It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are changing the landscape of multiple industries, including, marketing, sales, and retail. Unsurprisingly, it is also making headway in business travel, which has long suffered from the problem of inefficiency.
We look at a few examples of how AI and machine learning are changing business travel.
1. Customised trip planning
Last year, a Booking.com survey revealed that a third of travellers would be comfortable letting a computer program plan their next trip based on their travel history. With AI, travel solutions providers are able to create custom itineraries and experiences based on a traveller’s specific preferences.
Machine learning also opens the door to features like smart calendars for travelling salespeople. We already see this in programs like X.ai, which schedules meetings based on preferences and rules.
Acting like virtual assistants, these programs allow travellers to have up-to-date-information on where their meetings are and make recommendations for transport and accommodations based on the venue’s location. More importantly, digital travel assistants can monitor flight delays and traffic conditions, among other things, to reschedule itineraries based on the preferences and corporate travel policies of business travellers.
2. Efficient transportation
We’re now seeing AI revolutionise public transport by providing travellers with the cheapest and most efficient routes by air, rail, and sea. In 2017, Skyscanner announced a partnership with Microsoft, allowing users to interact with Cortana, the company’s personal digital assistant, to make flight inquiries and bookings.
AI will also change how travellers move around cities. Carmakers claim that driverless cars are just a decade away from taking over the industry, with brands like Tesla and Ford leading the way.
Machine learning may also solve the problem of chronic traffic jams. In Bengaluru, India, Siemens Mobility is running a prototype traffic management system that combines AI with a network of traffic cameras, allowing the system to change traffic lights based on real-time road conditions.
Aside from driverless cars, experts predict that the technology to make autonomous cargo plans is only a few years away. This step as important, as aerospace giants like Boeing and Airbus must first convince governments and regulators of the viability of flying automated fleets of cargo planes before they can make a case for human passengers.
3. Language Translation
Online services like Google Translate are already helping travellers overcome language barriers when going abroad. Last year, Google improved the service even further by making it available offline on our smartphones and using AI to translate full sentences—thus keeping their context intact instead of clumsily translating them word for word.
Meanwhile, China-based Xiaomi has expanded its line of consumer electronic products with an AI Translator called Konjac AI Translator. The device leverages the company’s virtual assistant Xiao AI, supporting the simultaneous translation of 14 languages and integrating up to 99 percent of Xiao AI’s voice functionality.
If you’ve read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and if you haven’t, grab a copy now!), this technology sounds very much like the digital counterpart of the Babel fish:
“If you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.”
4. Self-service check-ins
Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 4 is a pioneer in using automation, allowing passengers to go through the check-in process with as little human intervention as possible. Not only will we see this technology in more airports around the world, but it is also predicted to disrupt the hospitality sector.
For years, hotel groups like CitizenM have offered guests online check-in services and self-check-in terminals across their network of hotels, drawing them in with this hook:
“Before your arrival, you can now check in online, pimp your stay with any extras (late check, breakfast anyone?), and receive your personalised QR code. All that’s left for you to do on arrival is to use your code to pick up your room key at one of our kiosks. It takes less than 20 seconds.”
In 2018, Amazon began integrating its personal virtual assistant Alexa with existing hotel services to act as an “AI concierge.” Deployed across select Marriott hotels, guests can use Alexa to order food and drink, control the thermostat, change the lights, find local restaurants and attractions, and check-in and check-out. Think of it as a virtual butler.
5. Expense tracking and reporting
One of the things that make business travel a frustrating experience is having to manually track travel expenses to file expense reports after every trip. It’s tedious, time-wasting work, requiring you to keep every receipt and prepare your explanations for items that may appear questionable to travel managers.
With AI, manual expense tracking and reporting may soon become a thing of the past. Apps like Travelstop use AI to auto-generate reports; all travellers need to do is snap photos of their receipts and the software takes care of auto-filling expense entries. You can then review the expense items in your free time.
Virtual credit cards are also becoming more accessible to small businesses, providing them with the benefits large companies have enjoyed for years. That includes secure payments, phasing out checks and automated clearing house payments, and even access to rebates.
Benefits of AI and machine learning to companies
While much of the conversation around AI and machine learning is geared towards making life better and easier for business travellers, these technologies also offer many benefits to employers.
For one, AI algorithms can automatically detect expense-reporting fraud and forged receipts, which may at times be overlooked by human auditors. Companies can also use predictive analytics to help employees customise their trips with recommendations while staying within budget.
Leveraging AI technology can also improve expense reporting processes, helping business travellers comply with their company’s travel policies. That means AI and machine learning not only improve the experience of business travellers—they also provide tangible benefits to businesses.