Technological evolution has transformed the travel and hospitality sector. The players in the industry are now relying heavily on new-age solutions to deliver a highly personalised experience to customers. As such, technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are gaining prominence among travel companies. They are adopting these technologies not just to provide a good customer experience, but also to re-engineer their core offerings and scale up operations. In addition, these solutions are enabling enterprises to enhance their customer acquisition rate.
In the new normal, technology has taken centre stage in the strategies being deployed by travel companies to recover from the Covid-19 crisis. In fact, according to a study conducted by Amadeus, te-chnology plays a crucial role in supporting recovery, as four in five (84 per cent) travellers feel that technology would increase their confidence to travel by addressing concerns around mixing with crowds, social distancing and physical touchpoints.
A look at some recent technology trends in the travel and hospitality sector, their role in recovering from the Covid-19 setback and the way forward…
The travel and tourism sector is fast emerging as one of the leading adopters of IoT solutions. The technology offers a host of benefits across various subsectors in the travel and hospitality industry. For instance, in the aviation sector, IoT-based biometric devices can reduce the time taken at airport security checks. Further, deep learning algorithms can be deployed to match the facial images captured by cameras at airports to verify the identity of a person. Cameras at each checkpoint, such as the boarding gate, can reduce the total check-in time at the airport. Another use case of IoT in the aviation sector is baggage management. According to a report by SITA, millions of bags are mishandled at airports every year even as the mishandled baggage rate fell by over 70 per cent between 2007 and 2018. The report noted that this problem can be addressed by deploying IoT beacons and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. Beacons can automatically detect and track the RFID tags attached to bags without any human intervention. As a result, passengers and airport officers can get real-time notifications on their mobile devices about the location of bags to prevent mishandling.
Cruises are also gaining prominence as far as IoT deployment is concerned. IoT can help the crew to better serve the large number of passengers on a cruise. Apart from this, hotels are fast emerging as key adopters of IoT solutions. By deploying IoT solutions, hotels can provide a personalised room experience to their customers. Customers can connect their smartphones or tablets to sensors present in the hotel room, which will enable them to control all the devices in the room with their smartphones. As a result, they can adjust the room temperature and lighting, and order food.
Integration with mobile devices also lets hotel managers save a customer’s preferences for future travels and then tap on these insights to provide a better customer engagement experience. In addition, IoT sensors can be leveraged by the hotel staff to provide a more seamless and unobtrusive experience to guests. IoT sensors installed in hotel rooms can detect the presence of an individual, and alert staff members whenever the room is empty. The hotel staff can accordingly plan the cleaning of rooms when they are empty, thereby providing a comfortable and non-intrusive experience to their guests. IoT can also be used by hotel administrators to save costs. Sensors in hotel rooms can auto-adjust lighting based on the sunlight in the rooms. They can also detect occupancy in rooms to auto-adjust the air conditioner’s temperature without compromising on guests’ comfort.
AI is yet another technology fast gaining prominence in the travel and hospitality sector. Hotels are at the forefront of this technology revolution. AI can assist hotels in providing a personalised experience, tailor recommendations and guarantee fast response times, thereby reducing the dependence on human staff. Moreover, AI can assist with tasks like data analysis, calculations, and problem-solving, thus adding significant operational value to the hotel business.
One of the key use cases of AI in the hospitality industry is chatbots. Enterprises in the sector are increasingly relying on these bots to provide assistance to customers online. To this end, various hotels and travel aggregators have enabled the chatbot feature on their respective social media platforms and instant messaging apps. For instance, Yatra.com has launched features such as a Facebook chatbot for booking tickets, a self-serve platform to address customer queries and a marketplace chat platform to enable travellers to chat with sellers in real time. AI-based chatbots are able to respond to questions and provide valuable information to customers when a customer service representative is not available.
Taking the chatbot experience a step forward, hotels are now using AI to provide face-to-face customer service interactions. For instance, Hilton Hotel has deployed a robot named Connie, which uses AI and speech recognition to provide tourist information to users. Each human interaction also helps teach the robot, thus improving the quality of all future communications. With this, hotels can efficiently cut down the queues at information or reception desks and improve overall efficiency.
One of the ripple effects of deploying various technology solutions is the generation of large amounts of data. AI can be used to effectively gather and interpret this data and extract valuable insights about customers, business practices and pricing strategies. The key advantage of AI in this particular field is its ability to sort through huge amounts of data quickly and accurately, whereas humans would take significantly more time and more prone to errors.
Big data analytics
Travel and hospitality enterprises generate huge amounts of data throughout a traveller’s journey. This data is crucial for hotels, travel management companies, online travel agents, airlines and metasearch engines. The use of big data analytics enables enterprises to leverage the data generated throughout the value chain to gain insights for improving customer satisfaction and optimising operations. Enterprises in the travel and hospitality sector can use big data analytics to improve and personalise customer experience, employ dynamic pricing for value maximisation, predict future demand scenarios and prepare for them, optimise operations, and channelise marketing efforts in order to achieve targeted responses. During the past few years, airlines have started using the data they collect on a regular basis to design targeted marketing campaigns, provide personalised offers, and predict demand to maximise revenues through dynamic pricing.
Tiding over Covid-19 challenges with technological innovation
Covid-19 delivered a big blow to the travel and hospitality industry as cities and states went under lockdown, and social gatherings and activities ceased. However, the economy is now slowly opening up, and so are the prospects for the travel and tourism industry. According to a recent survey performed by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and Thrillophilia in October 2020, over 50 per cent of the surveyed people plan to travel in the subsequent two months. Further, around 33 per cent revealed that in 2021 they plan to travel twice as much as they did in 2019. The survey also noted that over 65 per cent of the respondents were comfortable travelling outside their states on flights and in personal vehicles. Meanwhile, around 90 per cent said that they wanted to explore offbeat places in the mountains, beaches, smaller villages and towns.
In order to overcome the uncertainties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, travel companies will have to move forward with bold, innovative ideas, which entail large-scale technology adoption. As a result, chatbots, AI, IoT, service-oriented robotics, gamification, etc. will see widespread proliferation. In the near future, reservations will be made through chatbots, visitor flows will be managed with mobility patterns, and monitoring will be undertaken with AI and IoT devices. These innovations are going to shape the new tourist experience. s
By Diksha Sharma