Ai Editorial: Travel Experience - who will help you?

Who will a traveller go to seek help - are you sure it’s going to be a human? Connected app experiences, wearables, facial recognition all of this is going to lend a new dimension to a traveller’s entire trip? Ritesh Gupta, Airline Information Correspondent finds out

If ever direct communication were to stand the test of time, be it for travel planning, booking or the sheer joy of taking a journey, then that moment is about to happen in the near future.

The question is who will a traveller go to seek help?

As it turned out during our annual Mega Event 2014 held in New Orleans in late 2014, a survey indicated that around 1/5th of travellers in the U. S. expect to talk to a robot (that will be more helpful than a person) in 2020. As indicated by Switchfly, 1/3rd believe that no one will call hotels or airlines directly by then, and that all communications will be done electronically.

So are travel shoppers going to avoid human interactions altogether or is just that the connection between services, devices and location is going to mark a new chapter in the commerce and customer service arena?  Let’s explore some of the new developments that may take us to the point where we don’t end up interacting with anyone for our travel-related requirements.

So what’s happening as of today that indicates travellers can do a number of things independently.

Let’s start with smartphones. Say you own one, and there are apps in it. As a traveller, you tend to go through different apps for probably one journey of yours. But this world of friction in the disconnected app world is slowly disappearing. And this is being made possible deep linking technology. It essentially means that one’s intent is going to be figured “intelligently”, and he or she is going to be driven to the desired service. Today technology has reached a point where a consumer is being enticed to reach a specific page inside the app, no matter whether the app is already installed or not (you may read about Branch Metrics).  One of the emerging players in this arena, NYC-based start-up Button analyzes a consumer’s intent on activity, historical data, context, time, and location.  So it could be that you are using an airline app, checking in for your next flight and you end up seamlessly booking a reservation for a restaurant for your next destination.

This also means that our preferences and behavior is up for grabs, and we are sharing relevant data. But let’s not just restrict it to mobile apps. For instance, beacons can pave way for personalized communications and calls to action. If one acts on such technology, there is a footprint to be followed. There already has been a lot of buzz around our place getting sensorized, with almost everything out there gaining an IP address. This would result in exchange of data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will become a reality.   

I came across an interesting observation highlighted by consultant Jeff Rubingh, who underlines that there could be an “API of You, of all of your own data”.  

There could be a possibility of you, as a consumer, making data available as an API. Who is going to facilitate this is yet to clear up, but Rubingh has a point when he says your data is reflection of your being, your identity. How much you share is going to be under your control, and of course, this is going to be driven by upcoming devices, and we all already aware of wearables.

Cognitive computing and the IoT

Overall, a lot is being expected from the blend of cognitive computing and the IoT phenomenon.

As a specialist in this arena, Saffron Technology says the future is about spotting connections among data across varied sources, doing away with modeling, while learning incrementally and working on results based on patterns identified in the data. It does get complicated for one who doesn’t know much about these concepts. But to put in Saffron’s words – the entity formulates a “real-time adaptive model of “your” world as we continuously learn about every “thing” in your data and its connections in context with every other thing”. Clearly the term “big data” wouldn’t sound as big as it did over the past few years!

For consumers, this will have direct impact on the level of personalization as well as fraud detection.

Moving on, one last topic that is surely going to garner attention this year is the world of payments. Whether Apple Pay gains traction or not would decide the fate of NFC payments. On the positive side, the industry is already expecting smartphones to play their part in boarding via contactless smart cards.  All of this means that touchpoints where human beings generally used to serve travellers wouldn’t be needed if all of this goes mass.

The world is getting definitely getting smarter, and it all boils down to offering travellers new ways to do less of what they used to do earlier. And at the same time, the entire trip would be much smoother than ever before. Whether human interaction would really count or not, it hardly would make any difference as long as customer service is catapulted to a newer level.

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