A friend was in Shanghai recently and took a cab to a restaurant, and on arrival she took out cash to pay for the fare.
The driver stared at her, said he didn’t accept cash, that she paid with WeChat Pay, which she didn’t have. To cut a long story short, she somehow managed to get the driver to accept cash. Now she has a WeChat account to make her next travel to China hassle free!
This is just one example of how technology has changed every aspect of our life, with perhaps its greatest impact on travel. We can buy every service we want for a vacation — from flights to accommodation, tours and even a wireless router that you can collect at designated airport outlets on arrival – using our smart devices or laptop without having to step out of the house or interact with another human being. Similarly, travel providers are also increasingly using technology to provide services to their customers.
Does this wide usage of technology then dehumanise travel? It does not, says a new report What the Tech? Astonishing Ways Technology Is Changing Travel Experiences launched by integrated B2B communications agency Ying Communications and Hong Kong-based marketing and branding company CatchOn.
The study details the trends stemming from the crossover between the travel and technology industries stating that far from dehumanising travel the latest technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning, robotics and virtual reality are actually making experiences on the road richer and more personal.
Here is a summary of some of the trends in the report:
Mobile devices are leapfrogging desktops in usage, and this trend is most evident in Asia with China leading the pack in usage. WeChat, the Tencent messaging/social media/mobile payment app, is not only widely used in China but many in the hospitality and travel industry have adopted it in their operations. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said about 30% of its Chinese consumers are already using an option to pay for flights via WeChat Pay. Mobile technologies can also augment the traveller experience at their destinations or hotels. Example, the Mandarin Oriental offers an app that guests can synchronise with digital guidebooks of the region where the hotel is located.
This is the latest buzzword, and almost every sector is trying to figure out how it can be applied to unlock new possibilities. Blockchain offers great potential for the travel industry, states the report: “If a passenger’s authentication process could be developed on blockchain-based biometric devices, the travel experience could be seamless.” Imagine travelling to an airport, catching a plane, arriving at a hotel and walking straight to the room without ever encountering a single queue or having to share any personal information. “Once the industry learns to embrace and monetise blockchain, this queue-free journey will be a reality,” it adds.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The number of connected devices is growing every day, and the travel industry is leveraging on this technology to streamline consumer interactions to back-of-house operations. Picture making a cup of coffee in your guestroom by just pressing a button or having showers programmed to come on at an optimal temperature. Some leading hotel brands are already making such scenarios a reality. Late last year, Marriott International teamed up with Samsung and Legrand to launch the hospitality industry’s IoT hotel room “to inspire the ultimate hotel experience of the future”, according to the hotel.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Many travel companies are already using AI-powered chatbots to handle customer queries, but lately chatbots have advanced to handling more complex tasks. Scoot, the low cost arm of Singapore Airlines, launched a transactional chatbot named MARVIE (Most Awesome and Resourceful Virtual Intern Ever) in July on its Singapore Facebook page via Facebook Messenger. MARVIE is described as “the first chatbot by an airline in Asia to allow transactions, in addition to responding to customer queries”. Retail giant Amazon made its entry into the travel industry using AI via Alexa for Hospitality, bringing the voice-activated assistant to hotel rooms to provide information, play music control in-room setting. With insights gleaned from AI, companies have an opportunity to make personalised recommendations, states the study.
There have been quite a number of reports that robots will replace humans in many industries in the not so distant future. However, many believe that they can never truly replace the human touch. A bank in England was reported as saying it would increase the salary of its tellers even with a robot at work, as its customers still want to deal with a human on their money matters. But there’s no denying that robotics is being used to make travel smoother. Robots guide passengers and clean up after them at South Korea’s Incheon International Airports. Hotels are using robots to help with some of the services for its guestrooms. Last year M Social Singapore introduced the first front-of-the-office autonomous service delivery robot, known as AURA, to deliver bottled water, fresh towels, toiletries and meals to guests.
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