From 50 ways to leave your lover, as the song goes, to 750 types of shampoos, we live in an endless sea of choices. And although I haven’t been in the market for hair products in a while, I understand the appeal of picking a product that’s just right for you, even if the decision-making is often agonizing. This quandary (the “Goldilocks Syndrome”, of finding the option that is “just right”) has now made its way to the travel industry, as the race is on to deliver highly personalized and contextual offers for your next flight, hotel room or car rental.
Technology, of course, is both a key driver and enabler of this brave new world of merchandising in the travel business. But this is not your garden variety relational-databases-and-object-oriented-systems tech. What is allowing airlines, hotels and other travel companies to behave more like modern-day retailers is the clever use of self-learning systems, heuristics trained by massive data sets and haptic-enabled video hardware. Machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are starting to dramatically shape the way we will seek and select our travel experiences.
Let every recommendation be right
AI is already starting to change how we search for and book travel. Recent innovation and investment has poured into front-end technologies that leverage machine learning to fine tune search results based on your explicit and implicit preferences. These range from algorithms that are constantly refining how options are ranked on your favorite travel website, to apps on your mobile phone that consider past trips, expressed sentiment (think thumbs up, likes/dislikes, reviews) and volunteered information like frequent traveler numbers.
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