Automation is the most transformative change to happen to the workforce in decades, if not centuries. It has the power to reshape almost every industry, but its most profound impact may be felt in the travel sector. Travel is long overdue for an automation-driven revolution, and if we time its development right, we could actually see job growth and lower travel costs for everyone.
So why is travel so ripe for automation development? For starters, there’s the sheer demand for travel. Consumers take vacations regularly, and entrepreneurs travel all the time. As travel expert Ben Lido explains, “Today’s entrepreneurs are tired of traveling conventionally. They need more convenience, from getting the right travel supplies to booking the right flights.”
Automation would make things more convenient, but also cheaper for consumers and business travelers alike. More travel would mean more economic stimulation around the world, and an even more connected society—not to mention higher profitability, efficiency, and safety for companies in the travel industry.
Fortunately, we already have some promising technologies emerging in this space. For example:
- Autonomous vehicles. Last year, Tesla CEO and futurist Elon Musk insisted, “My guess is that in probably 10 years it will be very unusual for cars to be built that are not fully autonomous.” There’s already a race to put the first consumer-purchasable autonomous car on the roads, but the next level could be buses, planes, and boats that are also self-piloting. While autopilot exists for airplanes, pilots are still largely in charge of taking off, landing, and taking over in inclement weather. If made fully autonomous, vehicles could potentially be operated more safely, more punctually, and less expensively.
- Bookings. The internet has made travel bookings far more convenient, allowing consumers to quickly compare different options, choose the best flights and hotels, and book them online, complete with online confirmation. The next step is to make the process more conversational and intuitive, utilizing AI and digital assistants to allow users to book new travel arrangements semi-autonomously. It would require a serious overhaul to the current third-party booking websites we’re used to, but ultimately, it would save time and money for everyone involved.
- Possession management. Automation could also be used to create a faster, more reliable process for storing and tracking luggage. Utilizing RFIDs and other tracking software could allow travelers to rest easy knowing where their luggage is at all times; some smart luggage items already offer these features, but the future could include airports adopting them as well.
- Infrastructural development. Autonomous tech like 3D printing could also make it possible to install new travel-related infrastructure much faster and more cost-efficiently. For example, China has recently become a hotbed for 3D printed infrastructure, but Chief Engineer of China Construction No. 8 Engineering Bureau Ma Rongquan describes it, “It is safe, reliable, and features a good integration of architecture and decoration. But as there is no specific national standard for 3D printing architecture, we need to revise and improve such a standard for the future.” It will take many years to go from printing houses to printing airports, but when it does, the cost and efficiency of travel could dramatically improve.
In some ways, automation is already transforming the travel industry. In others, it’s in its earliest stages of development. Until we see more advanced AI and automation technology reshaping our travel experience, we’ll have to rely on other software platforms and apps to make navigating the world of travel easier. For example, airlines can consider using SAP’s airline-specific platforms to improve efficiency—as well as bottom-line profitability.