Putting the Human Touch Back into Travel Tech


In the BBC TV series, “Humans”, the world is now divided into humans and “synths”, human-like robots who work among us. They work in our police force, clean the house, look after our children and pets, and really they can do anything we can, just more efficiently and without question.

However there are five of them who’ve had consciousness wired into them by a rogue scientist. They are called the “true artificial intelligence” and the series revolves around what happens to these half-human-half-robots as some forces seek to destroy them while others want to save them.

It’s a thought provoking series that makes you question how far AI can go and raises that eternal battle of man vs machine and could we ever get the perfect blend of (wo)man+machine – work like a robot, feel like a human.

At Marina Bay Sands this week, I walked by a robot at work. It was super efficient – going up and down, relentlessly, cleaning endless miles of carpets. You can see why machine would win over man in this task.

With the Pokemon Go augmented reality game, you could also say machine has won over human – it’s made man walk into trees, cars, even the sea. It’s even killed one or two on the roads. The machine has somehow tapped into an inner human emotion that makes us want to catch monsters, oblivious to what’s going on in the real world.

It’s the emotion part that makes us humans more vulnerable clearly – we become addicted to machines more easily than the other way round. In Chiang Mai, there’s a rehab centre that’s packed with youths undergoing treatment for gaming addiction. There are patients from all over the world – from Seoul to Sydney – and I understand their latest influx comes from Pokemon Go addicts.

Yet it is the emotion part that makes humans stronger in every other way and if anything, we probably need to bring out that more as a counter-trend towards all the tech advances that are happening in our world.

And lately there’s been a lot of talk about balancing tech innovation with human emotion in the workplace. As more companies get obsessed with “digital transformation” (the newest buzzword to please shareholders), are they forgetting about “emotional intelligence”?

CEO of Nok Air, Patee Sarasin, made a valid point recently when he said that airline executives need to learn to get better at managing social media. “Mobile is just a technology but social is about emotions, and it’s harder to manage emotions,” he said.

He added in part jest that while IT people were very good at coding and analysing data, “they are not humans” and the challenge in any company wanting to go digital was to find a balance between IT people who could feel and marketing and customer-facing people who could code – to put it rather simplistically.

The Momondo Group, which operates the brands momondo.com and cheapflights in Europe, clearly hit a raw nerve with its DNA Journey video which has garnered more than 165m views, and is not what you would expect from an online travel company.

Pia Vemmelund, MD of Momondo, said, “The DNA journey is created to support Momondo’s overall purpose “let’s open our world”, a purpose we internally have worked on for almost a decade.

“With the DNA journey we wish to celebrate our diversity. We want people to realise and understand that there are more things uniting us than dividing us. We hope the DNA journey will inspire people to explore their own diversity and discover how we are connected to the rest of the world.

“Generally we aim to bridge technology with a human touch to make travel simpler, more inspiring and bring people closer. We know there is a clear correlation between traveling and being open minded. Travel is a way to open up the world.”

In Las Vegas recently, Virtuoso Travel Week saw record attendance from more than 2,500 executives from travel suppliers and a like number of travel advisors, including 75-plus journalists.

The numbers were up 9% from last year, and dramatically from 2000, when there were 1,500 attendees and Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch believes “Travel agents are the hottest new thing that never went away.”

Here’s what he said in an interview. “… consumers today want more than the cheapest bed. They want somebody who understands them, and can challenge them, and get them to experience things they might not have done on their own. A booking engine doesn’t do that.”

Perhaps the best testimony for the return of the human touch comes from Paul English who was co-founder of KAYAK, the meta-search website, who’s started a new business called Lola.

“Throughout my career, I’ve heard the same issue over and over again: People find travel really difficult, and a bit scary, when they have to fend for themselves. Even some of my most well-traveled friends fret about pulling the trigger on a hotel or a flight. The “do-it- yourself” travel sites (including the very one I had created, Kayak) have failed to decrease the stress and the time it takes to book, plan and manage travel. I’ve come to realise that people don’t want to see 500 hotel results for a town they’ve never been to. They want a real, live human to talk them through which option makes the most sense for their exact trip.

“At Lola … we are bringing humans back into the equation by hiring a team of travel experts to take care of everything for you. We’re creating the next generation of customer care. And although technology can sometimes be used to replace humans, and may make lives a little easier, I think the most exciting uses of technology today are when it’s used to facilitate interactions — and to strengthen interactions — between real people.”

I am inspired by the story of Ethiopian Olympic swimmer Robel Kiros Habte who was laughed at for his less-than-perfect body – he got called “Robel the Whale” – and his lackluster times in the pool.

When asked why he took up swimming, he said, “I wanted to do something different for my country, that’s why I chose swimming. Everybody, every day you wake up in Ethiopia, you run. Not swimming. But I didn’t want to run, I wanted to be a swimmer.”

That’s human emotion talking. A machine would have just stuck to running because the data would have told him so.

See original article at http://www.webintravel.com/need-touchy-feely-high-tech-world/


About Author

Founded by two travel and technology professionals with years of experience in Asia, Representasia specialises in sales & marketing representation throughout Southeast Asia for travel/hospitality technology providers and travel-related startups, as well as providing marketing consultancy services for hotels and travel businesses in the region.

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