At this time of the year, as Mother Nature sheds her winter skin to reveal the beauty and warmth of summer, I always see it as a time of new beginnings. It gets me to thinking about how important it is to take stock of your business annually.
It’s time to ask some tough questions like “are we achieving our intended goals?” “Is the intended bottom line being met?” “Are our people happy and motivated?” …and, most importantly “are our clients happy? – have we built new important relationships?”
Whenever I think of these kinds of questions, it makes me think of how much monumental change in ours and many other industries has been a result of quite mind-blowing technologies.
A.I or Artificial Intelligence, has undoubtedly been one of them. There are many aspects to A.I and I have spoken about it in previous articles, but my mind has been on the emergence of robots in particular.
These robots, spawned from A.I, are quite impressive, and their deployment in many areas of the travel industry grows by the day. My real concern, however, is to what extent these artificial beings can replace the real people in the industry. So, one of the questions I had to ask myself this year is “Is A.I turning the travel industry into robots?”
Will the willing adoption of these robots come back to bite us, leaving us with a purely technologically run business, devoid of the personal touch? It sounds like one of those dreadful old Sci-fi movies, doesn’t it? …but it is not so far-fetched actually.
A few robotic applications
The actual applications of robots are already very real and numerous: Travel agencies employ robots to gather information about a customer’s requirements and feed it back to them; The ‘SnatchBot’ Booking Travel Template makes use of Chatbots to help customers through the entire booking process; A robotic suitcase can follow you around freely at your beck and call; Airports and Hotels use Robots as information advisors and if you’re at Rugby World Cup you may be treated to a hotel in Nagasaki that is fully staffed by robots!
Where is it at?
Here in South Africa we are still significantly behind with this very advanced form of A.I, but we need always be aware of the inevitable changes that will take place in time. Right now, as Global TMCs, we need to be very cognisant of everything A.I is doing to revolutionise travel and ensure that we are ‘in the game’ wherever international travel is concerned.
As I examined this question further though, it occurred to me that if we are to ever become robots it will only be because we will have failed as people to perform the optimal functions that only people can perform!
Yes, the drive towards more technologically advanced products and methods is largely due to the fact that the customer demands it. They are aware that A.I and its off-shoots can make their lives easier and in some ways less complicated …and so they look to the TMCs that seem to have the technological cutting edge.
What we know though, from sheer experience, is that when customers are frustrated by systems and robots, they still always want someone to turn to. Technology, even that as sophisticated and sometimes life-like as robots, will never give the customer the complete service they require.
Who will be there for them when they lose vital travel documents? …or have to make urgent travel arrangement changes because a relative passed away, or they themselves fell ill in a foreign country forcing all plans to be instantly changed?
No robot can account for natural disasters either, floods Tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes. One thing I know is that when the unexpected happens, we are expected to be there for the traveller!
As surely as we are now facing a change of climate, we will always be facing significant changes in our industry, but is A.I turning the travel industry into robots? No, I don’t believe so.
The robots will have their place, but will never replace a firm handshake and a cup of coffee shared as we continue to build relationships with our customers. This is what builds trust… trust is what builds great businesses, …and great businesses are what have built this great travel industry!LIDIA FOLLI
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER