June 15, 2024

Tech talk

We asked four experts to share their views on emerging trends in travel technology space

Let’s not over-complicate things

Jack Ramsey, CEO, TripStax

There will inevitably be continued investment from lightly-funded tech start-ups in 2023 which are trying to do something different and unique around business travel data, whether that’s to enhance the traveller experience, help TMCs grow revenue or meet demand for sustainable travel solutions. I call them pocket innovators because they are each trying to automate pockets of our industry.

But these innovators will still struggle with the cost and complexity of connecting their solutions because our industry is still fundamentally tied to legacy technology and commercial models. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up with too many pocket innovators who can’t connect their innovation to the tech eco-system to make a workable or meaningful difference to TMCs and corporates.

The industry will also continue to see the move towards narrowing the gap between offline and online points of sale and that’s a good thing. Business travel is way behind the curve in this respect. In what other industry would anyone talk about offline versus online transactions to the extent that we do? Any Gen Z newcomer joining business travel must think our industry is so antiquated. Narrowing that gap will help make it easier to bring in new talent because less training is needed to use online solutions.

There will also be new tech players entering the industry looking to narrow the online/offline gap, which will invest heavily in trying to simplify the complexity of business travel management. This will lead to a snowball effect whereby travel agencies and TMCs start to manage their businesses differently and change how they use technology. My fear is that this could add yet more complexity to an already very complicated tech landscape.

TMCs also shouldn’t rush to adopt new technology merely to solve human resource challenges as hasty decisions could lead to yet another level of chaos in terms of integration from multiple vendors.

As an industry, we need to be mindful that bringing automation to specific areas of business travel won’t necessarily be the panacea for solving the ongoing staff shortages. The urge to fill the talent gap with tech without truly understanding how best to apply that tech could lead to a whole new level of complex integration requirements, which could be even more burdensome for TMCs on multiple levels.

It’s vital that TMCs harness new tech in the right way for the longevity of their business and avoid just sticking a plaster on the problem. The last thing our sector needs is to create an even more complex landscape where, in a year or two, TMCs are unpacking the tech they adopted because it hasn’t made any difference to their customer service levels.

Watch out for this global phenomenon

Johnny Thorsen, VP Strategy & Partnerships, Spotnana

2022 was ticking along nicely with the usual flow of minor travel tech news when a new entrant suddenly emerged out of nowhere. On November 30, OpenAI launched ChatGPT and in just one month this new software service has become a global phenomenon.

The first few months has been full of amazing examples of how ChatGPT can answer questions and generate content for almost any topic and the next six to 12 months will bring an explosion of new software services developed on top of this incredible powerful content platform.

The timing couldn’t be better for the travel industry as we are faced with a critical shortage of people ready (and willing) to work in the complex ecosystem of travel suppliers and service providers. Given that travel essentially is a digital product until the actual travel service is consumed, the potential for the ChatGPT technology to optimise the service delivery is almost unlimited, and by end of 2023 it’s likely we’ll stop talking about a staff shortage and focus more on how we can improve the overall business and service model.

Considering that most TMC and travel agency staff members spend a majority of their time searching for information and then sharing it with their customers, it seems obvious that ChatGPT can evolve into the world’s first AI-powered travel assistant capable of answering 95% of all questions within seconds.

Advancements in hyper automation

Mike Kubasik, Global Chief Technology Officer, CTM

We expect 2023 to see exciting advancements for hyper automation in TMC service delivery. Hyper automation involves the orchestrated use of multiple technologies, tools or platforms such as AI, machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), integration platforms and low-code/no-code tools, to deliver high-speed outcomes via the users’ choice of service channel – whether that’s email, chat, in-app or phone.

This investment in automation will enable TMCs to deliver faster, more relevant outcomes to their customers by using automation to identify, vet and automate processes, ultimately freeing up travel advisors to focus on complex service-related tasks. We also expect to see continued deployment of AI within the booking environment, ensuring both online and offline booking channels are optimised for speed, relevance, and personal preference, all of which support increased customer satisfaction and efficiency.

Don’t believe the hype

Simon Goddard, Vibe

I’d urge everyone in travel to try and plan a weekend break or family holiday using ChatGPT. For sure this is much better than anything to date and the potential applications are enormous, but for now don’t believe the hype. What you’re seeing in the news won’t be a reality in travel for a while yet, and to some extent the human element will never be 100% replaced. 

A massive barrier to entry is cost that will exclude all but the very biggest of travel companies. Currently only mega-businesses have the R&D budgets and computing power to make true AI possible. For example, Microsoft is set to invest $10 billion in OpenAI as part of a funding round that would value the company at $29 billion.

When it comes to travel, as opposed to picking a birthday present or recommending a restaurant, there’s also still too much risk around getting basic but essential data wrong. For example, imagine if AI gives wrong information on what vaccinations are required for a trip or incorrect advice on visas and immigration rules? Or doesn’t allow enough time for a stopover resulting in missed flights.

An additional problem is that currently Chat GPT only knows about information available until 2021 – and more than ever we’re now acutely aware that geo-politics, terrorism, pandemics and disasters can make whole regions no-go areas overnight. This means human checks are necessary and that not only defeats the object of using ChatGPT, it also undermines confidence which in turn reduces uptake until it can have less lag time on knowing about ‘current’ affairs.

There are also some potential data privacy challenges presented by this development. AI at this level is going require off-device processing for some time yet. This means that any input, be it text or voice, is going to be sent somewhere to be understood and a response generated. This opens up serious questions about privacy as these communications will contain much more personal information than asking Siri for directions or Alexa to turn on the living room lights.

The future just got brighter for sure and it’s definitely fun to mess around with, but ChatGPT and travel remains just that still: something in the future.