Wiser Technology Advice Blog

Artificial Intelligence in Tourism

Sonya Weiser - Friday, October 04, 2019

On Monday 23 September 2019 I spoke at a half-day conference hosted by the University of South Australia and the International Federation for IT and Travel & Tourism.

The topic I presented was artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis: applications and implications for tourism. It was a very interesting afternoon, the other speakers' topics covered online tourism marketing and new technologies and innovation in tourism.

layers of artificial intelligence

Firstly, what is Artificial Intelligence?  It could be argued that there is no such thing in reality, this is a very broad term that's been made up by marketers, like 'Cloud Computing' is just a marketing term.  Most artificial intelligence systems are really just machine learning algorithms. Some systems are more advanced, using what's termed deep learning or neural networks. 

But all of today's artificial intelligence systems have a very narrow scope. For example, my robot vacuum cleaner cannot talk with my coffee machine or internet television. True artificial intelligence will only come when the internet of things is able to connect all the systems and we have smart systems that combine all the devices. So don’t panic, The Terminator singularity still is many years away!

An early example of artificial intelligence used hand writing recognition to automatically sort the post into post code regions. Machine learning algorithms are trained by providing them lots of examples, such as the various ways numbers can be written.


The algorithm must then be tested to check if for example it can spot all the number sevens in the image. Any exceptions show where there were gaps in the training data which must be fixed before the algorithm can be relied upon.

More advanced artificial intelligence uses deep learning, which is being used for image recognition.

Image recognition systems make it more obvious why we use training databases for artificial intelligence, rather than the traditional methods of software coding.You simply cannot program what a dog looks like, as the wide variety of what a dog looks like cannot be described in words. Artificial intelligence system training is done by providing lots of flashcard examples. It’s like teaching a toddler to recognise dogs, by pointing out all the dogs we see.

Did you know that the Google Recaptcha “I’m not a robot” proof you are sometimes asked to do when putting in an online order, where you click pictures with images of cars, street signs or shop fronts, is you training the Google artificial intelligence image recognition systems?

Image recognition of cats poses similar challenged, as cats have very similar attributes to dogs. So again, we provide lots of examples of images with cats in the training database.

Larger training databases give better accuracy, but a word of warning, beware of unconscious biases in your training database. There have been famous (infamous) examples of voice recognition systems not understanding people speaking with a non-American accent and image recognition systems not being able to interpret images of people with dark skin.

A deep learning algorithm functions as a black box, and it cannot explain to a human how it got to its answer. An analogy of this is when you’re pondering a difficult problem all day and cannot find a logical answer, but then wake up with an insight into the problem after getting a good night’s sleep. The deep recesses of your brain have been working hard for you while your frontal cortex was resting, but you won’t know exactly how you came up with the answer.

Artificial intelligence is however not perfect and we need humans to provide judgment on the suggested answer. The example of recognising a dog or cat can provide a fairly certain outcome, but it’s not going to have 100% accuracy.

So, what does all this mean for the tourism industry?

The least sexy but very valuable use of artificial intelligence is simple machine learning algorithms. The training database is provided with examples of data points we expect to match, then the machine learning algorithm builds itself a set of rules over time, requiring less human input to verify data matches as it learns.

The very real business benefits from simple machine learning algorithms allow you to

  • -Cut loose the parts of the business which are running at a loss.
  • -Identify trends with many small issues that are creating unrecognised large and wide-spread problems.
  • -Get a better understanding of the demographics of your customers, enabling personalised, targeted marketing.
  • -Manage your spending better by understanding what is purchased, how often and from whom, enabling better supplier deals to be negotiated.

“Mobility as a Service” is the future of transport and this will have far-reaching implications for tourism.

Driverless cars will be a great boon for society. My 84 year old Dad still drives, which is very risky, he gets confused if it’s a road he’s not familiar with. I’m looking forward to relying on driverless cars when I’m that age!

Driverless trains have historically been used for freight, for example Rio Tinto’s driverless train which runs on its own rail network in Queensland. But driverless trains are now making an appearance on passenger rail networks. 26 May this year was the first day of operation for Sydney’s driverless metro train. It was used by over 100,000 people on its first day, when free rides were given for publicity.

