Our CEO Jeff Katz recently identified the five megatrends that he believes are shaping the future of travel. Automation is high on the list because it will enable far more personalization (believe it or not) of our travel experiences than we have today. Couple this with a new degree of flexibility injected in our journeys and travelers will be ever grateful to the new robot friends they meet along the way. Here, Shelly DeMott, Journera’s Chief Product Officer, highlights where this is all going.
We are seeing signs of increased automation in every aspect of the travel journey, from your front door to your destination and back again. These technologies — most of which are being piloted in small pockets of the travel industry — are poised to touch every traveler in profound ways. The accelerating application of technology and data throughout the travel ecosystem will be particularly visible in four areas:
- Reducing friction for travelers by eliminating cumbersome manual processes;
- Applying AI to better inform people and create smarter software solutions;
- Deploying robots to do manual tasks more efficiently and at hours that humans are less inclined to work;
- Using biometrics to make identification faster and more reliable while creating safer borders, transportation and public spaces.
Let’s start at home. On a stormy day when your flight gets cancelled, your airline will rebook you automatically. But, so will your hotel and car rental company. Gone will be the days when you (or your travel agent) frantically make phone calls to adjust your whole itinerary.
At the airport, the Transportation Security Administration has been testing facial recognition as a way to both speed check in and make travel more secure. In their test, facial recognition takes the place of producing your passport at check in, identifying your name and flight details at bag check, and showing your ID in the TSA security line.
Once you arrive at your destination airport, Hertz is using facial recognition to make your car rental easier. Customers in their Hertz Gold Plus program are able to bypass the counter and drive away with nothing more than their face for documentation. We see the day when that same face unlocks many other travel doors, from your driverless Uber to your hotel’s pool and spa.
Three major U.S. airlines have implemented bag tracking capability for your checked bags, keeping you updated on the precise location of your luggage. It’s only a matter of time until you are able to direct your bag where you wish, saving you that wait at the baggage carousel. For business travelers, this will enable you to dart off to a business meeting knowing that your bag will be waiting for you in your hotel room later that afternoon.
Automation advancements in the lodging sector are already improving the customer experience. A number of hotels (especially at the high end) have begun to eliminate check in/check out times. As hotels get a better handle on their customers’ airline, train and ride share arrival times, we will see personalized check ins become the norm for the industry. These dynamic check in times will be managed by kiosk or mobile keys, whereby customers bypass the counter and head directly to their rooms.
When your personalized check in time is five hours earlier than today’s 2:00/3:00 afternoon norm, you may have a robot to thank. Robots are being developed for the hospitality industry to assist, and ultimately take over, housekeeping chores. The availability, speed and consistency of robotic housekeepers is expected to improve customer satisfaction and speed the turnover of rooms between check out and check in.
Your hotel room will also be smarter. Artificial intelligence being implemented in greater China allows guests to “switch” their room from work mode to leisure mode and gives management the ability to reset all the electronic devices (like TV and music selections) upon guest check out. Meanwhile, Amazon is bringing Alexa to your hotel room, allowing you to raise the shades, turn up the AC, order a beer and play your favorite Bon Jovi song, all by voice command.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for what we will see in travel automation. Fueled by smarter use of data, machine learning and AI, friction will be removed from the travel experience. Automation and data integration across the totality of your journey will smooth the unwieldy “handoffs” travelers experience between one travel provider and the next; speed access to flights, cars, hotel rooms and experiences; and offer faster and more personalized service.
When all this automation begins to work in tandem, travelers will have more time to do what they left home to do — get more work done, play another round of golf, or finish that long novel under a beach umbrella.