In the near future, travel will be different. To be clear, physical travel shouldn’t be all that different because we will continue to use planes, trains and automobiles but, essentially, the experience of travel and its ancillary supporting services and hospitality-related elements will be different.

Much of the change in the travel industry will be positively disrupted by the birth of so-called smart machines. These are computers with a new degree of Artificial Intelligence that have the ability to communicate with us in a form that is surprisingly close to our own speech.

Virtual travel agents

These new smart machines will use a technology known as Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to build what we call chatbots. Also called chatterbots, these computer-generated, “talking” machines can mimic human conversation at a level that is increasingly close to a real person.

With broadband Internet connection speeds and massively powerful processing in cloud computer-powered datacentres at the back end, chatbots are capable of lulling us humans into a sense that we are actually talking to another real person.

So what does this mean for the travel industry? Chatbots are being used to create virtual travel agency services that can think faster and, potentially, more creatively than human beings.

Contextual awareness

A chatbot travel agent can book you a trip based on not just where you want to go and when you want to leave, but it can also build in “contextual awareness” suggestions for the individual user. You don’t just tell a chatbot that you want to visit a warm winter destination; you can also mention that you want to visit a lot of local markets, do some yoga meditation sessions and get some cultural experiences.

More than that, by simply mentioning that you like to eat well in your conversation with the computer, the machine will start to build in epicurean gourmet experiences into its suggestions, despite the fact that you have never actually used the word “food” or “restaurants” in the conversation. This is what contextual awareness really means.

When we add those contextual awareness computations to the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) knowledge that we already have about individual travellers, you can start to see how a kind of woven fabric layer of intelligence builds up for each traveller.

Semantic injections

Within the boundaries of agreed data privacy, where individuals are willing to sign up to additional services, these smart travel computations can start to ingest the sentiment we express on our favourite social media and online shopping channels. As an example, “OK Mr/Mrs/Ms WorldTraveller, I know you wanted to visit the Caribbean towards the end of this year and you asked me about budget travel deals. I also know that you recently complained about bad weather on Twitter and bought some new woolly socks on Amazon, so I thought today would be a great day to offer you this flight and hotel deal”.

Obviously, some people will find this intrusive, but every user will be able to set their own preferences and opt in or out of special offers and the amount of conversation they engage in at any one time. So yes, much of the hospitality-centric side of travel in the future will change as a result of computers, data intelligence and the devices that we use to create and interact with that data.

Hyperloop – travelling on air

Hyperloop is a high-speed transport and travel system still in its preliminary design and development stage. Capable of reaching proposed speeds of 760 mph (1,220 km/h), Hyperloop works by sending an outer housing transport tube, with people inside, down a pipe that is set to a point of reduced air pressure.

The capsule effectively runs, or “flies” if you prefer, on a cushion of air and is pushed along by air compressors.

When the Hyperloop is up and running, passengers will be able to travel the 400 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco in around 35 minutes. The 100-mile journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi would take around seven minutes. Underwater Hyperloop loops are also being predicted for transatlantic (and transpacific) routes as a full network is ultimately constructed around the world.

Computer-human harmony

“It appears clear that much has changed and is still changing in the world of travel, tourism and hospitality. While much of the current flux is driven by technology and the wide-ranging implications of connected global networks and the innovations that we see in smart cites, there will always be a core need for human service and personal guest attention,” said Osama Hirzalla, Vice President Brand Marketing & eCommerce Europe at Marriott International. “These are the considerations that help to build, consolidate and reinforce any brand… and this is especially so in the travel industry.”

“Marriott International is excited to be able to build new strategic services layers into our business model that take advantage of these technology driven developments, but we’re also there to open the door for you in person too,” adds Hirzalla.

As the travel industry now further modernises and integrates its connected systems, the end result for most of us is a more accessible planet with greater opportunities for all. You will still need to remember to pack your own toothbrush though… well, most of the time, depending on where you stay.