How Automation and AI Enhance Your Travel


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Welcome to Travel Buddy

This episode of the Travel Buddy podcast, features Ian leading a discussion focused on automation within the travel industry, and explores the broad scope and significant impacts of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), especially machine learning (ML). Ian highlights the evolution of automation from simple mechanical processes to advanced AI technologies that offer unprecedented data processing capabilities and connectivity.

The episode delves into how automation enhances operational efficiencies, personalizes the traveler's booking experience, and introduces novel consumer-facing technologies like virtual concierges and robotic service delivery in hospitality. Through examples ranging from airline operations to everyday tech applications, the podcast underscores the transformative role of automation and AI in making travel and daily activities more efficient and tailored to individual preferences.


Welcome to Travel Buddy, presented by Switchfly. In this podcast, we talk about all things travel, rewards, and loyalty. Let's get to it. 
James Ian, welcome to another episode of the Travel Buddy podcast. Today we are talking about automation. So we've got some notes. We've been talking about automation. But first for our listeners, I wanna talk about why does this matter, but also what, gimme a, a sense of what does automation mean?
Because I feel like there's so many companies, there's so many new technologies coming out. What do you mean by automation? Is that ai, is that conveyor belts, moving luggage around or, and then of course, yeah. Why this matters. So tell me, gimme a little bit of the lay of the land of automation and some things around that.
And then Sure. connect the dots. 
so yeah, that's a really good point. Automation is really such a broad term, right? And. It could be, a car manufacturer just moving parts down the assembly line, moving your bag through security at the airport. Um, Those are all examples of automation. Uh, why it's been such relevant topic over the last couple years is really the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence. In the early 1900s we see a big spike in automation as far as getting the assembly line started. It steadily improves throughout the 20th century. Then with computing and the internet we see another big spike just because of the amount of data that can be processed as so much more than previous, as well as the interconnectivity between various partners. And really we've been seeing the next big spike, right? 
With, especially with machine learning, but also with things like generative AI and some other artificial intelligence models and, things. So a lot of what we are gonna 📍 talk about is gonna be very ML AI focused but it's not the whole picture, but it is a big part in the picture of today's automation. Some just, oh, go ahead. 
Why now? 
Why now? The, this is all still extremely new in, in some areas, right? Like the, you think of 2023. Just seeing that explosion of people going on chat GT for the first time, to. Companies incorporating AI into their business model, switch, fly for example, just one. We, work on, large data processing to do personalization for users on the platform. You're seeing that kind of across the board and a. Everyone is getting this new tool and being able to plug it into their current process to just make it that much better. so That's definitely why now we saw the explosion last year of this new tech and I think this year and in the next couple of years we'll see it really refined into how does it help on an individual, across. I, wanna bring it back of like, why is automation important just generally leaving out the AI and ML stuff. 
I, doing some research for the podcast found some interesting to statistics in the airline industry that in the United States there are 45,000 daily flights, um, 2.9 million passengers. And it equates to an average about at any one time. There's about 5,400 aircraft in the air over the United States at any moment in time. All of that is controlled through 520 air traffic control towers. There's no way 520 air traffic control towers can control 45,000 daily flights without having a lot of their processes automated. Now you start to incorporate some of this new technology. Uh. We'll be able see, just like those drastic efficiencies keep getting better and better, right? The whole point of automation is to increase efficiency, and reduce human error. And I equate increase efficiency with reducing costs. So but that's how you know, that's how you can really control that much traffic with such a small group. Being to. A lot of, and forgive me, a lot of the examples I have are from the airline industry, but really you could take it across the board from hotels, car rentals, uh activity, amusement parks. All these are using a lot of these new tools, um, to help facilitate the processes. But just some of the examples. Things like pilot and crew scheduling. Last year, last Christmas so 2022, Christmas we saw huge chaos with Southwest when their antiquated system goes down and now they have to reschedule flights for thousands of air crews. And it just. Updating those older systems with a lot tools, we'll be facilitate that much. Things like airport security we talked baggage handling earlier. All of these tools that we have and we. Automated to a certain extent in the past, are now just gonna get a boost in the arm. That's all sort of supply side of travel On the demand side in the booking process, historically, we've used automation for data input, payment processing, packaging travel itineraries together, over the. Refinement