Industry opinion on robot use in travel divided: Travelzoo

Travel professionals are hesitant to accept the use of robots and artificial intelligence in their working environment, according to new research by global travel deals publisher Travelzoo.

Less than one third (30%) can imagine robots working in their company in the next five years.  However, 22% do think robots in tourism are a good idea and could enhance the customer experience.

Travelzoo’s European president, Richard Singer, shared the company’s findings with the travel industry at ABTA’s Travel Convention in Abu Dhabi yesterday and highlighted companies that are already utilising robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

These include Marriott International, which has a robot called Mario at the Ghent Marriott Hotel, and Starwood hotels, which employs a butler robot.

While more than half of respondents (55%) are able to imagine AI being used in some capacity in their business in the next five years, 91% do not agree that a robot could replace them in their role and almost half (49%) don’t see a future for robots in travel, but do think AI will become popular in travel businesses.

While travel professionals are doubtful over whether robots have a place within the travel and hospitality sector, they recognise some advantages to using robots – namely that robots can deal with data faster than humans (86%), can deal with different languages better than humans (81%), don’t tire like humans (81%) and can learn processes faster/ follow processes more closely than humans (74%).

The main disadvantages travel professionals attribute to robots centre around emotion, as nine in 10 don’t think robots can express feelings (91%) and 87% think they are too impersonal.

More than three quarters (80%) do not think robots would be able to understand the informal language many people use (such as slang, idioms, local dialect and irony), which would hinder their ability to help.

According to research from 2015, the global industrial robotics market is set to reach $45 billion by 2020, yet only 15% of travel professionals surveyed think robots will be common in tourism by 2020.

So is this a case of science fiction, or have we moved into a world of science fact?

Travelzoo’s Singer said: “The one thing this industry can’t afford to do is pull the wool over its eyes.  There is an unprecedented level of interest in ever-evolving technology, such as driverless cars and robots, and so I’m a little surprised to see such a high number of travel industry professionals sceptical over robots.

“Travelzoo’s global Future of Travel reportfrom earlier this year shows that the majority of consumers not only expect robots to play a big part in their lives before 2020 (80%) but also feel comfortable with robots being used in the travel industry (80%) – the travel industry needs to recognise that there is already an appetite for robots and AI and should strive to keep up with expectations, at the very least.”

Singer believes the AI opportunities far outweigh the risks: “We know from our research earlier this year that guests still crave the human, more personal touch, and so the ideal solution is for robots and humans to work in tandem in customer-facing roles.  A healthy balance of robotic technology, AI and human service will help travel/hospitality professionals create a more seamless customer experience for guests – the industry just needs to be more accepting of this fact, and do more to embrace it”



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