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Reimagining Technology and Human Contact in the Next-Generation Passenger Journey—Part 1

“Neil has scheduled a business trip tomorrow morning from home in Los Angeles to New York. He uses the voice-activated digital assistant to check-in to his upcoming flight. During dinner, the airline app sends him a notification asking if it should schedule an Uber to the airport the next morning. Neil confirms the request and the Uber is scheduled. The airline app now prompts him with an ideal time to set his alarm, to ensure he’s on time for the Uber and hence for the flight.

On the day of travel, Neil takes the Uber to the airport and uses the digital assistant on the airline mobile app to request for a meal to be delivered at his gate, so he has food for his flight. He also uses the digital assistant to check whether his favorite seat has opened up on the flight and also to check on upgrade status. The digital assistant advises him on the availability of a paid upgrade offer which he confirms.

At the airport, Neil completes the security check where his identity is established using his fingerprints. Once past security check, the digital assistant prompts Neil about his favorite boutique coffee store opening up in the concourse at the airport and asks if it should order coffee for him to pick up on his way to the gate. The coffee order is placed upon his confirmation. Neil picks up the coffee and uses biometric validation to pick up his pre-ordered food. He completes boarding at an agentless gate, once again using biometrics to validate identity and board.

The app automatically connects to in-flight Wi-Fi, which is connected, based on the plan that Neil has pre-configured for selection. As they approach New York, the digital assistant advises that an order has been placed for an Uber pickup, based on the arrival time. Uber receives a synchronized message when the flight lands and the gates open, so that the driver can arrive on time. The airline also intimates the hotel in real-time regarding flight arrival time and provides an estimate of hotel arrival using real-time traffic information.

On completion of the trip, the app has scheduled an Uber pick-up based on the revised flight time since there was a delay of inbound aircraft due to weather. Neil follows a similar journey guided by the airlines’ Digital Assistant. Using the airline app digital assistant over the past few months, Neil has come to rely on it for all travel plans, including hotel bookings through partners as well as recommendations for holiday destinations, etc.”

The journey that Neil experienced is a passenger’s journey of the not-so-distant future. As we reflect this journey, one can only think of the influence of technology on our daily lives and the traveler’s journey. Increasingly, artificial intelligence powered digital assistants are playing an important role in our lives. These assistants are influencing all aspects of our lives, travel plans. Assistance throughout the journey is just another one of those aspects.

We often hear discussions about how technology plays a role in replacing human contact during the journey. However, I’d like to look at a contrarian view. While technology does play a role in reducing human contact in the journey by way of self-service, I believe that its role is far more in enabling higher quality of human contact during the journey.

Consider the travel journey we talked about earlier. The digital assistant that enables every step uses data to ensure that the messages and offers made are personalized to meet Neil’s preferences. Over time, machine learning algorithms help the digital assistant to fine-tune its recommendations.

Now consider the scenario where there were flight disruptions. The digital assistant ensured that these disruptions caused minimum inconvenience and ensured that wherever there was human contact – e.g., with in-flight staff, hotel staff, etc., Neil had a more positive contact rather than a negative one that would ordinarily result from these days of travel disruptions.

Let’s now consider another aspect of the journey: travel planning. In the traditional travel planning exercise, complex itineraries often involve interaction with an agent. The next- generation of travel will be one where the travel planning is initiated through a digital assistant, where a bulk of the work in terms of incorporating preferences, etc., will be done by the digital assistant before the human agent actually gets involved in the booking transaction. Not only will this enable the agent to provide the best guidance to the traveler but it will also improve the quality of interaction between the traveler and the agent. Technology also enables the agent to have the right insights to facilitate an informed and high-quality interaction.

In an age where the conversation has taken on a “man v/s machine” turn, I believe that when it comes to the next-generation travel journey, technology will play a key enabling role to facilitate more meaningful human interaction, alleviate bottlenecks and ensure a seamless journey.

In order to achieve success in this next-generation journey, travel enterprises should consider the role of this man-machine interaction in their digital transformation plan. How do I integrate machine learning into my human interactions? How do I ensure that my field staff is enabled with the right kind of insights, using technology? How much can I humanize my digital assistant? These are some of the questions that travel enterprises should ask themselves and answer them during the course of their digital transformation. Learn more on how to embrace the disruptive power of Travel Chatbots.

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