Comment: Why every travel business can benefit from AI

Kanu Aravind, head of digital and innovation at IBS Software, believes the sector has much to gain from rapidly developing technologies

When OpenAI launched ChatGPT in late 2022 it took the entire world by storm, reaching one million users in just five days and surpassing 100 million monthly users in under two months. The media cycle has reached fever pitch with stories about the various ways AI can make businesses faster, smarter and more efficient.

The travel sector has much to gain from AI. So much so that Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky has spoken at length about the ways AI is set to revolutionise the company in the near future. He isn’t alone either. Expedia is another example of a travel company that has recently announced a new AI-powered travel booking tool to help streamline and enhance the experience for its users.

However, benefitting from the likes of AI should not be the preserve of only the biggest businesses in the travel industry. 

AI isn’t just for the benefit of industry giants

While every progressive business understands the requirement to digitally transform, too often smaller companies wrongly assume that cutting-edge technology is beyond their capacity, capabilities or budgets.

Inevitably, approaching how to integrate something as powerful and nascent as AI into pre-existing operations and systems can be daunting. But if such opportunities aren’t embraced in a timely manner then the end result can often be more damaging. Those that rest on their laurels may soon find themselves missing out on the clear advantages that come with being early movers and ultimately cede valuable ground to competitors.

Implementing new technology also doesn’t need to be a mammoth undertaking to have a big impact. While large companies may choose to invest in significant AI platforms, open source AI tools can be easily adopted to perform specific, bitesize tasks. For example, ChatGPT already offers a range of travel specific plugins that can make planning easier for both businesses and customers alike.

Technology is only one part of successful business innovation

Ultimately, effective implementation of new technology hinges on organisational support and a progressive culture of innovation. Without that, exciting new implementations can quickly fall down an organisation’s priority list.

While technology can play a pivotal role in business success today, it must still be connected to a clear and addressable business problem. Even something with the potential of AI will not magically solve business issues if it’s done in isolation, ill-thought through, or detached from wider business initiatives.

Innovation isn’t just about embracing new technology either. It’s also about forming the right partnerships with like-minded organisations and learning from their successes. For example, airlines looking at how best to implement AI should look beyond their own four walls and even their own industry for inspiration. Otherwise their thinking will be blinkered right out of the gate. Instead they should be looking to see how other customer facing businesses from across the business landscape are using it, and whether such approaches could also be applied to the aviation industry (and vice versa).

Just 12 months ago, the idea of AI-powered travel planning and booking systems still felt like a pipe dream to most. Today it is very much a reality. While the idea of implementing such a powerful technology may seem daunting, particularly to small businesses, there really isn’t a better time to embrace it. In the travel industry, many businesses live and die by the quality of customer experience they can offer.

AI’s ability to constantly learn from the world around it and tailor suggestions based on changing needs and habits is what makes it such a game changer for travel, and why it simply can’t be ignored – no matter the size of the business.

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