Digitisation has prevailed in the industry for quite some time in the form of online booking of flights and accommodations. However, the operations and administration across the industry still remained largely manual.
Things took a dramatic turn when the pandemic struck and the industry experienced a complete upheaval. Travel came to a complete standstill with no certainty of resumption. Several travellers were affected as they were stranded in foreign lands and were unable to return home, while numerous booked travel plans had to be changed and rescheduled due to extended lockdowns. The travel industry was in total chaos, inept in handling such a situation. The primary priority was to get the stranded passengers back home.
Big data analytics came in as a major force of orderliness in this labyrinth of confusion. Travel companies ubiquitously adopted digitisation to create a seamless network among travel companies, sieve the data of stranded passengers, match them with available transport and safely get them back home. This brought in the next level of challenge of quarantining foreign return passengers in various hotels, providing them with medical facilities and ensuring that the infection is contained and the staff is not affected.
This is where AI-enabled digital solutions came into action where each passenger was monitored remotely and their needs were catered to with minimal human interaction. According to the UNWTO survey, international travel plunged by 72% in 2020, the worst year for tourism. The international tourism recovered only 63% of pre-pandemic levels by 2022 and expects a better recovery in 2023.
However, this entire period enabled the travel industry to experience, experiment and embrace digitisation in toto. The pandemic period was leveraged to acclimatise the workforce with new skills and training, build processes, add efficiencies and keep the industry and customers informed about the ever-changing global rules.
Today, digitisation is the only way forward for the travel industry to reinvent itself. Some of the areas where digitisation has transformed the functioning of the industry are:
Being future-ready: One of the primary forces guiding the tourism industry is to be future-ready for any kind of catastrophe or calamity and devise a swift, digitally-enabled recovery plan. The AI-generated data enables travel companies to predict the possibility of things going haywire and create travel plans in accordance to avert such situations. Most travel companies and airlines today heavily depend on data science to compile weather forecasts, fuel forecasts, etc to achieve efficiency in their plans.
Marketing maneuvers: Digitisation plays a big role in keeping travel agencies ahead of their competition by creating the right marketing strategies, offering competitive prices and packages and providing personalised and targeted marketing plans to its customer base.
With customer data analytics, Big data offers an advanced method to churn out pricing and demand analysis, based on market dynamics and competitor pricing in a click of a button. This helps travel companies and airlines to build statistical and predictive modeling to ensure that customers get the best value at the best price.
Contactless Travel: Post-pandemic, most customers prefer contactless interaction. Thus, travel agencies and airline companies have leveraged automation across the industry right from automated check-ins at hotels and airports, self-service kiosks, biometric solutions for identity verifications and medical screenings to AI-enabled hospitality services.
AI-enabled robot workforce: Globally, AI-enabled robots are fast replacing human workforce to pave the way for a futuristic hospitality experience. Enabled with speech recognition, face recognition, voice recognition and collision-free capabilities, these robots provide front desk services, check-in/check-out services and also double up as robot cleaners, concierge and room service assistants.
This not only limits physical contact but also bolsters efficiency in the industry. Furthermore, these AI and ML-enabled humanoids also enhance the customer experience by assessing each customer’s unique requirements.
Backend digitised support: Travel companies have experienced a significant shift in the realm of document storage. The tourism and hospitality industry generates a huge amount of documents that need to be stored for a considerable duration. Digitisation has completely replaced the need for physical documentation by storing it on the cloud and also analysing the data to generate meaningful results that companies can utilize to understand their customers better and optimize their business.
Today, Big data is being leveraged by the tourism industry in every possible way. According to an analysis conducted by Global Data, the AI market which was valued at USD 81.3 billion in 2022, is expected to grow at the rate of 35% by 2030. These tools are being incorporated into devices, business applications and productivity tools for seamless business operations.
Digitisation, armed with Big data, AI and ML, has given the travel industry a new and futuristic dimension. This is the best time to fully unleash the power of digitisation and amalgamate it with the potential of the travel industry.
The author is Director, Brightsun Travel.
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