Travel insights from Brian Robb, CTIE and chairman of The Travel Institute

Do You Think You Can Compete With AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is defined as an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. So, will AI replace travel agents? I maintain that it’s not an us-versus-them situation, and smart and effective travel agents will persevere. Agents will succeed because they have a secret weapon they can deploy that AI cannot. Let’s look at what’s going on.

Microsoft, IBM, Expedia, Hipmunk, and several travel technology providers are investing heavily in AI. Each is is seeking a solution that makes it easier for consumers to research, shop, and book travel more effectively.  I don’t see a lot of consideration for travel agents there.

Douglas Quinby, a senior vice president at the travel research firm Phocuswright has pointed out that “the ideal (solution) is fewer options more tailored to your request.” Fortunately, Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the president of Atmosphere Research Group points out; “It’s very much the first wave, which is exciting, but the use of artificial intelligence is far from established and also, frankly, far from perfect.” Yet, I’ll add that we all know a percent of travelers will always be turned on by the idea of a newer, better way to “do it myself.”

It’s assumed that AI will touch every sector of travel and every step of a traveler’s journey, from the ideas and images in online searches to the pricing of flights and accommodations to experiences in-destination. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we just throw up our hands and move on to another career? Why do I insist that smart and effective travel agents can win?

Part of the answer is found in the research findings of a recent ASTA survey showing that seven in ten travelers who used a travel agent to plan a vacation indicate they will use them again in the future.  Why?

  • They saw the added value their agent provided
  • They felt they made a more informed purchase decision
  • They had an experience that met or exceeded their expectations

I can summarize that even more simply – they developed a RELATIONSHIP of trust with their agent.

Let’s bring AI back into this picture. Smart and effective agents will use AI themselves to augment their own knowledge and supplement their ability to assist clients in their entire end-to-end travel experience.

Clearly, your secret weapon is developing and maintaining successful RELATIONSHIPS in a way that AI cannot and leveraging your access to all kinds of relevant information and content.

What’s next? Maybe someone will predict that VR will replace actual vacations?

About the Author

Brian Robb is founder and principal at The RobbAspect. His career spanning several decades has provided him a 360-degree, and an international view of the industry having held positions at airlines, tour operators, travel agencies and in travel technology. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a firm belief in the value of travel agents. Brian is currently board chairman of The Travel Institute providing him the opportunity to address his firm belief in the value of continuing education and in pursuing one’s passions.

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