travel industry

Contributed by: Jayveer Nanda
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Hardly any industry is untouched by the Covid-19 crisis. Travel was among the first to be affected and has dealt a particularly brutal strike. Barely a month after worldwide lockdowns and border closures effectively sealed off entire countries from reach, many are already looking back fondly on the good days of travel. Airlines, travel companies, and the tourism sector as a whole face an unprecedented challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has upended the global travel industry and brought the world to a standstill. For the first time in history, close to 90% of the world’s population now lives in countries with travel restrictions. Airlines, travel companies, and tourism are among the most affected businesses. 

An estimated 25 million aviation jobs and 100 million travel and tourism jobs are at a risk. The potential loss will be between five and seven years’ worth of industry growth. The share prices for airlines have fallen drastically since the outbreak began. If corrective actions are not taken soon, they will continue to fall. Before travelers start traveling again, they will need to feel safe and confident that their health is protected.

Travel will be back — it has to be back, for too many livelihoods and economies depend on it. More than 10 percent of the global workforce is employed by the tourism industry, from farmers who supply hotels with produce to drivers who ferry tourists between excursions and beyond, millions of people rely on business generated by travelers. But the way we travel will undergo a dramatic transformation.

To change the sentiment of traveler, the industry needs to go through lots of changes that will help them in recovering during this new normal. Technology is set to become the biggest enabler for companies in the post-COVID world to ensure an enhanced customer experience. Companies should explore solutions that allow travelers to maintain social distancing norms as much as possible. At the same time, get a high level of service and personalized customer experience. Data Science and Artificial Intelligence will play a major role in helping the industry resuming back to the new normal. Some of the most important use cases that use AI and should be adopted by the travel industry to run their business are below.

Route Optimization 

Currently, a lot of flights route i.e. the source and destination have a layover or a connecting flight in between where travelers have to stay for some time and go through a security check-in process again. By analyzing the customer sentiments, we can be sure that they want to avoid connecting flights with a layover, and prefer direct flights to their destinations. Airline companies should use various optimization algorithms such as using Linear Programming using Data Science and AIML. using which they can take the optimal air traffic route. This will airline industry run direct flights instead of connecting flights with a layover. Once this has been done, travelers will start booking the flights because the overall risk will be reduced and it will bring added advantages for the airline company, such as fuel consumption will be less as flights will be reaching the destination directly. The overall cost will be reduced as fewer logistics will be needed when there is no layover and also most significant time will be reduced which is highly important from the customer standpoint.

Contactless Travel 

The most immediate, and perhaps most visible change in the travel industry will be a shift to touchless travel from airport curbside to hotel check-in. Even with strict cleaning protocols in place, exchanging travel documents and touching surfaces through check-in, security, border control, and boarding still represent a significant risk of infection for both travelers and staff. Health and hygiene will become more important in the post-COVID world. From a visa application center, an airplane, to sightseeing at a destination, people would look for an assurance that all touchpoints during a journey have adopted the health and hygiene aspect.

Automation across the entire travel industry will become the new norm. An already widely accepted solution for identity verification is biometrics. As physical fingerprint and hand scanners are phased out, it’s use will become more widespread. More touchless options will come into play including contactless fingerprint, as well as iris and face recognition. Moreover, Artificial intelligence should be used for touchless data-entry such as gesture control, touchless document scanning and voice commands are already being tested. 

Industry experts say Data Science and Artificial Intelligence technology will be a key tool in the revival of travel, with electronic passports and IDs, boarding passes, medical screening, and robot cleaners being deployed widely to limit physical contact between people and surfaces.

Currently, the security check-in process is manual. AIML should be used in this area to minimize the manual checking and detection systems such as boarding pass recognition, medical issues detection should be in place to minimize the human contact and makes it more touchless. Care must be taken to ensure these technologies are inclusive and to eliminate the risk of potential biases.

Digital health passports

From now on, health could be embedded in every aspect of travel. According to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), measures such as visible sanitizing, screening, and masks all increase passengers’ feelings of safety when thinking about traveling after COVID-19.

To date, there is no standard or agreement on the acceptable level of risk for reopening borders or allowing individuals to travel. Until a vaccine is developed, the focus is shifting to assessing the risk of individual passengers. With the passenger’s consent, travel companies and airlines could use personal data such as their age, underlying health conditions, and travel history and can use data science and AIML to compile an individual risk profile.

Efforts to develop health protocols and standards using digital technology (data science and AIML) for the travel and tourism industry are still in their initial stages. In the meantime, airlines such as Emirates are conducting on-site COVID-19 testing for passengers. European airports have begun drawing up industry guidelines for passenger health screening. While not new, the use of thermal cameras at airports is becoming more widespread. Several symptom-tracking and contact-tracing apps now exist in many countries. Apple and Google are close to finalizing a contact-tracing software scheme for developers to build compatible apps.

Paper passports are still required as the main form of identity for travelers. In a contactless world, the adoption of standardized digital travel credentials and initiatives like IATA’s ONE ID concept, which promotes the use of biometrics for a smoother journey, must be accelerated and adapted to this new context.

Robots sterilize, deliver food and supplies and perform other tasks 

Robots aren’t susceptible to the virus, so they are being deployed to complete many tasks such as cleaning and sterilizing and delivering food and medicine to reduce the amount of human-to-human contact. UVD robots from Blue Ocean Robotics use ultraviolet light to autonomously kill bacteria and viruses. In China, Pudu Technology deployed its robots that are typically used in the catering industry to more than 40 hospitals around the country. Using AIML, data science and RPA technologies, robots can be built and can be thought of serving food and sterilizing it during the flight with minimal human assistance.

AI to identify non-compliance or infected individuals 

While the controversial use of technology and AI, the sophisticated surveillance system can use facial recognition technology and temperature detection software to identify people who might have a fever and be more likely to have the virus at the airport itself. Technology powers “smart helmets” used by officials in Sichuan province to identify people with fevers. The Chinese government has also developed a monitoring system called the Health Code. It uses big data to identify and assess the risk of each individual based on their travel history, how much time they have spent in virus hotspots, and potential exposure to people carrying the virus. 

All the above AI use cases will help in improving the customer experience in the travel industry. As stated earlier, for the industry to recover, travelers will need to feel safe and confident that their health is protected. In a global pandemic such as COVID-19, technology, artificial intelligence, and data science have become critical to helping societies effectively deal with the outbreak, especially in the traveling industry.

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