in. Now we've had that process before, but now we're gonna personalize that process to you, right? We're gonna take these extremely large data sets, use them as models and based on your behavior interacting with the website the search, the searches you input into a website your travel history. Gonna go into models and become much more personalized to you. So think of it as before, pre say 22. Internet is, here's the encyclopedia, but now AI is, here's the encyclopedia and here's the page you're looking for in it. It'll just make it so much easier for the consumer side of things to be able to find what they're looking for and have a more customized. Approach to, to their booking and travel process, than ever before. And a lot of that is due to the automation that's being done on the back end of things that you don't really see. I'm not sure if that makes sense. 
Can you talk about a practical for. Students of what a traveler would see on this. Flights are super complicated. getting through security seems hard these days,
at least in a reasonable time. But what does that look like for me, a traveler?
Exactly. So one area I think that there's a lot of interesting data for kind of crossing over from that supply to demand side. That's very applicable to both. Is demand planning, right? Things like, when's a good time for you to book a hotel? Or when should you, how far out should you be booking this flight or this travel? That helps basically across the board, right? It helps the supplier know, okay, these are how we wanna do adjustments. These are when we staff on. Extra equipment everything like that. But also on, on the demand side, me as a traveler I'm gonna get, I'm gonna get notifications from my favorite travel app.
I'm gonna get, the certain emails from the supplier of Hey, here's a great time for you to be booking this. Travel can offer. For our demand planning shows these kind of spikes and ebbs and flows of, uh, travel. So me as a traveler can really take advantage of a lot of, um, that increased data processing to make to make some better decisions about when and where and how. I. It also, the, the, how I want to travel is the point I wanna touch on because, uh, how many times have you been trying to book a trip?
If you're like me, I'm equidistant between about three major airports, I am always doing three searches, right? Which airport is gonna gimme the best deal? Which, uh, what's the best time? All that stuff. It's, it can be pretty labor intensive, right? Um, with a lot of the newer travel tools coming out, you can. Start to modify that towards this person. Okay? You've flown outta St. Louis x number of times in Memphis X number of times. So here's, we're gonna show you if you fly out of here on this day, it's cheaper, but if you go over here on this day, it's cheaper, and make it a lot more personal, personalized, uh, for the actual traveler. another, sorry, James. One last thing before you dive back into the, uh, another area. You're gonna see a lot of change on the, demand side. Um, are things like guest apps. I don't know if you guys have run into this a whole lot, but a lot of places are gonna start offering or having their own app as a sort of quote unquote virtual concierge. Um, if I'm going to a hotel. I wanna make reservations for the restaurant and the hotel. There'll be an app that I can do that through rather than calling the front desk and going gonna the restaurant or, whatever. When, uh, a good example of this is a couple years ago I took my older son to Disneyland and. Shows you, okay, you're here. It gives you a map. Here's where you can plan your, route of travel through, through the park. Here's the wait times on this ride and here's like a good spot near you to eat or use the restroom or whatever. You're gonna. I think a lot more across the board, even with some of the smaller boutique stuff.
You don't have to be Disneyland to have your own app, right? You can be mom and pop bed and breakfast And with a lot of the new development tools create your own app and build your own personalized customer experience, uh, pretty easily for people. 
As somebody who just got back from a St. Regis I had a butler, so I'm really excited about a virtual concierge. It was wonderful. 
Especially in the hospitality side, we're seeing a lot more robotics right over, over the last couple of years and definitely that trend is ramping up. In hotels there, certain hotels are starting to use more robotics for. For housekeeping and, cleaning hallways and and things like that.
Delivering, uh, room room service to, your room through robotics, things like that. you're gonna start seeing a lot. You
I am definitely gonna keep an eye out for an industrial sized Roomba, um, going down my next hotel hallway. Um, but just being the selfish marketer that I am, I'm a big thing I. Is what's in it for me.  So Ian, you just gave the perfect reason why someone should talk to Switchfly but where's the AI sizzle, what's, where's the automation piece to all of that? 
Good question. So, it's empowering. To, be able to, find the travel experiences they want much more fluidly, much, much easily, much more easily and much more tailored to them. For one example, there's a feature in the Switch platform called similar. Boston or whatever. And I. The sort of personalization data that, that our the platform has gathered. And then show me offerings similar to not only what I'm looking at, but the types of hotels I've, booked before. And then I'm likely to want to book again, it makes that booking process so much easier because. Hotel listing pages and see does this fit? No. Nope. This, I, I have pets, I like to swim. It's gonna start taking some of those preferences in and start upfronting the Hey, this place offers pet care. This place allows, or this has a swimming pool whatever. It's gonna tailor that stuff more to the user. Another thing we're working on. Is gonna be, I think, just the standard in the next several years to come that we're jumping ahead is being able to have, for lack of a better word, a conversation with with your booking platform. So I'm gonna say I'm going to Tokyo on a business trip. 
