Travel tech experts: What to expect this year in AI, online planning and more2024-01-07
With 2023 in our rear view, travel industry experts are now focused on the year ahead.
2024 is poised to be exciting and potentially disruptive on the heels of 2023’s wave-makers including the rapid adoption of generative artificial intelligence and increasing demand for experiential travel, among other trends.
As we do at the start of each year, we have asked some of our trusted sources for their take on the year ahead.
Based on their input, generative artificial intelligence, modern technology with the potential to streamline travel processes and sustainability are among the topics that will color the travel industry in 2024. We present this, however, with one cautionary observation: last year at this time neither our team at PhocusWire nor the experts we gathered predictions from even mentioned the concept of generative AI or ChatGPT. So, who knows what else may be lurking in the wings this time around!
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Christine Wang, managing director of the Lufthansa Innovation Hub GmbH: “In the face of headwinds in the venture capital landscape, generative AI companies garnered significant venture funding; however, highly verticalized travel startups in the space struggled to raise big numbers. While generative AI has transformative potential in a variety of travel use cases, it will likely take some years before there is widespread verticalization of the technology in travel. In 2024, we mostly anticipate refinement of its hitherto most impactful implementations in travel, such as itinerary planning for large OTAs, AI travel assistants (e.g. Swifty) and hospitality customer support. One other development to follow in 2024: the age-old fight against fake reviews is evolving, and travel review platforms will need to innovate quickly to fight the new firepower that gen AI provides to fake review suppliers.”
Amit Saberwal, founder and CEO at RedDoorz: “[The] market will demand AI integration and other digital advancements. Independent hotel owners will demand more diverse technology enablement, from full end-to-end support to SaaS that helps in managing operations effectively. At the same time, customer engagement will be driven by personalization and localization using AI that can be scaled at much lower cost as demand pents up.”
Daniel Batchelor, vice president of global corporate marketing and communications at Amadeus: “Generative artificial intelligence will continue to exert a growing influence across the sector during 2024, while electric taxis are finally poised for take-off. Doing what we love, be it traveling to see our favorite music acts or using new tools to follow in the footsteps of digital influencers, will also drive bookings next year, while airlines continue to reshape their offering to respond to changing tastes.”
Ivan Saprov, CEO of Voyagu: “As the ChatGPT technology becomes more advanced, it will be better at pulling content and integrating fintech products with AI. This includes features such as changing travel dates, providing booking advice and offering pay later options. Both OTAs and travel providers are addressing pricing issues and seeking ways to reduce costs or provide greater personalization through ChatGPT interactions with customers.”
Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp: “AI-enabled features such as smart personalization, automated customer service and facial recognition are all becoming increasingly prevalent in the travel industry. We are also seeing AI tools, including chatbots and virtual assistants, being leveraged to provide real-time customer service. Finally, and for most companies, AI and advanced automation are a great opportunity to boost operational efficiency from code development through to marketing content creation and targeting, custom journey optimization and payout processing — there are huge opportunities for the industry.”
Andrea D’Amico, CEO of WeRoad: “Chatbots for customer service and pre-sales experienced a hype and bust cycle about 5-10 years ago, however advancements in today’s technology offer the potential for more success. The application of consumer-facing generative AI could find real use cases next year, potentially offering great alternatives to the traditional physical travel agency that builds personalized products.”
Modernized travel processes — from planning to payments
Spencer Hanlon, global head of travel payments at Nium: “In 2024, we also expect to see even more demand for modern payment solutions in emerging markets, particularly across the Asia Pacific region, as long-haul travel rebounds and brings with it the challenges of processing increasing volumes on legacy systems and processes.”
Kevin King, chief operating officer for Shiji Group: “Notably [we’ve seen], an increased receptivity towards digital self-service options among hotel guests, suggesting a broader acceptance of change, probably catalyzed by the disruptions of the recent pandemic. This emerging trend presents an opportunity for astute hotel industry leaders to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. In particular, smaller organizations may find themselves well-positioned to swiftly embrace and integrate innovative solutions, benefitting from their typically more agile operational structures. Technological advancements are poised to play a pivotal role in enhancing customer experiences.”
Dana Dunne, CEO of eDreams ODIGEO: “The fusion of accessible information and artificial intelligence has broadened travel choices and fueled the rising popularity of diverse global destinations. Social media platforms like TikTok are catalysts for wanderlust, leveraging short-form videos to inspire exploration of previously hidden gems, ushering in a paradigm shift in travel preferences. Looking ahead, we fully expect travelers to jump at the chance to discover new destinations, drawing on the immense choice they have at their fingertips.”
Kenneth Purcell, CEO at iSeatz: “Based on a recent survey we conducted at iSeatz, we predict not only continued strong demand for travel — 71% of consumers intend to travel more in 2024 than they did in 2023 — but also a renewed emphasis on sustainable travel, with 54% of respondents saying that sustainability has become more important to their travel and loyalty decisions over the past three years.”
