AI in travel is not "the future" – it's already here

Just a year ago, if you told someone that your average citizen would be able to use AI on their phone – to do anything from manage their finances to creating an impressionist masterpiece – you’d probably be laughed out of the room.

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We have lived in a world with ChatGPT and Midjourney for about a year now. And things have been weird; a palpable tension has built around the negative potential for these algorithms, and the existential threats they present. But like it or not, AI is the future. Actually, it’s the present.

We live in a time where AI-powered chatbots assist travellers (without annoying them), and predictive algorithms can help travel businesses allocate resources more effectively. The travel industry has warmly welcomed AI, just as other industries have – but at times, it can feel like AI is treated as a means to cut staffing costs.

Right now, the travel sector needs to focus on enhancing customer experiences and operational efficiency. And while AI can do that, it can’t take the journey itself. We’re at a juncture where tech and humans could either collide miserably, or work in tandem – and we think that OpenAI and other AI leaders were right to call for regulation in AI development and use.

AI is our reality today – and in a lot of ways, it’s the best version of reality we could have hoped for.

How is AI being used in travel today

Machine Learning (ML) has been in play for a while now. We’ve seen it in things like hotel reshopping, and dynamic pricing – but also in fraud detection, demand forecasting and learning consumer behaviour (down to the creepiest of personal levels).

We’ve had predictive systems in airlines and hotels for some years now, optimising pricing and inventory management. These ML algorithms forecast demand patterns and adjust prices dynamically – cutting costs for businesses and travellers alike.

But what we have with AI now is no longer just a passive learning system; we have an active, generative AI that can act on complex input.

Take chatbots, for instance. AI-powered chatbots have become so good at handling customer inquiries, making reservations and giving post-travel support that human resources are barely required in these processes anymore.

They offer quick responses and assistance from a vast knowledge pool, and can work with real-time data in a way an army of personal human assistants can’t.

Travellers get a seamless experience – at their own convenience, on their own terms.

Of course, not all chatbots are built equal. Anyone who’s used Deliveroo’s or Amazon’s chatbots can attest to that. But where they fall down is in the sheer number of variables that retailing has, and the light touch required for handling (the often emotionally-charged) feedback from customers.

One day, AI will crack that nut. But the day of Artificial General Intelligence has yet to dawn, and nobody knows when that day will come. Hopefully, the robots won’t want to wipe us all out – but we’re guessing there’ll be a couple of safeguards in place by then.

So, if it’s not AGI and Terminators, what is next? Everyone losing their jobs?

Where is AI going to lead the travel industry

AI’s potential to transform the traveller's experience and streamline operations is the real golden goose, not its ability to replace staff. And we believe that strongly; travel will always be a uniquely human experience. The notion that AI will replace humans in the travel industry is way wide of the mark; the world isn’t ready for that, and we think it would be rejected wholesale.

We’re going another way, with the development of Junction Plus – AI-powered, automated traveller assistance. We’re focusing on personalisation and experiential travel.

Junction Plus is a personal travel assistant in your pocket.

Actually, it’s so much more than that.

It’s an AI-powered platform that helps travellers plan, book and navigate their trips using natural language processing. It offers personalised support throughout each stage of travel – including trip planning and inspiration, booking assistance, travel information, navigation and assistance, real-time updates, customer support, post-trip feedback… The feature list is pretty complete.

It integrates seamlessly with other Junction products, as well as weather apps, ChatGPT – basically, anything online and API-driven. It can even predict the on-time performance of flights, and we’re incorporating weather factors into performance, too.

But we’re not done just yet.

We’re currently developing Junction Plus right now, so that it constantly monitors the entire travel ecosystem for disruptions. And if any leg of a journey is affected, travellers will get an alert with personalised alternatives. 

It also provides check-in alerts and personalised recommendations for ancillaries.

This is really what AI’s next giant leap will be: personalisation.

AI will allow travel providers to create hyper-customised experiences at an individual level. This is what we’re working on right now – experiences that speak to the values of that particular traveller.

Do they only eat vegan, kosher or halal? They’ll only get recommended experiences that fulfil those standards – and all their booking preferences will be noted for subsequent travel. Do they love art, or adventure sports? The AI can recommend experiences that match their interests.

These are the kinds of things that make travel more fulfilling, less stressful, more meaningful – and AI facilitates it in ways that feel like magic.

These can greatly enhance user satisfaction – but also raise important questions about data privacy. Striking the right balance between personalisation and privacy is a key challenge, and consumers are particularly aware of ads “following” them around the internet.

This implementation is just disconnected enough to not be creepy, but has enough input to make meaningful suggestions and changes that will enhance a person’s experience.

Natural language processing can also be used to find trips, without the need for specific search criteria – for example, returning user-level tailored results to this query:

"I'd like to go away for a few days next month, somewhere that has great weather, beaches and good nightlife."

What else can AI do in travel?

AI will continue to refine processes, especially in error-prone areas. Predictive maintenance of aircraft, dynamic pricing and real-time route optimisation will become the norm – as will zero-contact check-ins and document verification.

That might sound like a security nightmare, but security and safety will actually be enhanced massively, with facial recognition and biometrics allowing for frictionless travel that’s impossible to spoof. And if the AI flags that something’s up, human support will be on hand to deal with it – it just won’t be the only means anymore.

AI can even make baggage tracking better, and could give rise to hospitality robots in the future.

AI is a tool, not a new employee

Never underestimate the importance of human experience. In the rush to adopt AI, a lot of companies have forgotten what it really is. It’s a tool, not a replacement for a skilled, knowledgeable, emotionally-aware workforce.

AI can assist in decision-making, but complex decisions are highly emotional, and no amount of data training can compensate for a lack of emotion. Understanding cultural nuances and local customs isn’t what AI is tuned for, either – it’s undeniably an English-speaking, western-leaning tool at this point.

And that’s a major point; bias in AI is a real problem.

AI systems are only as good as the data that they are trained on. Biassed training data can result in potentially discriminatory results. This is a massive concern for AI developers, who could unwittingly be cultivating serious social and security failures.

Travel is unpredictable. Even with AI-powered traveller assistance to make it easier, nothing comforts like a human voice, a human face, and a helping hand. Machines might never master this aspect of being human, even if they come to dominate our world.

AI is reshaping the travel industry, and the world at large. Will it change for the better?

We think so, as long as we focus on what’s important, and remember where we’ve come from as an industry before we lose sight of it.

The present belongs to AI – but the future? The future’s human.

Deliver AI-powered, personalised travel experiences 

Junction Plus is the world’s most advanced travel assistant. Talk to our team, and learn more about our breakthrough AI travel assistant.

Media contact

Andrew Harreiter

Head of Marketing

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