Senior technology executives from across the travel industry believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will play a pivotal role driving the recovery of travel so long as mind sets and attitudes towards data sharing change.
The opening day of Travel Forward began with a session dedicated to AI in travel.
Andy Owen-Jones, CEO and co-founder of AI-early-adopter bd4travel, said that AI and machine learning is the only way for travel companies to “infer” what their travellers want.
However, to get beyond “averages” and into “personalisation”, AI specialists need access to data
“The tools are there for mass personalisation – but mindsets need to change. Segmentation is not personalisation.”
Sundar Narasimhan from Sabre Labs noted that this distinction is reflected in how enterprise applications for AI and machine learning in travel are now engineered and optimised towards improving the experience for travellers and away from optimising yield for suppliers.
He also advocated new mindsets in terms of data sharing.
“If you share data, the algorithms can work across sources, personalisation can become collaborative, a partnership.” He outlined a future use case where AI can provide a trip experience where the flight and accommodation have both been personalised.
Mindsets, new paradigms and fresh thinking were a theme throughout other sessions as well. Jospeh Ling from Vouch explained how his business is having to change mindsets in the hotel industry.
“We have to convince hoteliers that human interactions are not equal across all touchpoints. Our product helps hoteliers to automate many tasks where the human touch is not needed, which frees up hotel staff to focus on tasks which materially impact the guest experience,” he said.
Elsewhere, attendees heard that attitudes to partnerships, collaboration and innovation are likely to be different as the industry recovers. In a session supported by Travolution, Marc Padrosa from forex specialist Kantox said that “educating the client is the most difficult thing” for his business, which optimises currency exchange rates for travel sellers and suppliers.
Fintech is an area where many travel firms partner with experts rather than take on the development themselves. The balance between build and buy varies between companies. Baz Lemmen, CEO of Hotelplanner, said: “We work with the best payment providers because they are improving all the time. I don’t want to do data storage, Amazon can do that. But for API integration, I want someone who is touching our system and knows how to do it exactly as we want because we have a certain kind of customer, so I will do this in-house”.
Similarly, some partnerships which were formed during the pandemic will need to be re-assessed. Kayee Cheug from Skyscanner said that the strongest partnerships will be future-proofed
“We put travelers at the centre,” she said “so when we partner with another business with the same approach, the solutions will evolve in line with strategic goals.”
Another industry where mindsets need changing is aviation. A panel discussion in the afternoon was unequivocal in its view that improving the data sharing between airlines, airport operators and air traffic control can improve aircraft and routing efficiencies, with the immediate benefit of lower emissions through reduced fuel burn.
Yann Cabaret from SITA told the packed room that “modern technology supports collaboration – with the data we have we can apply machine learning to optimise aircraft movements, in the sky or the airport.”
However, commercial considerations prevent many private sector operators sharing data with each other, a situation incompatible with fighting the climate emergency. “Industry efforts can only work if everyone is in,” he said.
The volume of structured and unstructured data within the travel industry creates the perfect environment for artificial intelligence to generate new products, better experiences for travellers and more revenues for travel companies. However, the consequence of this is that the volume of data means that firms should think about validating the data before using it.
Manual Hilty from multi-day trip planning tech specialist Nezasa said that his business has been developing its platform so that it can support data analytics and AI at scale and apply the insights on a personal level.
“Planning, booking and fulfilling multi-day tours has many, many touchpoints each of which its own layers of complexity,” he said. “We know that AI only works when the data, and the platform hosting it, is fit for the purpose of using AI to build better experiences for travellers”.
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