Sajid Sayed, CIO, AirAsia India

ICT has been gradually making inroads into the travel and hospitality sector. Enterprises in this space have been deploying cutting-edge solutions based on new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), and data analytics in an effort to enhance business efficiency and improve customer experience. In fact, technology has played a critical role in keeping the sector afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic, with companies implementing various tech based, contactless solutions to continue operations.  Sajid Sayed, chief information officer (CIO), AirAsia India, shares his views on the evolving technology trends in the sector…

How has Covid-19 impacted the travel and tourism industry? How ICT and technology  have helped in addressing some of the challenges being faced?

Business-wise, obviously, we are one of the worst affected industries due to the pandemic. The pandemic has changed the way travel took place in the past. For instance, our web check-in facility is now used by 98 per cent of our customers, as it is all about contact-less transactions now. As for the airports, we have tied up with Bengaluru airport to implement a facial biometric system that allows passengers to move from the terminal gate to the boarding gate without having to display any document. We have also implemented the self-drop-off baggage technology in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad, which allows customers to drop off their bags without any manual intervention.

What has been the uptake of new-age technologies such as AI, IoT, AR/VR in the sector in recent years? What kind of transformation have you seen in this space in the wake of the pandemic?

Cloud adoption has grown significantly in the airlines industry during the past few years, as it brings benefits of lower capex, and greater scalability and security. As for other next-generation technologies, we are looking at how to explore big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) for better operational efficiency, higher revenues and an enhanced customer experience.

How has your business been impacted and what technology measures have you taken or planned to deal with the Covid-19 crisis?

As mentioned earlier, we are one of the worst hit industries. Ensuring that every transaction is touch-less is a challenge. Besides, travel advisories and regulations from different states keep on changing, almost on a daily basis. As a result, the communication part has become very important for us and, needless to say, the load on our customer service team, in terms of queries related to flight schedules, cancellations and refunds, has grown manyfold.  Our chatbot, called Ava, which was recently made available on WhatsApp, is a great tool for our customer care executives. The chatbot software has been enhanced to respond to queries in Hindi as well. Communication has become extremely important, even internally. Like most other companies, we also have discussions about which functions need to necessarily be on the office premises and which functions can be operated from home. For people working from home, robust connectivity and secured communication tools are  important to ensure smooth and secure exchange of data and information.

In a post-Covid world, what key digital trends will shape the travel and tourism industry?

Touchless transactions are the key and the communications part of it. Besides, with a significant demand-supply mismatch, the airlines industry would have to explore ways to compete more aggressively. We would have to look at unconventional modes of distribution. Traditionally, tickets are mostly sold over the internet through online travel agencies, and the majority of our revenue comes from these sources. But we must explore if new channels can be introduced to earn more revenues.

Another way of dealing with the crisis is to bring down our costs and to this end, technology can play a crucial role. We can automate several processes, which today require manual intervention and are prone to human error. Thus, leveraging technology for exploring new revenue generating opportunities on the one hand and reducing costs on the other can help the industry during these testing times.