Vinod Bhat, Chief Information Officer, Vistara

The Indian travel and hospitality industry has been undergoing rapid digitalisation. Enterprises in this domain are now relying heavily on new-age solutions to deliver highly personalised experience to customers. As such, technologies like internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are gaining traction among travel companies and hotels. Technologies like 5G and edge computing have multiple use cases for the travel and hospitality industry. They help enhance customer experience, improve security and take business decisions. Industry players share their views on the evolving technology trends, their uptake and the way forward…

What are the new digital solutions being leveraged by your organisation? How is technology assisting in the sector’s recovery in the post-pandemic era?

Vistara was born on cloud. It has invested in digital infrastructure since its inception and is continuing to do so. During the pandemic, we introduced technologies like kiosk check-in (Scan-N-Fly), e-bag tags and automated baggage drop to enable a safe travel experience for our customers while minimising interactions with people or contact with surfaces. We are also wor­king closely with the Airports Autho­rity of India to be a part of the DigiYatra programme, which is based on biometrics, allowing customers to experience the next level of touchless travel, with their face becoming their boarding pass.

In addition, we have adopted various new-age technologies to improve custo­­m­er experience, make operations more ef­fi­cient, cost effective and intelligent, and identify business processes that can further be automated and connected across the va­l­ue chain. Technologies like low code/no code are not only helping in automation but also giving business stakeholders better control and power to be much more productive and effective. Our investments in cloud, big data, analytics and insights, AI and ML, RFID, AR/VR, etc., will con­ti­nue and our digital centre of excellence will continue to take the lead in developing solutions for key business problems by staying abreast of technological changes happening in the industry.

Further, we have developed some industry-first solutions. For example, in partnership with Aerospace Software De­velopment (ASD), we became the first scheduled Indian airline to deploy RFID­AeroCheck technology as part of our commitment to maintaining the highest safety standards. ASD’s RFIDAero­Check tracks the presence and expiration of emergency equipment on the airline’s entire fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft. We have also announced a partnership with Ultramain ELB to introduce e-tech logbook. It will aid our efforts to go paperless in our ope­ra­tions, which is a step further towards en­suring we are as environment friendly and sustainable as possible, apart from being more efficient. Moreover, we have recen­tly upgraded our crew rostering system us­ing Jeppesen, while taking into consideration the lifestyle preferences of the crew. It is a great example of how new-age techno­logies can help improve employee productivity and experience.

How are next-generation innovations such as AI/ML, AR/VR, cloud and automation reshaping the travel and hospitality sector? What are the main challenges faced while deploying these technologies? How will the emergence of the metaverse impact the travel and hospitality industry?

New-age technologies like automation, AI, ML, robotics, cloud, IoT, big data and analytics that help make sense of data can streamline and automate many processes and tasks for an airline. By analysing data trends, AI and big data help airlines take quick proactive decisions related to flight planning, flight operations, ground services, customer engagement, aircraft engineering, safety, data and cybersecurity and so on. Extended reality (XR) (comprising AR, VR and mixed reality – MR), Web 3.0 and metaverse are technologies that help bring alive the complex environment of an aircraft or airport and can be used in different aspects of training as well as timely maintenance in the aviation industry. They can also be leveraged to identify and address the possible dangers of flying. The engineering team can use these technologies and learn how to fix the potential faults or glitches in an aircraft. In terms of safety, these technologies can hugely benefit the aviation industry as they offer innovative solutions such as 3D scanning and sensors along with real-time insights to be used when inspecting an aircraft.

Having said that, the successful implementation of these technologies comes with its set of challenges. The right infrastructure for running, maintaining and constantly upgrading these technologies according to the ever-evolving customer needs is very important. Airlines generate a significant amount of data and gathering and analysing data relies on the infrastructure of sensors, servers and communication technology. The organisation needs to be able to understand and analyse the hu­ge amount of data in order to leverage it effectively and take right business decisions. The integration and interoperability of these technologies is another challenge which the product vendors are dealing with. Therefore, it is important for organisations to upskill/cro­ss-skill their employee’s digital quotient, so that the adoption of these technologies becomes much easier, while an organisational digital culture is set up.

Going forward, what are the key digital trends you foresee in the sector in the next three years?

The coming years will witness the adoption and implementation of several new state-of-the-art technologies to enhance data and cybersecurity compliance; customer experience using immersive technologies; data-driven predictive decisions; and connected and automated operations in the industry. Technologies like biometric facial recognition, QR codes, smart ca­­meras and other robotics backed by AI and big data analytics will eventually be able to assist customers throughout their journey without their having to physically interact with any person or surface.

With the global aviation industry committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, airlines will increasingly invest in various technologies that will he­lp them reduce their carbon footprint. In addition, there will be greater use of blo­ck­chain in aviation as it can help track customer baggage and cargo, improve the verification of passenger identity, enable automated payments, provide loyalty programmes, etc.

IoT technology is changing the aviation industry in multiple ways. IoT sensors support continuous monitoring of aircraft systems in flight to create more effective predictive and preventive maintenance, leading to fewer failures and more reliable (and more efficient) operations, and there will be greater use of the same in the near future. We will also see the increased use of thermal cameras powered by high bandwidth such as 5G, supported by edge computing.