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Bon (digital) voyage! – 5 ways that AI is disrupting the travel industry

Lifestyle | Travel

Where did you travel on your most recent holiday? Did you Google flights and accommodation? Did you use Uber to get around?

If you did, you interacted with artificial intelligence from the moment you started planning your trip to when you hit the beach.

AI is changing the way we travel. Algorithms are getting better, smarter and faster. Data is becoming more abundant. The world is increasingly interconnected. And disruptions will shape every industry and our lives in the coming years.

Here are five ways that AI is disrupting the travel industry and influencing your holidays:

Marketing

Every travel business needs to market itself. The largest marketing platform is Google. When users search for ‘flights and accommodation in Cape Town’ for example, Google makes use of its page ranking algorithms to show you the results in order of relevance.

And to help it rank, Google employs many AI algorithms in a domain called natural language understanding (NLU). A human can read and understand what the search query means, but a computer cannot and NLU algorithms give Google this superpower.

Algorithms are getting better
Algorithms are getting better

In 2018, the search engine published a paper describing a new algorithm called BERT. BERT is even more powerful than the ones Google used previously because it understands the context in typed sentences.

While Google and other platforms like Facebook are not in the travel industry, their offering often are, which is why their AI algorithms are impacting large online travel booking companies.

Relevance

Speaking of which, travel websites and search engines make use of many AI algorithms. One fascinating use case from Booking.com is in a field of AI called computer vision – giving computers a way to ‘see’ and interpret images and videos.

Booking.com uses algorithms to automatically analyse images uploaded to its platform by users and accommodation providers, detect what is in these images and automatically annotate them.

For example, if the hotel is at the beach front, AI algorithms analyse the images, notice the beach and assign a ‘beach’ tag automatically. This helps the algorithm suggest the best accommodation based on search criteria. When you’re looking for a hotel in the mountains, NLU algorithms will understand your search and pass that on to other AI algorithms that serve you the most relevant results.

Virtual reality

 Some travel agencies are even starting to use virtual and augmented reality to give you a ‘feel’ of the place in real-time before you even book the trip. Today’s travellers are looking for experiences and virtual reality gives them a preview of what they can expect – whether it is the local sights or the view from a hotel balcony.

Houston Muzamhindo works in Investec Private Banking in the field of Analytics and Data Science. He holds a BSc in Computational and Applied Mathematics, Wits University, PDM, Wits Business School and PGD in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, Columbia University.

He is the founder of a free online education platform called IQmates. He was also inducted as a TEDx Johannesburg 1830 Fellow. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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