by Karen Galles
Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “the introduction of something new; a new idea, method or device.” Are evolving technology and commonplace devices (once considered science fiction) changing the meaning to the introduction of something not simply new, but significant too?
Whatever your opinion, it’s hard to ignore the ceaseless stream of information about the latest (and sometimes disruptive) digital and tech innovations in the travel industry, from established brands and start-ups alike.
New ways to search, plan & book
Artificial intelligence (AI) finds patterns and connections, learns from interactions to predict behavior, and understands plain language queries—all of which makes it perfect for planning trips and developing recommendations.
Zumata’s Intelligent Travel Agent offers its travel partners a way customers can find just the right hotel or travel agents can gain “unprecedented and accessible knowledge.” The example used on their website illustrates how specific searches can be: I want a quiet room in a business hotel, near the Empire State Building, less than $200 per night.
The list of apps using AI to recommend personalized travel options is long. A couple that stand out are:
- Lola — uses both AI and live travel agents to provide hotel and flight options
- Booking Experiences — creates a personalized in-destination experience
For those who’d rather just say what they want, you now can ask Alexa (Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant device) to book a hotel with Kayak. The New York Times, reported, Avis is introducing reservations through Alexa too.
Travelers wonder if they can get a better deal on flights, and there are tips for the best time of day, day of the week to buy. But, who has the time to spend watching prices? With Hopper, which “has collected a huge historical archive of trillions of flight prices,” travelers will know when to book their flight. Hopper claims they “consistently perform with 95% accuracy.” The app makes it easy to wait, watch or buy.
And there are plenty of specialty apps that target a specific niche or area of interest:
- GoEuro – compares and books trains, buses and flights; one search includes 30,000 locations in 12 countries
- Envago — helps find adventure travel with local guides
- Access Earth – shares information from members about accessibility at hotels, restaurants and attractions
- KOMPAS – aggregates information from experienced travelers to identify “hidden gems, local haunts and unique locations”
And it’s not just about start-ups and new apps; established travel businesses are also adopting AI. Bill Munro, chairman of Barrhead Travel, based in Scotland, said in an April article in The Telegraph, “We hope within 12 to 18 months to have robots interacting with our customers as they walk past our stores in shopping centers.
Making it easier to get there
Luggage now does more than hold clothes. An array of smart luggage uses GPS so you always know where it is and offers ports to charge phones, tablets and laptops. Some include scales to prevent over packing, solar powered batteries and remote locks.
AirlineCheckins.com handles check in for more than 100 airlines. Users complete a profile about seating preferences, frequent-flier program information and identification information. Agents check travelers in, sending boarding passes via email or text. They’ll even select your favorite seat.
Solve, an airport concierge platform, was recently purchased by chauffeur service Blacklane. Available at more than 500 airports worldwide, Solve will meet customers at their arrival gate (or curbside), expedite security and customs and immigration, escort them to car or shuttle services, and assist with connecting flights and lounge access.
While you’re there
No room keys to lose. Marriott and Hilton allow guests to unlock doors with their mobile apps. While the service isn’t available at all of their locations, it is used at hundreds of them in several countries, and both companies continue to roll it out to more.
Carnival Cruise Lines’ Ocean Medallion wearable is much more than a room key. Yes, it can open your door, but it also “will store information to make for a customized cruise experience.” Use it to order a drink and the waiter will find you, even if you’re wandering the deck. Ocean Medallion is powered by 7,000 onboard sensors, a cloud network and AI technology.
Not cruising the seas, and wondering where to eat? Travelers staying at a Hilton can ask, Connie, the “first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry” for dinner recommendations or try Sure, an AI chatbot for the Facebook messenger platform that finds the most Instagrammed spots for food and drink in your area.
Walk through a New York neighborhood and see it as it was years ago –with Timelooper. The augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) app lets you use your smartphone to see missing buildings and other historical details. It’s also available in London, Berlin, Washington DC, Budapest and Izmir. Another AR smartphone app, Pilgrim XXI, offers a similar experience for eight historic locations in Russia, France, Latvia, Italy, Estonia and Bulgaria.
Gadgets for the trip
There’s tech we can’t do without when we travel and there’s plenty more being developed daily to make personal trips more fun and business trips more productive.
These three products show the range of gadgets that can find an application for travel:
- Currently available for pre-order, The Pilot is touted as the “world’s first translating earpiece.”
- For those with gluten sensitivity who aren’t sure of a dish in a new city or country there’s Nima’s gluten sensor.
- Your Instagram and Facebook photos will make your friends jealous when you use a foldable, pocketsize drone for amazing aerial shots.
Innovation has become the norm, and the tech innovations created with one purpose in mind quickly find other uses. AI, AR and VR are being incorporated more and more into sectors of the travel industry, and the possible applications seem to only be limited by our imagination.