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7 ways AI is affecting the travel industry

AI has entrenched itself in the travel industry, assisting with planning, booking and customer service. Here's where you might see it in your travels.

As the weather gets warmer and the school year comes to a close, many families are gearing up for travel this summer. But the emergence of AI in travel has significantly changed the travel experience.

Whether for business or leisure, the travel process isn't always easy. Approximately 77% of travelers have run into some type of problem while traveling, according to a Bankrate survey, including long waits, plan disruptions and poor customer service.

AI-powered technologies can help streamline many areas of travel, such as airport operations and hotel booking.

For travel companies, AI poses many new opportunities and advantages. According to a report from Skift Research, using generative AI in travel is set to be a $28 billion opportunity for the travel sector. And for travelers, AI might help alleviate some headaches.

1. Personalized itineraries

Going on a trip can take a lot of planning and preparation to decide what places to visit or attractions to see -- and when to fit them into a limited schedule. That's why many travelers rely on itineraries to help map out what each day of the trip will look like. But preparing a trip itinerary can be labor- and time-intensive.

While some travelers might have a travel agent build the perfect itinerary, generative AI has made crafting the perfect trip itinerary easier than ever before. Although 61% of consumers said they would be willing to use AI in travel planning, 81% want to verify the information AI gives them before making any decisions, according to a report from NRG.

Instead of researching every tourist attraction and historical landmark, generative AI technologies, such as ChatGPT and Gemini, can comb through historical data about the destination in a matter of seconds to determine what's worth visiting and the best time to do so.

AI can even take it a step further to help tailor itineraries based on personal preferences and time limits. Users can put in specific places they want to visit or simply ask a generative AI bot, "I want to go on a five-day trip to Rome. What should I do while I'm there?" The AI will then be able to provide a personalized itinerary, including why each activity was chosen. From there, users can continue giving directions to the AI for further hyper-personalization. But keep in mind -- the more specific users are with their requests, the better information the chatbot will provide.

2. Virtual assistance and chatbots

Chatbots are a common AI-powered customer service tool for businesses to use instead of human agents -- freeing them up for more complex tasks. Chatbots use natural language processing and machine learning to analyze user input and produce appropriate answers based on knowledge it has learned from different datasets.

Chatbots and virtual assistants have become an essential part of the customer service world and can often help improve customer satisfaction. According to a study from Tidio, 62% of customers say they would rather use an online chatbot than wait for human assistance.

In days gone by, travelers typically had to call a concierge service or customer help desk to get answers to questions. But the rise of AI in travel planning has made it easier for consumers to find the information they need.

Chatbots are changing the way travelers plan and prepare. They're used in apps to help increase customer engagement, answer questions and give travelers essential information, such as the following:

  • Flight information. Airport chatbots can help travelers book flights, assist with check-in, relay information about the status of flights, and handle payments and reimbursements.
  • Hotel accommodations. Many hotels have begun implementing AI-powered chatbots to answer questions before booking a hotel and handle requests during their stay. According to a report from HotelTech, 70% of guests prefer using AI for simple requests, such as scheduling wake-up calls and getting the Wi-Fi password. However, they still prefer human interaction for more complex questions.
  • Local attractions. Tourist attractions or landmarks also use chatbots to help travelers gather information beforehand, plan a visit and book tickets. Chatbots can also act as tour guides by answering questions and providing information during a visit.

3. Optimized travel booking process

Finding and booking accommodations can be a tedious -- and frustrating -- part of the travel process. However, using AI in travel planning is an easy way for travelers to complete the booking process by themselves, without time-intensive searches.

AI can help streamline and automate many parts of the booking process, including the following:

  • Finding and comparing different hotels within a given date range.
  • Analyzing and aggregating reviews from previous guests.
  • Predicting and optimizing prices based on historical pricing data.
  • Booking and confirming reservations.
  • Personalizing recommendations for local attractions and transportation.

Booking sites that use AI in travel booking might also see an increase in users. According to a survey from OliverWyman, 55% of leisure travelers would select a certain booking channel because it uses generative AI.

4. Data analysis

Data analysis is one of the greatest appeals of AI in travel and other industries. Given the right data, AI algorithms can identify patterns and make predictions in seconds. AI can also analyze lesser-known data points, such as social media posts or images.

AI technology can use its analysis to forecast and predict behaviors based on historical data and current trends. For travelers, AI can predict future prices for flights and hotels, which can help users find the best deals based on its predictions. Travel booking companies can use predictive AI to inform travelers about the best time to book a hotel or buy a flight to a certain location. Predictive technology can also help forecast flight operations based on weather patterns and historical flight data.

AI's data analysis capabilities let travel companies offer dynamic pricing packages based on factors such as demand, competitor pricing and availability of flights or hotels. Dynamic pricing is a win-win for travelers and businesses -- it can help travelers on a budget find the cheapest options for transportation and lodging, and it helps maximize profits and revenue for businesses.

5. Voice-assisted technology

Amazon's Alexa and other voice-assisted technology is undoubtedly one of the most popular uses for AI in everyday life. With Alexa and other voice-assisted bots such as Siri and Cortana, AI uses automatic speech recognition to translate spoken words into text the AI can understand. Unlike chatbots, voice-assisted devices can be placed almost anywhere for anyone to use.

These devices have begun to pop up in hotels and other public areas. Disney Resort hotel rooms have a "Hey Disney!" voice assistant powered by Amazon Echo. The device is preloaded with several functions, such as answering questions, ordering room items and contacting housekeeping.

Some hotels use Alexa devices in their rooms for similar features like "Hey Disney!" Amazon has even launched a suite of Alexa Smart Properties specifically tailored for hotels and resorts with features for ordering room service; providing information about amenities; and controlling the thermostat, TV and lights.

6. Real-time language translation

One of the most frustrating parts of traveling to a new country can be trying to understand another language in real time -- especially when navigating a new area. Only 29% of American travelers learn basic phrases in a country's native language before visiting, according to a survey from Promova.

One use of AI in travel and beyond is real-time translations that can make understanding a different language much easier. Whether written or verbal, AI can translate any language into another without manually inputting any text. Translation apps -- such as Google Translate -- can also use augmented reality (AR) to help translate text. When a device's camera is pointed to a block of text, trained AI can quickly translate the words into the user's desired language.

With AR technology, the text is overlayed with the translation, enabling travelers to read signs, menus and more. The technology can also translate spoken words to help travelers converse with others. Like voice-assisted technology, AI converts spoken words into text and can translate them into the desired language. The text can be read on a device or spoken using text-to-speech technology.

7. Biometrics

Security is a top concern for many travelers, especially in airports and other populated areas.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration began using AI for facial recognition and ID verification in airports across the United States. Facial recognition technology uses biometrics to analyze facial features, fingerprints and iris patterns to verify a person's identity.

Biometrics can reduce the risk of fraud, allow travelers to skip security lines and even be used in place of a key at hotels and resorts. However, this type of AI also comes with some concerns: 56% of airline passengers have concerns about their data security with biometrics, according to a survey from the International Air Transport Association. Despite that, 73% of passengers were willing to share their biometric data to improve airport processes.

Alison Roller is a freelance writer with experience in tech, HR and marketing.

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