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“Artificial intelligence can replace some existing jobs, and managers have to take care of what the next step for people is, that is relevant in the data world.
We have to evolve our revenue managers into more data jobs, balancing old jobs with new school jobs in business analytics” says Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer at AccorHotels group.
So far, at least, that has not meant a decline in jobs.
According to the most recent EU statistics, although overall employment declined from 2008 to 2014, it rose in tourist accommodation and selected tourism industries: now tourism employs just over 12 million people within the EU.
Companies like IBM, whose Watson tool is helping the travel company Thomson trial a smart chatbot for its customers’ holiday searches, pledge to “augment, not replace, human intelligence”.
This is also the view at Skyscanner. The airfare comparison site acquired by Chinese firm Ctrip International for £1.4bn, may have a dedicated “Bots” squad, but it doesn’t believe computing power will replace human roles or travel reviews.
“We see AI as an evolutionary part of travel,” says a Skyscanner spokeswoman. “We’ve always believed that people would go from click-type-tap style searching to a conversational format. Interestingly, those using our bots treat them in a very ‘human’ way – ask for the bot’s name, send an emoji or sticker of appreciation.”
Tim Gunstone, managing director of EyeforTravel, believes AI can boost loyalty by helping hoteliers know more about their customers, in order to better meet their needs and win repeat business.
“People who have been rendered obsolete by technology have always gone on to find new and better jobs,” says Professor Ryan Abbott, professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey.
“When machines outperform people in every way, that’s another problem – but that’s a long way in the future.”
But not everyone is predicting the demise of travel agents. A spokesperson for ABTA, which represents UK travel agents and tour operators, says almost 1/5 of Brits still booked a holiday in a travel store last year and that although artificial intelligence can help with targeted marketing, “it can be hard to beat the human touch”.
People quickly get frustrated if a chatbot isn’t responding accurately, for a start.
“Many roles in the travel industry remain unaffected by technological advances: cooks are needed to cook, beds need to be made, and the personal experience of a destination expert is hard to beat” adds a spokesperson.