Pace of innovation set to pick up in travel, but fraud worries grow

Innovation
breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) may not
be directly disrupting the travel industry just yet, but they are among the new
technologies that could drastically change the way services are delivered in
the coming years, say experts at the WiT Singapore 2022 conference.

At the
three-day event October 3 to 5, they discussed ever smarter ways for consumers
to plan a trip while pointing out the growing worry of fraud in the digital
realm.

While it is
easy to spot linear growth, exponential growth in areas such as AI and ML is
harder to predict, says Ross Veitch, chief executive and co-founder of online
travel agency Wego.

He points
to rapid developments in computational art, where AI creations have surprised
people with their out-of-the-box ideas.

Big changes
will also be brought about by cloud computing services, which today come with
tools such as AI, so smaller companies do not have to build an entire
innovation pipeline to compete, Veitch says.

By 2030, a
lot of products will be personalized for individual consumers, while automated conversational
agents will use AI to recognize speech and reply in a synthesized human voice instantly,
he adds.

The
“democratization” of IT tools that used to take large development teams months
or even years to create would supercharge innovation in a travel sector that is
no stranger to competition, speakers say.

This will
be especially important in a post-pandemic world where consumers are looking
for new experiences without any of the unwanted friction they have always
dreaded.

Many of
tomorrow’s digital systems will be increasingly created by ready-made tools
that make coding easy, says Johnny Thorsen, vice president for strategy and partnerships
at Spotnana.

“Six lines
of code,” he notes, are all that are needed to connect an e-commerce site to various
payment systems worldwide today.

At the same
time, increasingly intelligent systems will streamline the management of corporate
trips, from planning to approval, so that there is less manual input involved,
Thorsen says.

“Every time
someone’s typing manually, it’s a chance for error,” he says. “It’s also
wasting time.”

Payment is
another area that is fast developing, he notes. Smart contracts, enabled by
blockchain technology, for example, could enable people to automatically buy
and pay for a ticket at a pre-set price, without any intervention.

Fintech is
one big driver for settlements as well, and online travel agencies are finding
new ways to enable customers to pay more seamlessly.

At
Traveloka, for example, a majority of its Indonesian customer base pays with
bank transfers because of low credit card penetration in the country.

Now,
buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) options are coming into the equation for customers,
who can use it to lock in tickets early with a longer booking window in view,
says Alfan Hendro, the Indonesia-based company’s chief operating officer.

“BNPL may
overtake credit cards in Indonesia,” he says.

Payments
are also a big agenda item at rival Booking.com, which has a separate financial
services setup to manage payments.

That helps
to offer payments in a safe and secure way on a global scale, as regulatory
frameworks around the world get more strict, says Matthias Schmid, the acting senior
vice president for Booking.com’s Trips division.

Indeed, one
downside to digitalization is the specter of fraud that comes as part of the
package. Increasingly, the travel sector needs to find a better way to manage
the risks, panelists say.

One way
forward could be the use of a sovereign digital ID, says Timothy O’Neil-Dunne,
principal at T2Impact.

Doing so
could enable consumers to prove digitally to service providers that they are
who they say they are, when making transactions online.

The United
States government, for example, is facing an estimated $45.6 billion in fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment
insurance claims, he points out.

In other
words, fighting fraud would be a constant concern for travel companies, even as
they look to create more convenient, sustainable and rewarding travel
experiences through digitalization.

The good
news is that more people are expected to travel now that borders are open again,
and they are seeking new experiences.

“Travel is
a force for good,” says Julie Kyse, vice president for global air partnerships
at Expedia Group. “We have missed it … the essence of travel.”

One day,
this could mean more than just crossing borders, says Ooi Chee Teong, associate
vice president for international flight business at Trip.com

He envisions
people eventually traveling to space, just like they have taken to flying
today. “In future, space is no longer a dream.”

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