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Monday, 26 November, 2018, 11 : 04 AM [IST]

Technology – Changing the Face of Travel & Aviation

Kanishka Agiwal Travel & Transportation Industry Leader India/South Asia, IBM Kanishka Agiwal, Travel & Transportation Industry Leader, India/South Asia - IBM works with clients around personalisation, deep cognitive behaviour, omni-channel strategy, new revenue generation, and loyalty solutions. He has worked extensively across global markets and speaks regularly at industry conferences and trade bodies on areas of travel, transportation, logistics and AI. He writes exclusively for the 11th Anniversary Issue of TravelBiz Monitor on the Disruptive Influence of Technology.

A flight bound to Frankfurt is taking off in the wee hours of the morning from Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport. It was already delayed into arrival due to inclement weather at Frankfurt Airport that was predicted by weather systems and is now further delayed due to the morning arrival rush. The passengers onboard, several of whom have onward connections from Frankfurt are nervous of missing their connections and having to spend hours at the airport before they can be accommodated onto the next available flight. In addition, many will forfeit their first night of hotel bookings or maybe end up as a no show and the room released to other guests, leaving them stranded. The hotels have no visibility on this delay as their systems are not connected to the airline systems. The passengers had already earlier started calling up their travel agents or the airline call centre to look for alternative connections, choking up the service channels with a less than optimal experience. In addition, there are some who have started to Tweet or Instagram their experience and the airline’s social media team is trying hard to co-relate their handles with their PNRs.

What happened is a cascading effect of one event leading to another that is common across the travel industry. In each case, the data points were on different systems, not interconnected and, discrete by themselves. Mapping the effect of an airline delay due to weather advisory at an airport to that of a hotel booking, and further to customer channel experience, requires looking at the data from a different lens, away from traditional data mining.

What we consider data has changed tremendously. Data now exists in the form of text, movies, music, speech, sensors – both structured and unstructured. It is now Non-linear, Decentralised, Interconnected and Non-discrete. A typical A350 aircraft flying about 16 hours in a day generates about 10 terabytes of data from over 10,000 sensors across the aircraft, capturing everything from fuel consumption to flex and shear forces on the wings. In comparison, an A320 in the early 1980’s generated a few megabytes, most of it related to flight operations and recordings. On the other hand, passenger growth had grown leaps and bounds straining existing service channels where music-on-hold is frustrating their travel experience. In fact, a recent study has suggested that 68% of customers prefer a chatbot over a contact centre for general queries because of the instantaneous responses. Traditional approaches can no longer handle this explosion of data where it is estimated that by 2020, 80% of the data generated will be unstructured.

This is where the next technological revolution is taking place – artificial intelligence, automation, privacy and security are fast becoming mainstay in the travel industry, with new initiatives planned or deployed to create new revenue streams or reduce costs. Travel providers are leveraging AI to offer hyper personalised offers and dynamic pricing that is aimed at more personalised and unique experiences, directly impacting ancillary as well as ticketing revenues. An AI-enabled call centre or email response agent can help reduce the time to response to mere minutes from hours or days, helping staff to focus on more important human touch tasks. An unscheduled maintenance of an aircraft is now being transformed via AI to read text-based maintenance logs to suggest appropriate fixes, helping reduce the time to service and turnaround the aircraft faster, boosting both on time performance as well as customer satisfaction. Customers are increasingly demanding for more control of the data they provide to travel providers with GDPR and closer home, the recent SC ruling on Aadhaar coming to their rescue and pushing organisations to build in the necessary privacy and security controls around personal data. In addition, airlines and airports are exploring how they can use blockchain for cargo, loyalty, settlements and anything that uses a shared ledger.

Each of these disruptions will transform the travel industry as we know it today. The Indian travel & aviation industry is slowly but surely embracing this change – while start-ups and new age OTAs are leading the charge here, increasingly large airports and legacy carriers are investing heavily in this area to stay ahead of the curve and relevant in the ecosystem. Providers will develop unique processes for all travel touchpoints to cater to segment preferences – for instance, older travellers may stay loyal to incumbent providers and traditional interaction channels, but digitally adept travellers will prefer natural language interactions which are enabled by AI. Innovators will enjoy substantially higher profits and well-positioned innovators will extend their leadership positions relative to incumbents. Most incumbents will seek to preserve the status quo by growing share, increasing scale and cutting costs, however incumbents who fail to innovate will play catch-up. A travel start-up offering a personalised holiday itinerary via AI will eat into the traffic flowing to a plain vanilla airline site for tickets, taking away high margin ancillary revenue or worse the passenger itself to another carrier.

It will be imperative for providers to continually improve products and service to delight customers, maintain rigorous focus on cost containment and reduction and, ensure the highest levels of digital security to protect brands to ensure longevity and profitability.

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