With machine learning we can look forward to a frictionless travel experience in the future, writes Dr Kevin Ashbridge, VP global travel, leisure & hospitality solutions, SDL
Attend any travel industry event these days and there will be much discussion about machine learning and the futuristic-sounding artificial intelligence (AI). Indeed, there’s an almost unparalleled excitement around these technologies, especially in improving the digital experience for the connected traveller.
Machine learning and AI are having such an impact on the travel industry today, but what’s in store in the near future?
It’s Old, But It’s New
Let’s start with a quick note on the difference between machine learning and AI because the two terms are used interchangeably these days. AI is the broader concept of machines performing tasks in a way that would appear “intelligent”, and it is already well entrenched in our everyday lives. Email spam filters, aircraft autopilots, even the ANPR system used to collect the London congestion charge are ready examples.
What is different now, and is generating all the excitement, is the introduction of machine learning into the travel industry. Machine learning is a branch of AI wherein machines do smart things but, given access to data, can learn and improve their abilities by themselves.
An Audience of One
To illustrate how machine learning is changing the technology landscape for the travel industry, I want to touch on the work that Google is doing. It’s a pattern being duplicated by other ‘personal technology’ companies, such as Apple, Amazon and Alibaba, and it is setting the digital experience expectations of your customers.
Google has introduced machine learning at a vast scale in just about all of its data-driven services, from Google Search to Google Maps. Travel services such as Flight Finder and Hotel Finder were a prelude to the more sophisticated machine learning present in its itinerary builder, Google Trips. Google even delivered a machine learning technology (Goggles) that can recognise landmarks and works of art, and tell you all about them when you hold up your smartphone.
Underpinning the introduction of machine learning in the digital experience is nothing less than a new technology paradigm. It is the concept of a personal assistant to every individual consumer. “Individual” is the most important word here because this is something the travel industry has never been able to achieve digitally. Despite its deep investments in the consumer space, travel content has long been a non-specific ‘something for everyone’ offering. Digital marketing in travel has relied heavily on impersonal personas and profiles, and travel social media has been about building communities – not individual relationships.
What Google and others are showing is that machine learning can enable data to be tapped and combined at a level of sophistication not possible before to deliver highly relevant information to a consumer, personalised for their own individual needs. And it is all done in real time in the guise of a “personal assistant”, perhaps as a chatbot, or as a nice friendly voice on your smartphone or a speaker in your living room. Machine learning is enabling conversations between an individual and trillions of bytes of data to find the exact experience they are after. It’s mind-boggling.
With You Every Step of the Way
Thanks to machine learning, we can look forward to a frictionless travel experience in the future. Our personal assistants will begin to work across industry data silos, building a personalised trip at every step from leaving the house to returning home. It may, indeed, be a driverless car that brings us to the door.
In some ways, it’s a return to the old days of the human travel advisor; something that was being lost in the ‘digital age’ of travel. In the new “Intelligent Age” of travel, machines that can learn what to do with the vast amounts of data that serve billions of travellers globally are changing the way we research, book and experience travel. Soon, the travel agent, hotel concierge and tour guide will all sit in the palm of our hand and go wherever we do.