What are some cool neighborhoods to stay in? I like to I'm a foodie. I like to take nature walks or whatever and just have a much more casual input and start getting recommendations based on generative AI principles. Based On, my inputs, right? So it's gonna be a lot more give and take, right?
And a lot more conversational than just me inputting data, scrolling through a ton of listings and having to refine it myself. The platform's gonna help me refine my preferences too. And I think that's where you're gonna see a lot of the major gains on the, consumer side of things. and for the user.
And then the, automation, it's almost a bit of an iceberg. We see. So much of the, new tools on the user and consumer side. For machine learning and ai, we see so many new tools and so many upgrades to the tools we use. But really the under the water of the iceberg, the big part is really gonna be on the, back end. Hotels are gonna be able to be pulled into those searches. So many different routes and, travel itineraries are gonna be able to be analyzed and refined. There's just gonna be a lot more options to put pull from as this. Kind of data collection gets bigger and bigger, right? It's we're, right at the, very tip of that that wave coming in. And I don't know how many metaphors I've used in this example. This is, I think about the fourth, but we're right there on the tip of the wave getting ready to crash of. All personalization, but so much of that's on the backend and that's what like Switch is here for, is really to wrangle the backend things and then give it in a nice, easy to use format that is that utilizes a lot of the same tools, but to, make things easier and. 
I think that's a pretty good point to wrap up on. I'm gonna. To steal one play or one trick from Brandon's playbook here and turn the tables. Um, do you guys have an example or an experience of generative AI automation or something else that isn't a butler, that y'all have seen in the wild that really stood out? 
Is this only. For travel. 
We can open it up to a broader
Okay. Ian, you go first. I, gotta think for a second. 
I, I can say mine is,
um, really started pushing the 48 hour early check-in. I don't, think in the last three or four stay I've even talked to the front desk. Unless my mobile key, there's some weird edge issue. Um, and that's really a game changer. It feels super weird the first time or two where it's like, Hey, I totally belong here and I have no clue how you can tell I'm a guest.
But definitely like I was out in Texas on a business trip. It been a long day, got to the hotel, just went straight to my room and it was awesome. Even just that extra couple minutes. You don't have to like, wrestle out a card, wrestle out your license you just can be a person. and that seems like a really simple but high, like cost, high impact, 
stay so much easier. 
I, I love that. If I could just go next on that, because my, my I think what's so great about some of these tools is not this grand revolutionary thing, but these little moments that just make it so much easier. So this is a very simple one and a very specific one, but when I'm searching in my project management tool for something it knows, it uses a lot of.
I guess AI information or something to pull up very related tasks and 99 times out of a hundred it is the exact thing that I need to reference. It's just so good that, and then I make some, do some voiceover work and videos and sometimes I, some, the word is pronounced incorrectly and I regenerate that word and in my voice it recreates the word to make it sound correct.
So it's little things like that make my life so much better.
not sure how I feel about ai. Me talking back to me. 
Dude, it's great, man. You should try it. I've mimicked my voice and it's crystal clear. It's 
I think, Just to your point of like it being these very like specific little examples throughout your day and not necessarily this one major overhaul experience, not too long ago, my son, who's really into, tech and engineering, um, stuff, we're playing around and just inputting food that we had into the fridge into, and having it like spit out recipes that you can make with, the food you have. And it was like, it was pretty creative it started to. I. 
So that's awesome. I love that.
I need that because I'm a terrible cook. 
There's also an app you can use that'll just bring food based on your preferences to you Anyway. 
I should check that out. This is great. I'm so excited for so much of what you just described, even for I'm not a travel expert, but for the travel industry to make their lives so much easier as they're automating flight patterns or, deals that are coming up just.
Making the, systems on their end easier, but then on the traveler's end, making their lives easier with their preferences and all that. It just sounds so, I'm like so excited to make, 'cause the travel industry for a long time has been so tough and it's a, that's a tough industry. So to, to have some of these really transformational technologies, just making people's lives easier, even in the smallest ways, like you mentioned, James, I'm really excited about that. 
Thank you for, informing me, informing our audience. But yeah, I'm excited. So
Perfect. Thank you guys. Talk to you soon.
thanks for being here. 


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