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The future of travel and tourism? All bets are off

Artificial intelligence and the internet of things are shaking up travel and tourism. Add 5G networks to the mix, and it’s clear that the industry is facing its biggest revolution since the arrival of the internet.

Living in Berlin, I get to work with colleagues from all over Europe and beyond. Nearly all of them, to my shame, speak fluent idiomatic English. I’m even more impressed by their hunger to learn new figures of speech, especially the ones that I drop into conversation.

One of their favourites, is ‘all bets are off’. Another way of saying, ‘anything could happen’. I use this phrase a lot when trying to explain the impact of the internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G (fifth generation cellular network technology). Combined, they promise to shake up pretty much any industry you can think of.

Let’s look at them in turn.

IOT: Remember the miracle of wireless technology? Connecting your laptop to the internet without a cable? Today, we’re seeing rapidly growing networks of connected devices, vehicles, even people. For example, if I want to rent a car, an app on my phone will tell me where to find the nearest one. Meanwhile the fitness tracker on my wrist will count my steps to the car – and upload this exercise data to the app on my phone (via the cloud). Memo to self, more walking, less car next time.

AI: artificial intelligence, is covered extensively by other writers, but for the purposes of this article, it describes how AI software uses massive amounts of data to learn and improve specific tasks (this strand of AI is known as machine learning). Most software, until recently, was designed to carry out repetitive tasks. AI enables software to adapt to changing circumstances in real time (or even predict change) – as we’ll see in a moment.

5G: The missing link in every sense. IOT and AI have been with us for several years, but their impact is constrained by the bandwidth required to connect millions of devices and massive volumes of data in real time. 5G changes all that. It’s already available in some cities but most coverage relates to the next generation of smartphones. However, 5G is much, much more than streaming 4k movies to a portable device…

To understand why, let’s go back to the earlier car hire example. Instead of just locating a static vehicle and booking it, imagine that the car is connected to a 5G network and that its location, speed, direction are all being relayed in real time to an artificial intelligence cloud tracking data from thousands of other connected vehicles in the city.

Now enter your departure point and your destination. Your vehicle approaches. So far so Uber. But this time the vehicle is driverless, like most in the city. You step in, reconfirm your destination, payment method (all by voice of course).

Your AI driver in the cloud does the rest. Calculating your best route and recalibrating in real time – as it does with every other vehicle in your vicinity – it sweeps you off to your appointment right on schedule. It’ll even take a slightly slower route if there’s time to spare. Don’t worry, driverless cars are designed around passengers, so you’re travelling in a mobile office with no productivity wasted.

So much for urban travel. How about tourism? Much will depend on the willingness of individuals to share their personal data. But here are some examples of how AI, plus IOT and 5G could shape the future of the industry.

Lifestyle and travel

In recent years, working while on holiday has become an all too familiar experience. With wi-fi at the bar, the hotel, the beach it can be tough to avoid the urge to scratch the email (or Slack) itch. Isn’t it time to put the shoe on the other foot?

What about a ‘concierge’ style service that schedules travel into your everyday office diary. Rather than just working from home, the software will find you an apartment or a shared workspace in another region, city or even another country. Flights are booked, accommodation confirmed. Off you go to work in a totally refreshing environment. Don’t worry about your employer, she’ll be happy to offer this as a company perk – and see you return mentally and professionally refreshed.

Building the bespoke vacation

Remember, true AI does much more than just deal with inputs and outputs. It’s capable of creating solutions in real time. Rather like a best friend, it has your well-being to heart. It will recommend activities from nights out, to spa breaks, to a full-on sabbatical, all based on health data trends, budgets and destinations based on your travel history.

We’re already seeing more fluid behaviour in travel and tourism. It’s no longer just a case of one week, two week or weekend breaks. Individuals, couples and families increasingly pursue a more flexible agenda. The AI-IOT-5G triumvirate will further drive this trend, inspiring travelers with recommendations that more closely match their preferences, vacation days and well-being goals.

Booking sites and best friends

Booking sites will take advantage of vast quantities of data from customers and affiliated platforms to better match customers with their ideal vacation. As a results we’ll see more chatbots on these pages enabling tourism to catch up with other sectors where this technology is very much part of the e-commerce experience.

Why does this matter? Remember, for many people, a holiday starts with a conversation – and many questions. ‘We need a break’, ‘What will the kids enjoy doing?’, ‘How about walking in the Alps again, but based somewhere else this time?’ As chatbot personas close in on their Turing Test certificates, they’ll be better placed to advise and nurture the traveler towards the break that best matches their situation.

Chatbots will also break out of the text only windows. Conversations will take place in real time with a human voice indistinguishable from the real thing. Booking sites need to be ready to take advantage of this trend, especially as the number of home-based voice-controlled assistants increases.

The three examples listed above are the ones that spring to mind for now. But other decisions informed by these technologies may include the environment (how will my holiday impact CO2 emissions) and the economic consequences (how much of my budget will go towards local businesses and employees).

One last request. Packing. Imagine an AI assistant that can put together a list of exactly what you’ll need for your next trip from clothes to cosmetics to cameras. No more over packing or under packing? That’s definitely a future I could live with.

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