With the emergence of cognitive technologies and artificial intelligence in the travel sector, this particular domain will have the opportunity of transforming itself from a merely commoditized service provider to an active and interactive trip coordinator.

Let’s be a bit specific. According to statistical data, nearly 87 percent of travellers resorted to the virtual platform for planning a significant share of their travel experiences. However, that has not quite transformed the booking scenario and several allied aspects.

From website designs and architecture, to visual designs and interaction, results were far from being even satisfactory. However, there is always room for improvement, and that is perhaps highly essential in this regard. If airlines companies fail to take note of the situation now, third party sites such as Expedia and Kayak will have a gala time eating up their revenues.

Finding possibilities and opportunities

Well, that brings us to the question of ‘what to do’? Investing in unproven and unproductive technologies will certainly not be a wise thing to do. However, the most effective solutions might pop up from a few underleveraged areas. Consider the following options:

Whether it is a top-tier logistics enterprise or a high-end hotel, cognitive technologies will ensure predictive analysis. As the consequence, service providers will develop a better understanding of their clients’ preferences, thus providing them with unparalleled services and experiences.

Since customers are not ready to shell out some extra pennies from their pockets, it will be imperative to optimize technologies and incorporate best practices. Remember; you will need to change your designation from ‘travel service providers’ to ‘travel solutions providers.' Perhaps, this role-reversal or better to say, complete makeover will unfold innumerable opportunities for the airlines sector in the present as well as in future.

While all this is implemented, what is the end user eventually getting?

The future will be all about the customer experience and having 360 degree solutions. The entire travel experience will not just be about booking a ticket, boarding a flight and reaching to your destination. It’s going to become like a poem, and there will be a lot to read in between the lines.

With the help of cognitive technology, the travel websites and platforms that you use will be able to extract data and information from your social media and other browsing activities. That can then be merged with the information concluded from surveys and research globally, so provide a profile of your interests and what are the most probable things you would like.

Let us outline the entire journey and how cognitive technology will have an impact on it. Imagine this guy Sam (who could be very well you in future as well), who needs to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Nepal. Let’s outline his experience and his story in the futuristic cognitive world! When Sam realizes or is informed about the journey

If the travel is for personal reasons, Sam’s cell phone shoots a mail or interacts with the HR department of his company to inquire if he can avail himself of holiday, vacation or personal time. If yes, an application letter is typed using the available formats on the internet or in his phone.

Also, the distance is calculated by his cell phone by taking the data from the internet. Using this data, Sam’s phone calculates what will be the best mode of transport for Sam. The phone knows that Sam prefers trains over airplanes for smaller distances and hence, the options are shortlisted accordingly.

With the help of Sam’s previous travelling history and the interests obtained from his accounts on ticket booking websites, Sam’s laptop or mobile suggests the possible choices which are favourable for him.

Conclusion: Your phone is able to intercept your conversations and interactions and make decisions accordingly.

Before Sam books tickets for the journey

The technology remains overwhelmed, always keen to help Sam by being a step ahead. Hence, even before Sam books his travel, it is going to come up with proposals and solutions to try to ease things for Sam. All kinds of devices that Sam owns are working to make the experience richer and smoother, and Sam’s phone has informed his close friends about the trip so that they don’t make plans that would involve him.

At the same time, his mobile phone keeps checking ticket availabilities and alerts him of the cheapest ones with acceptable timings. The tedious process of checking for tickets to get a good deal will be taken care by his phone itself. His computer also tells him what he should not miss for sights and attractions, since he is going there for the first time.

Had he been a frequent visitor, the computer could have eliminated the places he had been to and suggested a much filtered list. This entire process helps Sam plan out his trip in a much better way. Also, does Sam have right things for this trip, or does he need to go shopping?

Sam’s baby boy - Alex, is he going with him? If so, is his baby all equipped for it? Nepal is going to be super cold. Sam’s washing machine knows all the clothes he owns, and suggests the phone alert Sam to go shopping and buy some warm clothes for him and Alex.

Cognitive makes the pre-booking experience a journey which will make sure that nothing goes wrong while Sam is on his trip.

Conclusion: Your devices ‘know’ you and can plan for you accordingly.

Booking experience

Now, with the help of the emails or phone calls Sam has made, the phone or laptop will start searching for flights/trains or bus on the dates being mentioned. If it is a working day, Sam’s computer can automatically highlight the flights which he can board after his working hours. How does it know Sam’s working days? The phone told the computer. How? Sam puts an alarm on all working days, doesn’t he?

