Pace of innovation set to pick up in travel, but fraud worries grow

Innovation breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) may not directly disrupt the travel industry just yet, but they are among the emerging technologies that could drastically transform the way services are delivered in the years to come , say experts at the WiT Singapore 2022 conference.

At the three-day event from October 3rd to 5th, they discussed increasingly smart ways for consumers to plan a trip and pointed to the growing fear of fraud in the digital space.

While linear growth is easy to spot, exponential growth in areas like AI and ML is harder to predict, says Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of online travel agency Wego.

He points to the rapid developments in computer art, where AI creations have surprised people with their out-of-the-box ideas.

Big changes are also being brought about by cloud computing services, which are now equipped with tools like AI, so smaller companies don’t have to build an entire innovation pipeline to be competitive, says Veitch.

By 2030, many products will be personalized for individual consumers, while automated conversational agents use AI to recognize speech and respond instantly with a synthesized human voice, he adds.

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The “democratization” of IT tools that used to take large development teams months or even years to create would accelerate innovation in a travel sector that is no stranger to competition, say the speakers.

This will be especially important in a post-pandemic world where consumers are looking for new experiences without the unwanted frictions they’ve always feared.

Many of tomorrow’s digital systems are increasingly being built using pre-packaged tools that simplify coding, says Johnny Thorsen, vice president of strategy and partnerships at Spotnana.

“Six lines of code,” he says, is all it takes today to connect an e-commerce site to various payment systems around the world.

At the same time, increasingly intelligent systems will streamline the management of business travel, from planning to approval, requiring fewer manual entries, says Thorsen.

“Anytime someone manually types, there’s a potential for error,” he says. “It’s also a waste of time.”

Pay is another area that’s evolving rapidly, he notes. Smart contracts, enabled by blockchain technology, for example, could allow people to buy and pay for a ticket at a preset price automatically and without intervention.

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Fintech is also a major driver of billing, and online travel agencies are finding new ways to offer customers smoother payment processes.

At Traveloka, for example, much of Indonesia’s customer base pays with bank transfers, as the country has few credit card penetration.

Now comes Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) options for customers, which they can use to secure tickets early with a longer booking window, says Alfan Hendro, the Indonesia-based company’s chief operating officer.

“BNPL could overtake credit cards in Indonesia,” he says.

Payments are also a big agenda at competitor Booking.com, which has a separate financial services facility to manage payments.

This helps to offer payments on a global scale in a secure manner as the regulatory framework around the world becomes more stringent, says Matthias Schmid, acting senior vice president for Booking.com’s Trips division.

Indeed, one downside of going digital is the specter of fraud that is part of the package. Increasingly, the travel industry needs to find a better way to manage risk, say the panellists.

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One way forward could be using a sovereign digital ID, says Timothy O’Neil-Dunne, Director at T2Impact.

This could allow consumers to digitally prove to service providers that they are who they say they are when conducting online transactions.

For example, the United States government is facing an estimated $45.6 billion in fraudulent COVID-19 jobless claims, he points out.

In other words, fighting fraud would be a constant concern for travel companies, even as they seek to create more convenient, sustainable, and rewarding travel experiences through digitalization.

The good news is that now that borders are open again, more people are likely to be traveling and looking for new experiences.

“Travel is a force for good,” said Julie Kyse, vice president of global airline partnerships at Expedia Group. “We missed it… the essence of travel.”

One day, this could mean more than just crossing borders, says Ooi Chee Teong, deputy vice president of international aviation at Trip.com.

He envisions humans eventually traveling into space, just as they took to flying today. “Space is no longer a dream in the future.”

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