The robots are coming – and why tech still needs a human touch

We’re living in such exciting times now. Travel technology continues to evolve at a dizzying pace which, aided by connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, machine learning, among others, are offering new opportunities for businesses in the travel and hospitality industries.

Just last month, Singapore Airlines announced that its flight information is now available on Google Home, at the same time the voice-assisted device was launched in Singapore.

Marriott International has teamed up with Samsung and Legrand to launch the world’s first Internet of Things (IoT) room, while Hilton is currently beta testing a mobile-centric guestroom. Meanwhile, robot butlers have been introduced in several Singapore hotels to provide services like delivering newspapers and cooking eggs.

Innovation in the tours and activities sector is gathering pace too. Asiatravel and its B2B division TAcentre, together with Yaturu 5800 Israel, are working to bring Israel’s history to life with tours using augmented reality (AR) technology and scripted audio-dramas (Editor’s Note: stay tuned as TTG Asia’s Rosa Ocampo will be joining the AR tour and reviewing it for you).

On the customer service front, chatbots are becoming a popular solution among travel agencies (see our new Customer Service column) to increase staff productivity and alleviate hotlines.

But as tech-savvy as customers have become in an ‘Uberised’ age, the majority, I believe, still prefer a human touch in their interaction with brands and products, especially as more travellers seek authentic, personalised experiences in their travels.

And the reality is that personalised search results, automated check-in at airports or keyless hotel room entry are unlikely to deliver that ‘wow’ experience that will compel travellers to rave about their flight, hotel stay or tour booking. Such technologies will enhance customer satisfaction and drive efficiency, but they won’t create loyal brand evangelists.

For customer loyalty to happen, good, old-fashioned human connections are needed, especially in complex, unlikely or unpredictable situations when things get personal, emotional or highly charged.

Just look at the Troubleshooting and Say It Again sections in our new Customer Service column and it’s apparent travellers still want to be advised despite all the autonomy and information technology has brought.

What keeps a customer returning to H.I.S. Travel in his subsequent travels, for instance, was the agency’s ability to deliver and go beyond his earlier request – i.e. staying only in secluded temples and shrines in Japan. The trust and rapport with the company wouldn’t have been achieved if the travel experts hadn’t understand the complex request the first time round and tailored a highly customised itinerary.

There’s no doubt that technology will continue to drive breakthroughs in the travel sector, but it’s only by maintaining a human touch – understanding, empathising and responding to the subtleties required – that algorithms and AI can add the most value to businesses.

We at TTG Asia like to interact with our fellow readers too. How would you feel if we send a chatbot?

Chat with us, we’re all ears. Human ears that can empathise.

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