Productive work, prolific travel: AI’s impact

Bright eyes and warm smiles greet jet-lagged passengers as they navigate a myriad of signs in the arrivals hall. A cheerful voice giving directions rings out first in English, then in Spanish, followed by Bahasa Indonesia. The crowd parts to reveal a 5-foot-tall robot equipped with a touchscreen monitor.

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), such automated assistants could soon become commonplace at international airports. With cutting-edge language processing capabilities, they can interact fluently with travellers from around the world. They break barriers, guiding people to their destinations and making travel more efficient and enjoyable.

These transformations herald a new era for the travel industry. For example, data shows that generative AI tools like ChatGPT can boost business productivity and work quality by 14%. The technology aims to elevate efficiency by enabling employees to create systems that complement their tasks. This allows them to concentrate on delivering personalised and exceptional customer experiences.

Those keeping pace with rapid technological advancements are already training their workforce in AI-related skills. Businesses in Southeast Asia are set to invest 67% more in AI and machine learning solutions compared to the previous year.

One thing is certain: contrary to some perspectives, AI does not replace human workers but enhances their skills in a mutually beneficial relationship that unlocks their full potential.

Automation-led digital transformation

Cutting-edge AI in travel is leading the way in areas such as automation. Time-consuming and repetitive back-end tasks, including payment processing and performance report filing, are completed in minutes. Meanwhile, virtual chatbots can quickly address standard customer queries.

Personalised itineraries and real-time updates on weather conditions or travel disruptions will also soon fall under AI’s remit. Add in 24/7 availability, providing instant responses at any time, and it’s evident why travel businesses are among the 74% of organisations that view automation as central to their digital transformation strategy.

Furthermore, AI is set to make additional strides in the sector. Technologies that can optimise resources and predict disruptions are poised to revolutionise airport operations. For instance, AI’s remarkable processing power enables the forecasting of flight patterns, reducing unexpected delays that could mar a traveller’s experience. Gone are the days of excessive delays during travel, as AI-driven solutions herald a new era of streamlined journeys.

AI’s integration into the travel ecosystem is becoming the standard, steadily increasing efficiency across the industry. But what happens to the employees who originally performed these tasks?

A common misconception is that many jobs in tourism are becoming obsolete due to AI. However, roles are continually evolving. Similarly, those who view AI as an ally, rather than an adversary, can discover new opportunities.

Bridging the future of work in travel 

As global investments in AI systems are projected to reach US$110 billion by 2024, we’re seeing a paradigm shift in the workforce. AI is catalysing a future where human-robot collaboration forms the backbone of an efficient travel industry.

Having a virtual concierge frees up employees to focus on more complex and value-added activities. Enterprising staff could even redefine their roles by constructing low-code or no-code automation processes. This lays the foundation for a harmonious and robust relationship between human and machine.

Think of it this way: instead of dedicating cumulative man-hours to compiling travel information or addressing every query, industry professionals can engage in meaningful conversations with customers. They can build rapport while directing AI to fetch the necessary data, enhancing travellers’ end-to-end experiences and tailoring them to individual needs.

The possibilities are endless. With a clear path ahead for travel, the objective is to meet rising demand in a consumer-focused manner. Success depends on collaborating with AI to unlock a new level of productivity. Comprehensive training programmes are therefore essential. Learning to harness AI through a holistic approach broadens our understanding of its immense potential.

Moreover, AI’s ability to continually learn from data and refine its performance ensures that businesses remain agile, adapting to changing demands.

The challenge of implementation

However, even as AI technology advances, infrastructure costs pose a significant obstacle, particularly for start-ups with limited funds. Training an extensive language model like GPT-3 can cost upwards of US$4 million, and more advanced models could require double that investment.

Employee apprehensions also need addressing. According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022, nearly a third of respondents expressed concerns about being replaced by technology within three years. Many view AI as a bogeyman coming for their jobs.

It is vital, then, to introduce AI as a platform that enhances creative thinking, complex interpersonal relationships, and problem-solving in unpredictable settings. The days of slogging away at mundane tasks must be relegated to the past. With AI, employees can bring fresh impetus into their roles, propelling the travel industry forward.

AI is ushering in a transformative era in the travel industry, with emerging technologies like generative AI taking the spotlight. As we contemplate the future of work, we must embrace its influence as a key driver of productivity—it’s the gateway to a new era of unparalleled travel experiences.