There have been smart driver-assist trains on the London Tube lines for years and the Thameslink introduced driverless tube trains in March 2018. These new trains can operate without a driver, but don’t yet, as passengers don’t feel comfortable about getting on a train without a driver in the front. Once the tube trains are fully autonomous they will safely be able to run more trains closer together.

Here in Adelaide, the Tonsley innovation precinct has a driverless bus zone through to the railway station at the back of the campus. And SAGE Automation have trialled a driverless bus and bus stop along the foreshore at Glenelg. This system is being showcased by SAGE at the 4th international driverless vehicle summit in Sydney on October 27 - 29.

The taxi industry has been going through major disruption, with the likes of Uber coming into the market. Uber is in fact a data company, using their current customers to gather data on trips. Uber intends to adopt driverless cars in the future.

In London, taxi drivers have traditionally been well respected as they have to pass “The Knowledge” test and have a deep understanding of how best to get through London’s traffic. This will be challenged by driverless systems with artificial intelligence easily able to be trained in the same knowledge. Private hire taxi company Addison Lee has announced plans to place autonomous cabs on the streets of London by 2021.They are partnering with Oxbotica, a company that specializes in self-driving software. Adison Lee and Oxbotica will work together to create detailed maps of London and the surrounding area that account for factors such as road signs and traffic lights. There are also plans afoot to offer shared, self-driving minibuses to help people get to work or the airport.

Waymo, Google’s driverless car project, has relationships with AutoNation and Avis Budget Group in Phoenix Arizona, USA. This means that as a tourist arriving in Phoenix, you don’t have to learn how to drive on their busy streets on the wrong side of the road, you can let the driverless car do all the work for you.

A great example of a well-designed chatbot created for the tourism industry is the FCM travel-intelligent chatbot dubbed ‘Sam’. The components of this system would technically be fairly easy to achieve, what makes it great is the thought that’s gone into the user experience. It provides support for everything that a traveller needs, from weather forecasts and traffic updates to pointing you in the direction of the correct baggage carousel when your flight lands.

Another fun example of artificial intelligence in tourism is the robot concierge that’s being trialled in the foyer of the Sydney Hilton hotel. This has been created in partnership with IBM Watson, who’re on the leading edge of research into artificial intelligence deep learning algorithms and quantum computing power to support the artificial intelligence systems.

There’s so much that can be done with artificial intelligence systems it’s easy to get carried away. But my advice is to be sure that you will get a return on investment from the introduction of new technology and systems. Before committing to spend money with a technology provider you need a robust business case, with cost benefit analyses over multiple years that compare total cost of ownership to the potential for savings.

Wiser Technology Advice is here to help! I do the research on your behalf, so that you’re not overwhelmed with choices and not badgered by technology companies you meet at conferences and trade-shows. One great way to introduce change whilst managing expectations is through business process mapping workshops, just one of the great consulting services I offer. Or, if you’re ready to invest in technology but don’t know where to start, I can provide you with independent, trusted advice, taking the risk out of technology investment.

If you want to talk to me about opportunities arising from artificial intelligence in your industry, get in contact with me today, I’m always happy to meet and have a chat over a coffee!

Further reading:

mobility as a service: https://www.automotive-iq.com/events-future-smart-mobility/downloads/mobility-as-a-service-accelerated-why-maas-is-the-future-of-transportation?utm_source=iothub&utm_medium=ad&utm_campaign=-external-ad&utm_term=oc1&utm_content=text&mac=30869.001iothub_edm&disc=30869.001iothub_edm&elqContactId=19064183&elqCampId=

Sydney’s new metro train: https://transportsydney.wordpress.com/tag/driverless-trains/

Thameslink driverless train: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZaIk8jsSNs

Glenelg driverless bus trial: https://www.holdfast.sa.gov.au/council/council-documents/news/olli-driverless-bus-trial-begins

4th international driverless vehicle summit: https://advi.org.au/event/4th-international-driverless-vehicle-summit/

Driverless taxis in London: https://www.engadget.com/2018/10/22/self-driving-taxi-london-2021-addison-lee-oxbotica/

Driverless hire cars: https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/25/waymo-partners-with-walmart-avis-autonation-and-others-to-expand-access-to-self-driving-cars/

FCM travel-intelligent chatbot : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpOB4vE5P5g&feature=youtu.be

Sydney Hilton robot concierge: https://youtu.be/jC0I08qt5VU

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