Since the beginning of modern science fiction, Western culture has been obsessed with the idea of creating a machine that could behave, and even think, like a human without actually being one. From Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” to Arthur C. Clarke’s HAL 9000, we imagined a need for rules and protections from what these uber-intelligent machines would eventually become since there was no way sentient algorithms would be willingly helpful in any real way.
But what if they actually wanted jobs in the hospitality industry?
Travel Marketing and Artificial Intelligence
Travel customer service can be a labor-intensive process. Considering that the bulk of inquiries are repetitious in nature, it only makes sense that those jobs would the very first to be automated. After all, there are only so many ways a hotel can answer questions about room availability or nearby attractions.
AI and machine learning are currently being employed by companies like IBM and Wayblazer. Using IBM’s Watson as a background technology, IBM and Wayblazer-supported hotels will have access to systems that can provide natural-language answers to natural-language questions posed by users via chat. IBM’s Watson is also meant to be friendly to marketers, answering their questions as easily as those of hotel visitors.
Watson is a powerful system that can also be used with a radically wide range of other applications. Trisept Solutions, the Milwaukee-based travel tech vendor behind VAX VacationAccess, has recently married Watson technology with its customer relationship management tool to help automate some of the more repetitious work of its employees. Watson now creates customized travel itineraries for customers based on their past behavior, a job once handled exclusively by human agents.
But automation in the travel industry isn’t limited to IBM’s Watson. Although less wide in scope, Adobe’s marketing cloud platform, Microsoft’s cognitive service, Azure, and an entire marketplace of individual digital marketing tools from third-parties sharing the Amazon Web Services platform are also eyeing the travel marketing automation space.
Virtual Previews and Overlaying Reality
Having AI on the front lines of the travel industry’s customer service efforts is a great way to support marketing efforts, but some of the actual tools being used to entice visitors to hotels and attractions are also pretty outstanding. For example, how cool would it be if you could take a real-life tour of your top three Paris hotel destinations before you ever set foot on the plane?
With today’s virtual reality technology, that potential is being realized. Not only hotels, but destinations, can share tours of specific areas that customers may want to preview before making a final decision about booking. YouVisit, for example, has used this technology successfully to promote areas like Houston, Texas and West Hollywood, California.
Other travel marketers have been playing with augmented reality (AR) following the success of Pokémon Go. A team in Moscow, for example, developed the “Discover Moscow” photo app that allows visitors to take selfies with such notables as Peter the Great and A. S. Pushkin as they tour the city.
AR may have other applications in-hotel, such as being used along with a heads-up display to improve customer touch, but this would be more of a customer experience issue rather than a marketing issue.
Don’t Forget the Internet of Things
One other piece of tech that’s gotten little attention in the travel and hospitality world, but is starting to gain a bit more traction, is the humble beacon. These small, inexpensive devices can, along with geofencing software, help you better understand what customers are currently doing and predict what they may be planning next.
For example, because of the permissions your user has given on their phone, you know they’re checked into Room 205, on the backside of your hotel. Their current location is the lobby, based on your beacon’s information. This could be a great time to suggest an Uber, which you have a partnership with, or a nearby destination.
Your app can act as a virtual concierge, promoting events within your own resort, based on where your visitors are staying and what events they’ve participated in already. The sky is truly the limit when you marry travel and technology—this area has not yet begun to be explored in-depth.
We may not yet be at the dawn of the robot uprising, but we certainly have found some new ways of marrying technology with travel and hospitality marketing. As Millennials get older, they’re going to start thinking about taking their families on vacation. It cannot be stressed enough that this is the tech generation, and they’re a huge one.
Learning all you can about and investing in the tech now will help you stay ahead of the game when it comes to being the destination where this biggest potential demographic wants to spend their down time.