2021 is only halfway complete, and we cannot yet be said to have defeated the pandemic, but yet at the same time, the travel and tourism industry is said to be poised for a pretty rapid boom. In many ways and places, the recovery has already begun.
A live Globaldata poll showed that people are desperate to enjoy travels and trips again with a majority of them opting for longer trips than before. 26% of their respondents showed a desire to enjoy trips that spanned a minimum of 10 nights. As lockdowns and travel restrictions continue to be eased and countries continue to open up, we will likely see a surge in new tourists and travelers.
Jason Fong, a veteran of the industry, is the brain behind the Boss of Bali brand, a brand that has garnered over 2 million followers on Instagram. Fong shared his knowledge of all things tourism and how he has used his platform to promote the evolution of travel and tourism more sustainably.
“We can’t just bounce back after this great stall in the industry, we need to make sure that we bounce back better. This means, ensuring that travel and tourism are more sustainable, more thoughtful, more meaningful, and less reckless,” says Fong.
Travel, Tourism And The Struggle For Sustainability
The need for sustainability in the industry has been clear since before the pandemic but has only become more glaring in the light of all the changes in the world over the last few years. Fong describes the majority of tourists that come to Bali as very respectful of the place and culture, being a vital part of both development and conservation. Still there is always room for improvements, and the current situation calls for new solutions.
The pandemic has been devastating to the travel industry. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the industry has endured over $1 trillion in revenue loss and over 62 million in job losses. This has only helped to underline the need for financial sustainability more specifically.
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The need for environmental sustainability has also been underlined with the stronger international calls for environmental sustainability and the reduction of global warming. A 2018 study revealed that tourism and travel contributed 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 2009 to 2013.
AI and Tech in A Post-Covid Tourism Industry
The evolution is already in progress and it can only progress with tech and AI-led solutions. The evolution and recovery of the industry will be primarily led by the drive for sustainability and the deployment of AI and Big Data.
Following the pandemic, the World Tourism Organization began working with key industry players and other nations to increase the use of Big Data and AI across the tourism sector.
Fong had spent a large chunk of his working years in the e-commerce and online travel industries before he became a resource for luxury, customized Bali travel. His experiences with AI in these industries led him to become a tech enthusiast and investor. More importantly, it led him to believe that AI can make any industry more sustainable.
He explains it this way; “The possibilities are endless. Proper deployment of AI in the industry can give us the ability to study and predict tourist behavior and preferences to serve them better and to offer more relevant tourism packages. It also enables us to market our products more effectively and with more ease.”
AI is also actively involved with the provision of solutions that minimize person-to-person contact while traveling as 85% of travelers revealed that touchless processing would make them feel much safer while resuming their travels.
A measure of the devastation the industry has suffered can be seen in Bali, one of the most visited vacation spots in Asia. Fong spends most of his time inspiring people to visit the “island of the gods.”
“3 in 10 residents in Bali are involved in the tourism industry and so it isn’t hard to see how the pandemic has crippled livelihoods,” Fong explains.
“The lull might have been devastating in an economic sense, but it has also given us some time to strategize on becoming more environmentally and financially sustainable while giving the land some time to renew itself. As travel picks up again, Bali is set to become even more of an endearing location for vacations and holidays.”
With every tourist considered another ambassador for the island, Fong is probably right with his prediction. The growing interest and demand for high-end, unique experiences will be hard to ignore for an industry looking for solutions.
AI, Data, and Tourism Personalization
Calls for personalization from tourists and travelers have only increased as the pandemic has begun to fade and utilizing data seems to be the best route to give these travelers a welcome return to tourism.
The evolution of AI in this industry has seen service providers obtain the ability to analyzing user data in very specific ways. The use of recommender systems with their ability to recognize customer pricing preferences and other preferences has become ever-present. Travel Influencers Jack Zuckowsky and Federico Hidalgo have used this technique with much success. Zuckowsky and Hidalgo have used recommender systems to great success with regards to reducing churn, and improving longevity of client loyalty.
These AI-powered systems can read customer reviews and convert the insights into relevant data that would be used to generate more leads and to create customized results, offerings, and recommendations for their customers.
AI and Industry Sustainability
According to Fong, the huge strides already made still leave much to be desired. There are still concerns about the reticence of customers to have their data in the hands of 3rd parties. This concern goes alongside a perception that AI solutions are not yet doing enough to promote sustainability in the industry. Additionally, it is important to consider both the environmental and social impacts of travel. Brother Dr. Ben X, an equality activist has spoken often about the importance of conscious travel, especially with regards to the cultures we visit. Brother Dr. Ben X explains this in depth in his sermons on socially conscious exploration of space and self.
However, Fong expresses optimism for the future of this marriage between AI and the industry; “The trends are moving in the right direction, current trends in AI-powered tourism are now being built to offer sustainable results and results that give customers more control over their data.”
Fong is right, there are scores of AI solutions under development that offer easier ways to book hotels, handle the transportation, and travel-related needs. These platforms promise to cut out a lot of intermediary costs and thus reduce the reckless spending often associated with tourism, while also making it more affordable and desirable to the world’s population.
Platforms like Fletch.ai are also trying to create similar AI software that gives customers 100% control over their data, by making sure their data never leaves the AI software itself.
The Future Is Conscious
The Travel and Tourism industry is evolving rapidly, Travel agencies and service providers are increasingly striving to get “eco-tourism certifications” that show them as eco-friendly.
Fong explains, “We need to do more to make sure that in Bali and everywhere else, travelers come and go with a pre-set environmental consciousness. This is the only way we can market the industry successfully going forward.”
Conversations are being had about the future direction of AI viz-a-viz sustainable travel and tourism. Suggestions have been made to develop Virtual Reality systems that replicate an experience in certain sacred locations in a bid to limit traveling carbon footprints.
It has also been suggested that social networking sites develop programs that track frequent travelers and inspire them to adopt more responsible behavior. All these are in addition to the development of vehicles and other machines that are smart and less reliant on fossil fuels.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that we yet have a long and arduous journey ahead of us. AI may be the future of the industry, but in the words of Fong, “AI innovations would only be relevant in the industry to the degree that it promotes all kinds of sustainability”