Johnny Thorsen, vice president of business development for content distribution at Spotnana: “During 2023 we saw the usual ‘soft focus’ on sustainable travel with a lot of announcements but minimal action. 2024 is likely to be very different as travel buyers will start introducing internal ‘carbon tax’ models at scale, which in turn will increase focus on selecting the ‘greenest travel option’ whether it means the newest plane, rail replacing air, or the trip simply not happening. This development will be further accelerated by the introduction of the EU CSRD [European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive] as a mandatory requirement for about 50,000 companies as well as other countries and regions introducing mandatory carbon emission reporting.”
Charlie Sultan, president of Concur Travel: “We’re going to see a combination of costs and benefits from travel industry trends in 2024. For instance, larger corporate initiatives like improving sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion will keep carrying over to company travel programs, putting new, higher-purpose responsibilities on travel managers, procurement, HR and accounting departments.”
Nils Chrestin, chief financial officer at GetYourGuide: “Consumers will increasingly migrate towards trusted and authentic digital platforms to discover and learn more about a location, such as content from trusted influencers and verified customer reviews. They will also expect more personalized travel options that make their planning process less fragmented and more flexible, in case their plans change.”
Colin Smyth, vice president and general manager at Flywire: “One of the trends that we anticipate is that travelers will seek personalized, immersive vacations, as consumers continue to prioritize experiences over discretionary spend. Based on a recent survey we did of global travel providers across Australia, Italy, Japan and South Africa, we uncovered that travelers are increasingly foregoing conventional, ‘off the shelf’ vacations in favor of personalized trips that deliver unique experiences, often off the beaten track–so called ‘experiential travel.’ 89% of providers surveyed have seen increased demand for experiential travel, especially those in Australia (92%) and Italy (92%).”
Kristin Dorsett, chief product officer at Viator: “Amidst the social distancing of COVID, we saw tremendous growth in outdoor and active experiences. This is a trend that has endured. When we look at bookings in our higher-exertion categories — like nature tours, biking and mountain biking, and hiking and camping — we see growth that significantly outpaces the average. Early signals suggest this will continue into 2024.”
Cara Whitehill, founder of Unlock Advisors: “I think the dam finally breaks on the travel distribution front. Not just with NDC, but with all the intersecting technology and commercial innovations (AI, loyalty program restructuring, social commerce, fintech, etc.), that will shift the center of gravity back to suppliers and buyers at the expense of the big GDS, TMC and OTA intermediaries. Much of what suppliers have historically outsourced to those intermediaries can now be handled internally, so intermediaries will have to deliver on new value props in order to stay relevant. Buyers on both the leisure and corporate fronts have more transparency than ever in terms of pricing and service capabilities, which will put additional pressure on intermediaries to prove their worth.”
Dane Molter, vice president of product at Navan: “The incentive models of the airline industry will continue to evolve. In 2024, airlines that have adopted New Distribution Capability (NDC) will transform their programs with corporations and agencies, including the existing structure around contracts. The resulting structures will reflect what NDC has to offer and provide a pathway for increased utilization of this technology, with the goal of incentivizing travelers to book through preferred channels. The NDC-style distribution wave is coming for hotels. Expect distribution changes from hotel groups in 2024. In order to work more directly with agencies and customers, hotel leaders will start looking for different ways to distribute their content.”
Charlene Leiss, president of the Flight Centre Travel Group Americas: “Over the last year, we’ve seen the business travel resurgence with employees embracing the return to the road. In 2024, I expect this momentum to continue and the demand for business travel to further increase, especially across the small-to-medium sized enterprise market. However, with the needs and preferences of the business traveler constantly changing, I think we will continue to see a shift in the way travel is approached. The need for business travel is undeniable, so it’s important for companies to be able to evolve and adjust in how they meet the needs of their employees. Therefore, as travelers look to prioritize their well-being and take control of their schedule, I expect that the ‘bleisure’ travel trend will get even bigger in the year ahead.”
Mia Morrisset, principal at Inovia Capital: “2023 was about resetting growth and efficiency for most travel and hospitality technology companies. 2024 will be about execution and building optionality. Now that companies have strengthened their business fundamentals, we are expecting to see more financing rounds being put together, especially to double down on (mergers and acquisitions, innovation and personalization and flexibility). On the subject of M&A, cash-rich companies will push to accelerate market consolidation, while single point solutions will get acquired and re-bundled into larger platforms (eg. hotel PMS expanding into guest management).”
Kei Shibata, co-founder and CEO of Venture Republic Group: “India is going to replace China as the hottest outbound travel market in the world. Japan is going to become the hottest international destination in the world.”
Margot Schmorak, CEO and co-founder of Hostfully: “More female founded companies in travel. While women still represent a meager portion of founders in travel, it is becoming slightly easier for women to found and fund travel companies. In 2024, we’ll see different kinds of innovation in travel experiences to suit women — not just in technology, but also more family-friendly travel planning, communal trip planning, and amenities for the female travel experience (which is sadly more high-risk compared to that of men).”
Courtesy of Travel Weekly