< PrevNext > AI Will Enhance the Human Touch for TMCs in 2023 By Chris Lewis, Founder & CEO, Travelogix / January 23, 2023 Share Chris Lewis, Founder & CEO, Travelogix Mention artificial intelligence—what’s the first thing that springs to mind? It’s hard to not think about films like 2014’s Ex-Machina or 1982’s Blade Runner. Humanoids aplenty.AI and machine learning, for us folks in the travel industry, can mean several things, but in 2023 most of our energy will focus on the simplification of the booking process and operational efficiencies, not the humanoid fever dreams. But we’ll have to be open to the opportunities—and, if we are, we may be able to realize benefits more quickly than we thought possible. PhD degrees in artificial intelligence and machine learning are at record highs, according to the 2021 Stanford AI Index, as are business and research investments. In 2021, such investments hit $93.5 billion—more than double the total private investment in 2020 and the greatest year-over-year increase since 2014.With that kind of investment, AI sophistication and computational ability are also moving fast. The 2019 Stanford AI Index, which was produced in partnership with McKinsey & Company, Google, PwC, OpenAI, Genpact and AI21Labs, noted that post-2012, the speed of AI computational abiltiy has been doubling every 3.4 months. Other research teams have estimated that rate at about 6 months. Regardless, it’s significantly faster than what has been measured in the past for traditional computational advancement (you can read about AI and Moore’s Law here in this Discover Magazine article). The upshot is that AI is moving fast—and sometimes faster than we can really understand. The Pace of Change for AI in the Business Travel IndustryWhat hasn’t moved fast is AI applications in business travel. AI seems like the logical choice when talking about improving efficiencies and processes for businesses. Is it the fear of change? I’m sure the upheaval of legacy technologies and subsequent implementation of AI has a role to play. Or, how about the human versus machine debate? Probably a bit of everything, if we’re being honest.There’s also the associated costs and perceived complexities around data availability that can also go against ‘Team AI.’ Travel demand cratered during the pandemic, which posed huge challenges for travel companies that were already looking to integrate machine learning—and some were. It’s true that machine learning requires large amounts of data in order to do it’s thing, and without pre-pandemic volumes to hand, the travel companies already in process with ML struggled to develop and scale. Those that hadn’t started struggled to embrace the idea. As we turn the corner on travel volume—and, therefore, travel data—in 2023, that barrier to embracing AI fully should be swept away. So how should we prioritize in terms of developing new capabilities and modernizing our service providers for the future? Afterall, we’re an industry built on human interaction—not humanoid interactions. Or… are we?A Blended Approach: The Human(oid) Touch?Think of what we could do if the bedrock of the industry—our people—was underpinned by tech innovations beyond what we thought was possible. Where’s the ceiling in that scenario for TMCs or other travel providers in terms of service, growth and efficiencies? Let’s look at some places where we might see AI progress in 2023:Travel booking – Chatbots and other automated systems can handle a wide range of tasks that include searching for flights and hotels, making reservations and even negotiating prices. This can save time and effort for both the traveler and the TMC, freeing up resources to focus on more value-added activities that undeniably require that human touch.Itinerary management – By analysing past travel patterns and preferences, AI systems can help travelers plan their trips more efficiently, suggesting the most convenient flights and hotels, and even making recommendations for activities and restaurants. True personalization seems to be somewhat of a holy grail for passengers today—and rightly so. Internal TMC operations – There are plenty of opportunities here, but one example would be machine learning algorithms analyzing data on past trips to identify patterns and trends used to forecast demand and optimize capacity. This could help agencies save money by avoiding overbooking and improving efficient use of assets.By automating routine tasks and providing insights and recommendations, these technologies can help make the business travel process more convenient and seamless, while freeing up our people to add that personal touch. I challenge the industry to consider the positive impact AI could have across our shared workforce, and how it could work in support of that workforce in 2023. AI is moving at pace across a multitude of industries. Travel has some catching up to do, but we could move faster than we think.