Tourism after Corona: how smart assistants will change travel

At the moment, travel is out of the question. But what will happen after the pandemic is over? – Smart assistants will change travel in several areas.

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The following text is based on an extract from the study "Out and About With Smart Assistants", which you can obtain from our website.

Planning a trip can be extremely time-consuming and annoying. Which destination? Which travel option? Which accommodation – or even several? What sights are there? You name it. But this seemingly endless process will one day become a relaxed, spontaneous experience thanks to smart assistants.

Smart assistants are digital counterparts that understand our normal speech and assist us, just like an advisor or coach. Because such assistants won’t just be used for the journey alone but also in all kinds of life situations, they will know a lot about our interests and preferences. This means that for the customer, they will become a personal travel agency, navigator, translator, tour guide and so forth, and they will take on all our administrative tasks – such as buying tickets and checking in.

How will digital assistants change our travel experience? To answer this question, we shall divide up the tourist experience into different phases and shed light on the influence of technology on each of them. We shall differentiate between the phases "Inspiration", "Decision", "Experience" and "Follow-up".

Inspiration

When we move through the Internet or in the analogue world, we leave behind us a large data footprint. Experts anticipate that by the year 2020, 1.7 megabytes per second will be produced for every individual on our planet.11 Most of this data, however, is not created by us. It’s data about us, and most of it belongs to the big software companies. This data is spread today across many different services. Facebook, Google, our banks, even the supermarket for which we have a loyalty card – they all know something about us. But they don’t know what the others know. If a digital assistant becomes an interface – a middleman for online services – then we will be getting it to answer our timetable enquiries and to make our bank transfers. So the assistant will collect data about us from different domains, and it will thus also know what journeys could inspire us. The inspiration for a journey often comes to us through the media. We might see a documentary film about the fauna of the Alps, for example, or a netflix series with beautiful landscapes, or holiday photos of our friends on social media that we like, comment or repost, or we might get our assistant to read us an article about an exciting artist whose exhibition we may want to visit in future. If our assistant knows exactly what we’re watching or listening to, that can be immediately helpful to us as users because we can ask questions about the content. We might ask about the shooting location while watching a film, or in the case of the abovementioned article on an artist, we might ask questions about her that aren’t answered by the article.

Registering our media consumption and answering our questions can in the long-term lead to our assistant getting to know us better and better – as is also the case if we answer questions that our assistant poses to us (such as «would you like to travel there?»). This means it can offer us better recommendations for further media content, and also suggest travel destinations. New media bring new possibilities for inspiration. In virtual reality (VR), it’s possible to fly like a bird through the Swiss Alps. Tourism organisations could pay game developers to incorporate their landscapes in games – as a kind of product placement – and they could provide the data for the landscapes in question too. Our assistant would also register what landscapes we prefer in our VR worlds, even if in our role as a bird we are not even aware that we are flying through the Lauterbrunnen valley.

Decision

If we now tell our assistant that we would like to go on holiday in the coming autumn, then it will make suggestions based on our registered interests. For example, it might suggest a hiking holiday in the Swiss Alps to go and watch the groundhogs we’ve seen in a documentary film, or a beach holiday like the holiday snaps we liked, or a trip to a city where works by the aforementioned artist are being exhibited. If several people want to travel together, their assistants can join forces to find a common denominator. Of course, the assistant can also ask questions. Do we want to just relax, or also experience something interesting? Do we want luxury, or something more down to earth and authentic? Because the assistant has access to our calendar data, it can also make spontaneous suggestions. If we’ve got nothing on next weekend and it’s going to rain, it can suggest a weekend excursion. Perhaps to a place where tickets are especially cheap at the moment, where the weather is better and where a band we recently discovered is giving a concert.

Once the decision is made regarding the dates and the most important criteria, the assistant can make all the necessary follow-up decisions on a provisional basis – all the overnight stays, restaurant meals, museum tickets etc., and also see to all the associated administrative tasks. In order not to disclose the customer’s data to all possible hotels and restaurants – especially in case our travels plans should still change several times – the assistant will reserve everything in its own name and use a virtual credit card such as we can already generate today through services like Privacy.com.

