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Is Artificial Intelligence Really Disrupting Travel?

Giri DevanurForbes Councils Member

Forbes Technology CouncilCommunityVoice


Giri Devanur

President and CEO Serial entrepreneur: 1 IPO, 2 exits, 27+ yrs. in tech. EandY Entrepreneur of the year. Author, Nothing to Nasdaq


We have been hearing for months that AI will kill millions of jobs — that technology will take over all aspects of the travel industry and so on.

Let’s take this onslaught of information and clinically dissect it to get a clearer view of how the travel industry will be affected. We can broadly define the core aspects of the travel industry in three main categories: preparation, buying and the actual experience itself.

1. Preparation

Assume you want to go from New York to London on vacation. If you are bringing your family of four or five people, you will likely end up searching for hours on various search engines like Kayak or Expedia to get the right itinerary and number of stops, book the nearest airport, etc. This is a time-consuming and frustrating part of the vacation planning process.

Finding the right prices, times and quality is the primary challenge every vacation traveler faces online. This applies to everything, from flights to booking hotels.

This might come as a shock to people, as technology has proliferated across all aspects of the travel industry. But companies have put too much focus on technology and have forgotten that customer service is very important. Try to speak to a customer service representative at one of the many online travel agencies (OTAs). Wait times for these agencies can be brutally long, especially during emergencies.

AI will hopefully solve some of these issues. Specialized algorithms can seamlessly transition between humans and systems when an OTA is handling an irate customer. Google’s data shows that 36% of consumers are willing to pay more for these personalized experiences. However, a poor customer experience will not be fully saved by new technology — at least not immediately.

2. Buying

There are so many prices and restrictions when making a travel purchase, and customers feel helpless in most cases. We are seeing that because of these reasons, many customers are switching back to travel agents.

Offline travel agents, with the help of the latest technologies, can do a better job of providing higher levels of customer satisfaction. AI will make this transformation much easier for travel agents.

If someone is looking for a plain booking from point A to point B, OTAs do a decent job. But when someone has to book a complex trip with more than two or three passengers, it becomes harder and more expensive to use an OTA. Consumers use a staggering 38 sites before they pick a package.

Imagine the frustrations and challenges a consumer has to go through before they book. OTA’s websites have also introduced dynamic pricing models, where prices fluctuate due to demand. While this can be a boon to customers in some regards, it still causes great confusion.

3. Travel Experience

Technologies that were meant to help have made travel more painful than ever. Imagine traveling on busy holiday seasons across the world. Long lines, overbooked flights, tired counter staff members and old legacy technologies create havoc before the travel even starts. We don’t even want to discuss the hazards of security check-in lines and other headaches.

After all that suffering, when you finally board the plane, travelers are thrown into more misery — hard seats, no elbow room and every seat is full. U.S. domestic flights have even removed onboard TV screens.

None of these technology revolutions is going to change air travel in the near future. AI will improve some areas of travel, but it will not impact most others.

The Future Of The Travel Industry

The FAA forecasts that the number of U.S. airline passengers will increase from 840.8 million in 2017 to 1.28 billion in 2038, a growth of more than 50%. Imagine how much more torturous travel will be in the future if we don’t upgrade the support systems involved, especially those in airports and on airlines.

With this kind of expected growth, AI will probably help some areas of travel even further — but don’t expect any miracles here. Unless space travel takes off, be ready to stand in long lines and eat some peanuts.

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