Artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on the travel industry was a key theme of MarketHub Asia 2023 last week. Discussions flowed, and minds were blown by the possibilities that the new technology heralds for the future, but there was also much concern over the negative implications the AI revolution might have on employment – specifically, the kind of role that travel agents will play in an automated world.
During a round table break-out session, Carlos Muñoz, chief commercial officer of HBX Group, the parent firm of Hotelbeds, organiser of the event, sought to dispel the notion travel agencies will be rendered obsolete and that AI-powered chatbots will take the place of human beings, stating that AI will enhance the services provided by living, breathing travel agents.
“At the moment, there are many reasons why it is a painful, laborious process to create a travel experience for the customer. AI can remove those pain points and help create the right itinerary,” said Muñoz.
“The technology is here to help travel agencies create more value for the consumer – and the arrival of AI in the workplace will help travel agencies eliminate friction and become much more productive.”
Indeed, AI-powered chatbots can relieve travel agents from the more tedious aspects of their jobs by automating repetitive tasks, such as booking flights, hotels, and tours. By analysing customer data, including search history, social media activity, and purchase history, AI can recognise patterns and trends in behaviour that can be used to create effective personalised marketing campaigns to attract and retain customers.
However, as Muñoz pointed out, there is much more to the role of a travel agency.
“As a consumer, I use travel agencies to reduce my pain points. I don’t want to explore every possible destination option, and, crucially, I do not want to make any mistakes when booking. What I do want is advice and guidance. Something that AI will never be able to provide.”
The option to sidestep a travel agent has been possible for many years by directly booking hotels, flights, tours, and car rentals on company websites or through OTA’s. Freeing staff from mundane and repetitive tasks will allow travel agencies to focus on complex tasks requiring human intelligence, creativity, and sensitivity.