A Personal Travel Experience

Tokyo, July 2016 – my wife and I began our honeymoon, excited to explore a new city and its culture. This was the first part of our vacation where we would be visiting several stops along East Asia. Due to our late night arrival in the Japanese capital we had one day to explore the world’s largest city.    

We managed to patch together an itinerary for our ‘one day in Tokyo’. Find great sushi – check. See some landmarks and temples – check. Absorb the bright lights of the mesmerizing Shibuya crossing – check. We achieved this in the usual ways that were available to us in 2016. Hours were spent combing through TripAdvisor looking at restaurant reviews.  We bought a city guide at the last minute in the airport. Some recommendations from a helpful concierge were very welcome. We had a plan of where to go, how we would get there, and the order we’d tick each experience off.  

Fast forward to the present day. After reading the announcement last Thursday of Google’s introduction of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Google Maps I’m thinking of the possibilities and memories this could have brought to our ‘one day in Tokyo’.  

AI Assisting Discovery of New Locations

Billed as ‘a new way to discover places’ by Google, the announcement summarizes how phrases like “places with a vintage vibe in SF” will analyze Google Maps’ detailed information on places and businesses. The result is a list of recommendations for your trip to San Francisco. Reviews, photos, and ratings will also be presented, alongside additional places data. 

Over time the introduction of generative AI into location discovery could have a transformative effect on the travel & tourism industry. Predicted travel trends for 2024 include ‘set-jetting’ – planning trips inspired by locations seen on TV shows or movies. Another is ‘tour tourism’ – live music tourism where travelers prefer to travel to concerts or events outside their hometown. Both lend themselves to the shorter ‘city break’ vacation format which is dependent on strong activity, sightseeing and restaurant recommendations.  

Using AI to Personalize Travel Planning

Location discovery through generative AI is one thing, but what about personalization? 

Using AI to create personalized content or suggestions is already commonplace in other industries. For example, retailers and eCommerce merchants are increasingly turning to AI to tailor product recommendations or promotions.  As a result, customers are more likely to check out, and return again in the future, increasing customer loyalty. 

Translating this into the tourism industry, generative AI can be used to not only quicken the process of location discovery, but also to create hyper-personalized recommendations. For instance, an entire itinerary of activities and suggestions on where to stay, where to eat, and how to get around could be created. This could be delivered through instructions given to the AI, for example, “Build me an itinerary for one day in Tokyo, in July, including sightseeing of all major landmarks and suggestions for lunch and dinner, including at least one stop for sushi.”

In addition, an online data footprint could help unlock hyper-personalization possibilities. For example, a history of restaurant reviews could indicate preferences of certain cuisines over others. The type of establishment – such as fast food, restaurant chains, or fine dining – or a tendency to operate within a certain budget, could be factored in. Hotel booking history might show preferences for staying in busier or quieter areas of a city. It might even indicate what types of activities I prefer – sightseeing, museums, events, or shopping for example.

The delivery mechanism of this experience by a tour operator or travel agent will be crucial. Striking the right balance between offering relevant and personalized suggestions without seeming too intrusive (and remaining on the right side of data privacy) is a common consideration when utilizing AI. 

Are We There Yet?

Companies in this sector are already experimenting with technology to improve traveler, and agent, experience. AI-powered chatbots are revolutionizing the way businesses communicate with their customers. Expedia and Booking.com already use chatbots to give their customers suggestions on hotels, or cheapest flights. Another example is facial recognition, which is already in place at some check-in spots in hotels and airports.

The creation of personalized itineraries is already possible through services such as TripGenie. According to a report by Accenture, only 13% of travel companies have ‘AI maturity’ today to be able to tap into the potential this technology could bring to the industry. This leaves a lot of ground to be made up by those trailing behind.  

Google’s announcement may not result in too much ground being taken from pureplay travel companies. However, its new functionality offers a convenient ‘palm of your hand’ alternative to the spontaneous traveler. 

Conclusion

Returning to the ‘one day in Tokyo’, I’m curious what itinerary a generative AI might have put together for me. While we did our best to optimize the route between the various landmarks and sightseeing hotspots, an AI could have told us the best order to visit each.  We could have had more suggested stops for us to squeeze everything out of the day.

Although in hindsight an interesting experience, could we have avoided using our time getting lost in the subway by having had transport suggestions, timetables and ticket purchase options served to us? Would the restaurant recommendations have been more on point? When the rain started pouring down it would have been very helpful to ask an AI to recommend a nearby umbrella shop! 

While technology can play the role of extremely useful travel companion, travelling is about experiences, trusting your own instincts, and throwing yourself into new cultures. Although we got lost in Tokyo’s subway system, I will never forget how helpful the people were in getting us to the right place, and you can never replace the self-satisfaction of stumbling upon a hidden gem of a place by yourself on your travels. AI within the tourism industry will be no substitute for spontaneity, but I’m excited to find out what new discoveries it may lead me to.