AI is the new norm for travel tech – not only because of COVID-19. But, if anything, the pandemic accelerated the trend. Several hospitality companies turned to AI to innovate to retain customers and deliver better online experiences during the lockdowns that affected many countries worldwide. Looking back at 2020 and the first half of 2021, here are some of the AI-powered travel innovations that will continue to make a difference in travel.
Hopper – an AI-powered platform enabling users to book flights, hotels, and cars – got a cash infusion of $175 million in August’s series G round of funding. The backers were GPI Capital, Glade Brook Capital, WestCap, Goldman Sachs Growth, and Accomplice. Hopper, however, is just a search and booking platform. Still, it is a practical app with excellent benefits for those able to travel. Moreover, when the COVID-19 restrictions fade away, Hopper can potentially rival Booking.com, Expedia, and some metasearch engines if – and only if – it will get endorsements from even more prominent backers and succeeds in attracting more customers than its main competitors.
AI-powered Travel Innovations: British Airways Bill AI-powered Robots
Bill the AI-powered robots in service at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London are named for Lt. E. H. “Bill” Lawford, the captain of the world’s first scheduled international service Air Transport and Travel, British Airways’s predecessor. The robots are the result of a collaboration between the airline and BotsAndUs. They offer real-time flight information and answers to FAQs in several languages. Additionally, the bots can freely move around the airport terminal, escorting passengers to specific locations like check-in zones.
Suppose your travels take you to Nagasaki in Japan, and you are a fan of futuristic experiences. In that case, the Henn-na Hotel is staffed by AI-powered robots. You have fun robots at the reception, a robot arm in the storage locker, and even a 360° in VR space with custom Henn-na VR games. And, at the Henn-na Café, you get drinks prepared and served by a robot that chats, sings, and dances too. The hotel is on the grounds of the Huis Ten Bosch (ハウステンボス, Hausu Ten Bosu) Duche-themed park in Sasebo. You should know that, although the human staff is available in case of emergencies, the hotel is mainly tech powered. For example, a facial recognition system records an image of each guest’sabre’sCloud’st’s face, permitting keyless access to guest rooms. While the robots are not among the most recent AI-powered travel innovations – they have been in use for a while now – they are still interesting to illustrate how AI is shaping the future.
A collaboration with Google gives Sabre a first-in-industry AI-technology travel platform that will enable customers to use the latest artificial intelligence technology to take their retailing and customer strategies to the next level;
“With the creation of Sabre Travel AI, we are rebuilding our platform on cloud-native, data-driven technology that can be integrated into the existing and future products that Sabre offers. We are combining Google Cloud’s infrastructure, AI, and machine-learning capabilities with Sabre’s deep travel domain knowledge to create, not next, but third-generation solutions that we believe are smarter, faster, and more cost-effective – a first-of-its-kind in travel.”Sundar Narasimhan, president of Sabre Labs
Honda Avatar Robot and eVTOL Aircraft
Honda revealed new initiatives and core technologies poised to change the future of travel by 2030. For example, the Honda eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft will make mobility in the skies more accessible. The aircraft will be used primarily for intra-city (inside the city) transportation. It features a gas turbine hybrid power unit, electrification technologies, combustion, aerodynamics, and AI-control technologies.
The avatar robot features Honda’s original AI-supported remote control function. It has a multi-fingered hand that performs complex tasks quickly and accurately controlled by the users through the AI-supported, intuitive remote controller. Honda aims to demonstrate testing the Honda Avatar Robot before the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024, with a vision to put it into practical use in the 2030s. A possible application for the remotely-controlled robots is on the lunar surface, minimizing the risks astronauts are usually exposed to or enabling people to virtually enjoy the experience of being on the Moon from Earth.
Honda’s AI-powered travel innovations are indeed part of a larger vision of a high-tech powered future with low impact on the environment.
OYO and Microsoft Azure
Oyo and Microsoft entered a strategic alliance to transform the travel industry digitally. As a result, Oyo will integrate Microsoft’s cloud and AI capabilities to “reimagine the hospitality and travel tech industry.” According to the news, “small and independent hotels and homeowners across the world will have access to OYO’s latest technology to manage their guests’ experience, increase revenue, and run operations seamlessly with the security and scalability of Microsoft Azure.” These types of AI-powered travel innovations help hotel managers focus on the guest experience rather than spending time figuring out complex tech tasks.
Chicago: “The Bean”
AI-powered travel assistant “The Bean” takes its name from the iconic Chicago reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. The virtual assistant was launched in early September 2021 and operates on the official Choose Chicago city website.
“Getting visitors to Chicago is Choose Chicago’s core mission, and with today’s new hybrid, always-on world, we knew that we needed to build solutions to help visitors make the most of their Chicago journey. That is why we created The Bean, an AI-powered chatbot,” shared Glenn Eden, Board Chair of Choose Chicago. “We knew that we needed to create an experience with universal appeal, so we partnered with Northwestern University Medill School’s Knight Lab, a diverse, multi-disciplinary, and multi-generational community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces. And, of course, given the millions of visitors that come to Millennium Park each year, we knew that our friend, The Bean, would be a great resource to know what is on the mind of visitors, so we asked The Bean to be our partner as well.”Glenn Eden, Board Chair of Choose Chicago
Predict.X Travel combines travel, expense, card, and meetings data. Predictive analytics provides travel and expense managers with opportunities to control costs and optimize employee travel programs.
“For travel specifically, we use technology like machine learning to combine data sources including TMC, card, expense, corporate hierarchy, supplier and meetings data and provide a 360° travel program view. Our intuitive analytics applications provide travel‐related data on-demand at an executive summary and category manager level while simultaneously allowing drill‐downs to the supplier, department, trip, and detailed transactions.”Simon Carmouche, director of product, Predict.X
To conclude, AI can reshape all the aspects of the travel industry, from booking hotels to more complex applications for managers. It is a technology that improves the travel experience for consumers while assisting travel managers and operators in navigating complex marketing and operations processes. AI is a game-changer and the logical solution for the future of travel and hospitality.