Enhancing Caribbean Tourism with Artificial Intelligence

2017-07-24

There has been a lot of buzz about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and human-machine interfaces within the business environment. However, the nature of AI itself is not totally new. Sometimes we forget that we actually interact with AI on a daily basis. Think of all the millions of options Google presents us with when we search for a good restaurant or hotel. Thanks to AI or machine-learning, Google is not only able to crunch data at the blink of an eye, but it can also “learn” how to provide us with more precise results.

“AI is human-like intelligence that works in a similar way to our brain—though not quite, of course. It supports our capabilities, simplifies our life, and improves our ability to make use of information,” explained Bob Rogers, chief data scientist for analytics and AI solutions at Intel in a recent Intel IT Peer Network interview.

The revolutionary aspect about AI is that travel and hospitality brands are currently exploring ways to embed AI technology in their search processes and chat platforms to enhance customer service and engagement.

Frankly, that’s the part that scares the bejeezus out of traditionalists; the blind fear of allowing AI to dehumanize a high-touch business like the hospitality industry.
This blog post takes a look at how the market is responding to the use of AI technology in the tourism business environment. It also gives some examples of current AI integration within global travel and hospitality brands in addition to exploring ways AI can be used to enhance the Caribbean tourism industry.

How do Travellers feel about Artificial Intelligence?

Last year, global media commerce company, Travelzoo conducted a survey of more than 6,000 travellers in Asia, Europe, North America and South America and nearly 80 percent of respondents anticipate that robots will play an integral role in their lives by 2020, with three quarters believing they will enhance their quality of living. Almost two thirds of respondents stated they would feel comfortable with robots playing a role in their holiday, though some nations appeared more cautious than others.

German and French respondents were the most cautious, while Chinese and Brazilians were the most positive about how robotics and artificial intelligence could improve their holiday or travel in general- 92 percent of Chinese were comfortable with the idea.

The main advantages respondents see in robots are: general efficiency, data retention and recall. More than three-quarters of respondents believe that robots would be better than humans at handling data (81 percent) and dealing with different languages (79 percent), while 76 percent think robots have better memories. 81 percent of respondents selected their untiring energy as a benefit. Staff not great at foreign languages? No problem. Jane or John Wirehead will handle it.

Speaking on the survey’s results, Richard Singer, Travelzoo’s European President said, “Right now is a very exciting moment in the history of the travel industry. Groundbreaking technology is revolutionizing what is possible from the perspective of customer service, entertainment and personalization. Robots and artificial intelligence are making their debut on the tourism stage, and our research into global acceptance of robots working in the travel industry is largely positive. Most nations are starting to open up to the idea of robots in travel and see the tangible benefits heading our way in the very near future.”

Industry Examples

Data Driven Rum- Inspired by the Caribbean

Thanks to “Holiday Spirit” introduced by Virgin Holidays, travellers now have a new way to savour that special Caribbean holiday feeling. Holiday Spirit was claimed earlier this year as the world’s first data-distilled rum that was created using IBM Watson. A supercomputer was used to analyze data from social media posts in order to create a rum that tastes like a Caribbean holiday. “In just six hours Watson was able to read 15 million posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter relating to holidays and find the predominant emotions and concepts in those posts,” said Joe Harrod, big data analyst and AI expert, who worked with Watson. “Then Watson read 5,000 rum reviews from review sites around the web, matching emotions from the reviews with ingredients. Learn more about Virgin’s Holiday Spirit rum by watching the video below.

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Visit Orlando’s AI Digital Platforms

Visit Orlando claims that it was one of the first tourism boards to implement AI into its web and app platforms. Using IBM Watson (powered by Wayblazer) technology, visitors are able to get answers to complex questions such as “Where can I eat that has live music?”

The results involve information and reviews gathered from TripAdvisor ratings in addition to consumer blogs. The app also features user-guide functions, such as an “Around Me” tool that users can easily locate relevant attractions and services, as well as promotions where users can obtain discounts when they take selfies at various places in the area. “This innovative technology ….is like having your own personal Orlando expert 24/7. It analyzes numerous options, extensive data, and insights from destination experts and fellow travellers to create a recommended experience that is just right for you”, said George Aguel, president & CEO of Visit Orlando quoted in this news article.

Hilton’s “Connie” Robot

In 2016, Hilton Worldwide introduced “Connie”, the first Watson-enabled robot concierge in the hospitality industry. Connie relies on domain knowledge from Watson and WayBlazer to inform guests about local tourist attractions and dining recommendations, as well as hotel features and amenities. “We’re focused on reimagining the entire travel experience to make it smarter, easier and more enjoyable for guests,” said Jonathan Wilson, vice president, product innovation and brand services, Hilton Worldwide. “By tapping into innovative partners like IBM Watson, we’re wowing our guests in the most unpredictable ways.” Learn more about Hilton’s “Connie” Robot by watching the video below.

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Artificial Intelligence Opportunities for the Caribbean

Based on the discussion above, it is evident that partnerships with relevant technology companies are key to exploring ways AI can be implemented throughout the Caribbean. According to a news article released last month by the Jamaica Information Service, the Jamaica government is beginning to position the destination to take advantage of the benefits of AI to enhance economic growth and job creation in the country.

Science, Energy and Technology Minister, Dr. the Hon. Andrew Wheatley, stated there is a continuing discussion involving the Ministry, Jamaica Information Technology and Services Alliance (JITSA), Jamaica Computer Society (JCS), and the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) on how best AI can be utilized for the country’s benefit. He further explained that a recent analysis of 12 developed economies implementing AI in their engagements, piloted by United Kingdom (UK)-based software designers, Accentra, demonstrated that those countries could potentially double their growth rates by 2035.

AI has the capability to add value to the tourism industry. The main benefit of course is enabling us to provide more customized offerings to our visitors. Instead of providing the same experience to all travellers, AI gives us the possibility of precisely matching the unique needs, behaviors, and preferences of tourists with various aspects of the destination that would be more suitable to them. By understanding what our visitors are searching for, buying, and enjoying, it gives us an opportunity to create customized and targeted offers that are more likely to be converted into a purchase. According to global Information Technology (IT) research firm, Xorlogics, these AI systems will quickly become necessary in the creation of strategic topics for the tourism industry. This helps the Caribbean become a “smarter region”, through the personalization of visitor experiences and their loyalty.

One thing to keep in mind is that although they are able to multi-task, learn, problem-solve and translate at a far better rate that humans can, robots lack one aspect of customer service which will always be unforgettable: a personal touch. Currently robots don’t have the capability to exhibit genuine human qualities such as emotion. Sure we can always use more efficiency, but there is no such thing as a great Caribbean vacation without a heavy dose of emotional attachment. Travezoo’s president, Richard Singer further stated, “While the advent of technology such as robot butlers and bartenders is hugely exciting, it’s also very clear from our research that consumers see the combination of robots and humans working in tandem in customer-facing roles as the ideal solution.”

“Consumers still want humans in the picture, as otherwise there is a genuine fear that cultural nuances, humour and irony will be missed and the holiday experience could become too impersonal. If we don’t respect the desire for the human touch, we risk ‘robophobia’ setting in, when in fact technology can significantly improve the holiday experience when used appropriately.”

What are your thoughts on implementing AI in the Caribbean? Share your ideas in the comment section below. Furthermore, I encourage you to be a part of the discussion on this fascinating topic when we meet in in Grenada, October 10-13, for the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s annual State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC). Join us as we delve into exploring how we can creatively use technology to enhance the visitor experience. For more details, visit www.sotic.onecaribbean.org. Register and pay by July 31st to receive $75 off your registration fee!

Source https://hughriley.org