Japan leverages on AI to ease communication hurdles

Japan’s travel industry is looking to language processing tools and other artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies to support communication with international travellers in the face of rapid inbound tourism recovery and a shortage of English-speaking staff.

In Tokyo’s Seibu Shinjuku Station, a new AI-powered machine is being deployed at ticket counters. Developed by Toppan Printing Company, the device called VoiceBiz interprets speech in 12 languages, and displays the conversation in real time on a transparent screen so staff and customers can see each other and the translation.

Interpretation devices and AI-based technologies can support international visitors with communication in Japan

According to developer National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), the service is designed to maintain the human touch during interactions. The technology was tested at Kansai International Airport earlier this year.

The team is also developing a simultaneous interpretation system to be used at World Expo 2025, which will be held in Osaka.

Eiichiro Sumita, project leader at NICT, said progress in AI is driving the creation of the latest interpretation devices, which could advance Japan’s tourism industry by attracting visitors who were previously daunted by the language barrier.

Kotozna Inc., meanwhile, has been trialling its new ChatGPT-based service ConcierGPT this summer at Southern Beach Hotel & Resort Okinawa. The technology acts as a mediator between visitors and front desk staff, and is “capable of providing accurate, plain and multilingual answers for each accommodation’s specific information”, said Genri Goto, CEO of Kotozna.

ConcierGPT builds on the company’s information dissemination and communication tool In-Room, whereby guests scan a QR code that directs them to details on the accommodation’s offerings and to a chat service, both of which are available in multiple languages.

In-Room has been expanded to more than 300 hotels and ryokan inns nationwide so far this year, according to Kotozna, which claims it improves communication with visitors, addresses labour shortages, and promotes consumption of the facility’s F&B and souvenirs.

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