Analysis: chatbots may be a way for the aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors to deal with interactions between staff and customers

The aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors have faced great challenges because of lockdowns and border closures related to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent UNCTAD report, the global economy could lose than $4 trillion due to the crash in international tourism caused by Covid.

Governments are quicky seeing the importance of easing restrictions on international travel and the Irish government ease restrictions on non-essential international travel earlier this week. However, social distancing measures are likely to continue for international travel and the travel and hospitality industries may need to reduce the number of direct interactions between customers and frontline staff for some time.

Innovative technology such as AI-powered chatbots can be useful for this type of situation. Many aviation and travel companies have already implemented chatbots to interact with travellers. For example, KLM has increased its customer interactions by 40% using Facebook Messenger-based chatbots.

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From IBM Cloud, Morgan Carroll on the ins and outs of chatbots

A 2019 study showed that 53% of organizations in the service sector wish to implement automated chatbots within 18 months, a move which the pandemic may have amplified. However, companies are still not sure how to increase the use of chatbots among travellers. Findings from our research show that health-conscious travellers are more likely to use chatbots during their trips. It confirms that individuals tend to be concerned with their health and safety when away from their home, with particular concerns raised during the travel stage.

Besides health consciousness, the next issue is around how and if chatbots can embrace such human characteristics as sense of humour, contact, warmth, and sensitivity. It can be argued that AI-based chatbots may not be able to embrace such human qualities to the same extent as a person. We found from our research that these qualities are important elements to encourage the future usage of chatbots.

On the other hand, our research found that people may be less likely to look for human qualities and social presence in chatbots coming out of restrictions, possibly due to their higher openness to new technologies. Working from home became the norm, which suggests that individuals may be particularly receptive to technological innovations and this may be a good opportunity to introduce them to further innovations such as AI-based chatbots. Our research findings suggest that habit is very important for the adoption of chatbots, and it influences the intentions of people to use chatbots.

Our research suggests that digital technologies can become a catalyst for sustainable social business

The current pandemic may encourage us to move from a reliance on direct contact and be more accepting of automated assistance such as chatbots. It's a window of opportunity for aviation, tourism and hospitality industries to implement chatbots. If tourists use more chatbots, it will bring long-term beneficial consequences to organisations.

We would recommend that companies implementing these digital technologies keep sustainability in mind. From other research, we found that digital technologies can become a catalyst for sustainable social business. For example, the Too Good To Go app achieves a social mission of reducing food waste and CO2 emissions. Chatfuel, a leading chatbot platform, provides an automation platform, which has made it easy for many companies to implement chatbots without having any coding knowledge.

Similarly, companies can keep in their mind how the implementation of AI technologies or chatbots can contribute to the sustainability of the world in which we live. Companies can implement AI technologies or chatbots to meet people's needs, increase the efficiency of the development of global society, create new jobs, and raise the level and quality of life for today and tomorrow. Thus, it can bring long-term beneficial consequences to organis ations.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