Of course, we don’t have to let our assistant dictate our travel plans. Whoever wants to check all the alternatives themselves can do so at every stage. If we’re not happy about a restaurant suggestion, or if we’re simply curious to know what alternatives there are, then we can swipe through these just like on Tinder until we find something more to our liking. It’s easier to change individual stages than to put together a journey from scratch. We can be inspired to do many activities during our actual journey itself. Perhaps a different route might look more interesting than the one chosen by our assistant. If the assistant tells us something about a medieval castle, and mentions that there are several such castles in the area, then perhaps we’ll want to see them too. If we’re standing at a good vantage point, the assistant could use augmented reality (AR) to show us interesting places or restaurants that we might want to visit. If we see that a restaurant is just around the corner, then we can get our assistant to read us the menu or several reviews of it. Since the restaurant provides its own data in real time, we can also find out if there’s a table free, and if we want, we can reserve it. Thanks to sensors in car parks, our assistant will then show us the route to the next free parking space.

Travellers can diverge from their planned itinerary without any problems. Because it’s really only a suggestion, nothing compulsory. If we leave our planned route spontaneously, or if the weather changes unexpectedly, then the rest of our itinerary will be adapted dynamically, just as is the case with a GPS navigator. This is why customers will prefer hotels, restaurants and tickets that can be cancelled at the last minute. Depending on their personal risk preferences, they might even be willing to pay a small amount for this option.

Experience

The journey itself will be shaped by the assistant in all kinds of ways. Already today, it is inconceivable to most of us that people used to go on holiday without GPS or a smartphone map. A smart assistant will know far more detail about where we want to go (or where we’re supposed to be going), without our having to enter the travel destination every time. After all, it already drew up our itinerary for us. It knows the timetables and knows about any delays of busses or trains; it knows when museums or other sights are experiencing a high number of visitors, and it can adapt our itinerary so that waiting times are minimised. Waiting is an expression of bad planning. Buying tickets or checking in and out of hotels becomes superfluous, because the assistant has taken over all administrative tasks. Foreign languages are translated automatically and in real time, whether written or spoken.

Whoever prefers to hear the original version of a language, like in the cinema, can have their smartphone show subtitles on its screen, instead of hearing the translation via headphones. Thanks to its access to huge amounts of online information, an assistant can also act as a tour guide and provide the customer with interesting information – about places worth seeing, for example, or about the typical local meal on the table in front of them in a restaurant. Unlike a human tour guide, our assistant will only tell us what really interests us – and only as much as we actually want to know, whether about the local flora or historical anecdotes. In computer games, you get rewards once you’ve got through certain challenges, such as finding all the treasure chests. Some tourist regions have started applying this gamification principle too.

Whoever has skied down all the black pistes in a single day will get a virtual medal. A digital assistant is ideally placed to check whether a challenge really has been overcome, and it would allow for challenges that are more difficult to monitor than is the case today. The assistant can also make us aware of these challenges in the first place – for example, if we’ve got halfway to a particular goal without even having noticed it.

Follow-up

After a journey, the assistant will ask questions and check our ratings to find out just how well its recommendations have suited us, and what it can do to improve next time. This feedback enables the assistant to adapt even better to the desires and needs of the customer. The more questions we answer, the better we can train our assistant, and the better its future recommendations are going to be. An assistant will also keep a kind of travel diary or logbook so that we can remember our holidays better afterwards. Today, apps already exist that can produce a time-lapse film from the selfies we’ve taken every day. At «Your Timeline» on Google Maps, you can see where you’ve been
every day. EasyJet sent its customers personal reminiscences of all their journeys to commemorate its 20th company anniversary. Whoever so desires can get their assistant to ask them every day for a brief description of the most important events, and the assistant will use the videos and photos we’ve taken to generate a video diary. The photos will either be those we’ve taken ourselves, or they’ll be made by a mini-drone that constantly accompanies us and regularly takes photos. The best photos, naturally, are shared on social media. Already today, our camera software optimises them automatically using different filters. Our assistant knows which photos get the most likes, takes on the task of post-processing them, and also orchestrates matters such as ideally positioning the drone’s camera, deciding when to upload the post and adding the right hashtags.

Artificial intelligence in the form of smart assistants will thus change travel and thus the tourism industry in many areas. Consumers are already being supported in the idea and decision making process. The travel experience itself is spontaneous and stress-free. And through the feedback on the trip, the assistants know what they should focus on next time. – As soon as travel is possible again.