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AI, NDC, IATA – do Agents need their own John Connor?

Could artificial intelligence ultimately be the key driver for the new distribution capability?

Could artificial intelligence ultimately be the key driver for the new distribution capability?

 

 

Forty years ago you needed a room that was 6m x 3m to store 64k (a medium size medium resolution JPEG). By the time we got to the Commodore 64 a decade later, it was the size of two computer keyboards. You can now get 64 GB onto something the size of my thumb.

64 GB 40 years ago would have taken 1,000 ha of reel-to-reel storage space. That’s about 250 Melbourne Cricket Grounds. Back in those days you booked your flights a minimum of two days ahead so somebody could physically deliver the piece of paper with your name on it to the right airport.

We are in a rapid period of change and acceleration like that of which we have never seen before. There are many amazing technologies but it’s their potential combinations that will ultimately affect the lives of everyone who uses it. Especially in travel.

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Analytics or big data are big-time buzzwords describing lots of data and powerful means to interrogate it. When you start applying artificial intelligence , and voice interface such as “Alexa” – the talking box in the corner, life starts getting very interesting. Keyboards and mouse, and even screens start becoming redundant. Take it one step further and automated workflow systems begin making decisions for you and are telling you what to do before you know it.

It’s just a conversation with a computer that has lots of data about you they can be cross-referenced with lots of data on billions of other travel transactions.

Let’s apply some travel scenarios:

A simple query starts with, “I land at midday, what transfer company should I book with”. Soon followed by “where should I stay in Bali the school holidays”, which soon evolves to “we want to go somewhere warm without too many tourists within the next few months – find me a bargain”.

The last one is just like going to a Travel Agent back in the 80s or 90s.

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Once the NDC (which is all about cutting out middle layers, or people, or travel agents, out of travel) is hooked up and integrated booking travel, talking to travel agents could be very challenging. At this stage, the balance of power between black-box analytical systems and the service providers, even powerful ‘beings’ like airlines, will shift dramatically.

Predictive analytics are fascinating, especially for big companies with lots of people doing important jobs with known burnout rates. Let’s say the performance of a staff member starts to degrade once they work more than 600 hours in a three month period. Holiday scheduling to get the most out of these people could include booking them the right holiday based on their preference, how hard they’ve worked, and what the company needs from them to get back up to maximum productivity.

“Jane, you’re going to Fiji in February 2019.”

“I am?”

“Did I mention you just got a promotion… And we got your life.”

More data, more patterns, more analytics and easier interfaces are going to make travel easier than ever.

So it comes back to the central point of where do people fit in all of this? It’s a real question.

A challenge for each and every travel agent is continually finding what it is they do which is better than any machine can do.

The answer is always simple.

Be a better person than a machine ever can be.

If not, look for your local John Connor and send him back to 1984…

So, do agents need their own John Connor?