Who am I speaking to? Artificial intelligence grows in tourism industry

 | March 13, 2017
Great chairlift conversations lead to great ideas, as one Sun Peaks part-time resident has proved. | FILE PHOTO

Imagine an online travel agent who, after only a few questions, can recommend a ski resort, hotel, restaurants and activities chosen just for you. The only catch is you aren’t speaking to a human, you are chatting with an artificial intelligence (AI) bot created by Kelvin Ross and his business partners.

During a casual chairlift conversation at Sun Peaks, the trio came up with the idea of an AI system that could help plan ski vacations and put their plan into action.

“I was chatting with the guys on the hill about how we might use technology like AI to start planning ski trips and things like that,” Ross said. “Some things changed a lot along the way… we changed our model to (be) more integrating with larger providers.”

The system, now being used to assist travel agents in Australia, is part of a growing trend of AI in the tourism industry.

Travel websites and mobile apps are using the technology to provide personalization, find the best prices, and give up-to-date safety information to travellers.

Chat bots, like the one originally created by Ross, are being used by travel giants to complement the customer service offerings, like Expedia which announced plans to develop AI customer service through Facebook Messenger and texting. Leisure or business travellers will be able to cancel or alter bookings or ask questions without needing to call the company or visit a website.

Skyscanner also uses AI technology to help consumers search for flights through Facebook Messenger.

“Connie” the robot concierge started at Hilton hotels in 2016 as a pilot project. Connie can recommend restaurants, give directions and answer most travellers questions. The more people speak with her, the more information she gathers, improving her recommendations.

One of the challenges with AI technology is a lack of information or data available on each individual traveller, which is needed to make useful recommendations. To overcome this companies like Lola, an app that provides on-demand travel assistance, are purchasing data and having users import past travel information to better understand their needs.

Another potential challenge is whether travellers will accept speaking to computers instead of humans. A study released in 2016 revealed 75 per cent of travellers think bots will make their lives “significantly better.” Almost two thirds said they were comfortable with their use.

Ross is looking forward to expanding his company and creating a product that can be used throughout the travel industry.

“It’s interesting to see it change,” he said. “There is a bit of nervousness but it’s about being resilient and enjoying the exploration.”