While Sam books the ticket, it can not only suggest what he can eat (based on his interests of course), but also - what would he like to see or read. It knows that while Sam will be on board, he would like to read or watch something. Now since Sam likes Rom-com, the best rom-com movies of all the time have been short listed for his selection. At the same time, the movies which he has watched before have been eliminated. It’s the game of data, information and knowledge and everything is possible!

While Sam is going to book the ticket, the computer knows because of his profiles on social media and of course, GPS, that he is in Kuala Lumpur. If it is raining in Nepal, the computer can suggest that he buy an umbrella from the favorite ecommerce website, which can be delivered on arrival.

And did he finalize a hotel reservation? It’s Sam’s first time. He doesn’t know. The phone has sent an alert to people in his social circle who have visited Nepal and solicited suggestions for hotels and other things too.

Combining it with the list the computer compiled from the internet based on reviews and budgets, Sam has a very crisp list to choose from. Does he have a ride to take him to this hotel? If he didn’t select anything to eat while he was on board, he must be hungry. Fortunately, a famous pastry shop will be on the way to his hotel. Sam loves pastries. He can’t miss that and the computer knows it well.

Conclusion: Your experiences can be modified according to your interests and life-style.

Travelling experience

The whole travel experience has already been made smoother because of cognitive and artificial intelligence. The cab to the airport has been booked and the driver has been informed about the time of the flight.

The cab has already calculated the average time with the help of traffic status of the city. At the same time, Sam’s phone is in constant touch with the websites that can alert him to any last minute delays or cancellations. Sadly, Sam’s flight got delayed and he decided to rest at home rather than waiting at the airport. His phone notified the hotel in Nepal that Sam will be late but he still needs the room booked. Otherwise, the hotel could have cancelled it on the basis of no-show.

Also, when Sam locked the door to leave, his phone instructed all the other devices in the house to hibernate so that power could be saved. At the same time, a few electronics such as the refrigerator would optimize it’s on and off functions so that minimum power is consumed while the food items in the fridge still stay fresh.

Sam’s baggage has been checked in finally at the airport and he moves through the security checkpoint and boards the flight. After a few minutes, he gets an alert on his phone that his luggage has also been loaded in the same flight and he makes a sigh of relief. His luggage is also secured with smart locks and if anyone would try to break in, Sam will again get an alert. He just can’t let his luggage remain unprotected - even if it is airport.

After Sam boards the flight, he is presented with his favorite movies according to what he had pre-selected. Also, his phone has automatically gone into flight mode and has sent an alert to the important people in his contact list about the same.

The food is served hot and fresh - as per his preferences. He recently turned Vegan and the airlines were informed that dietary change by the phone. Moreover, the phone reminds him about the brilliant jacket the airline is offering to buy in-flight which will be needed at Nepal since he didn’t shop enough for the trip.

Conclusion: Your devices become your best friend, guide and companion by communicating on your behalf.

Post travel

After a soothing and entertaining journey, Sam finally lands. The phone and watch has changed the clock according to the new time-zone. The cab which was booked by Sam’s computer has been alerted by his phone about the landing and the driver is waiting for Sam at the arrival area.

The hotel has also been informed about his arrival and the kitchen is in the process of cooking his favourite dish. Everything is going just brilliantly, but Sam is feeling a bit dizzy. It must be his blood pressure, he realizes.

Sam informs the phone about his medical condition and the phone suggests a nearby doctor while extracting his entire medical history and sharing it with the local hospital. He can’t afford to lose time and health on his trip and the critical situation is handled easily.

The cab driver now needs to understand that Sam is going to the hospital and not the hotel, but Sam doesn't know the language. His phone translates, conveys the same to the driver, and provides directions. Sam sees the doctor and is assured that he is fine and can continue with his trip.

Cognitive is all about possibilities - where cognitive technology will become our companion to help us navigate our life in a smoother and richer way.

(About the Author: Shailendra Kumar is a partner and Asia Pacific distribution leader for IBM Cognitive Solutions based out of Sydney, Australia. Over the past 23 years, Shailendra has had experience in business and customer analytics across Europe & the United Kingdom and in the Australian market place. In the past, Kumar has worked with Coles, Woolworths and Accenture in ANZ.)

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