immersive view and AR features that create “true-to-life scenes” with layered in-picture information and even allowing users to explore the inside of some buildings. Soon after, the Singapore Tourism Board partnered with Google to create AR tours, for example, at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, visitors can listen to a string quartet performing on top of the national monument.
Museums around the world have also started using AR to enhance their exhibitions and offer visitors more immersive experiences. There are different ways that museums can use AR, it can provide extra information about the exhibits, display digital versions of artists right next to their artworks, complement a display with sounds, highlight contrasts with the current reality or project views of ancient times.
In the realm of experiences, AR can take simple actions and completely transform them. Early last year, for example, four Brussels residents decided to re-create the Mario Kart game experience on a racetrack that combines karting with videogames. Using both virtual and augmented reality technology, the developers added exciting interactions between karts and virtual elements such as power-ups and obstacles, taking karting to a whole other level.
So far, AI has slithered into our lives little by little, optimising activities without us even realising what’s behind. How the travel industry will go from here and what other features the technology can bring to travelling remains to be seen, but we are undoubtably far from fully digitalised experiences.