Even before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit, technology was already a game changer for travel.
Thanks to online reservation solutions, people can book hotels, flights, and tours from their computer, laptop, and even cellphones.
Planning trips also became easier thanks to the internet and the infinite number of information available online about destinations, the best time to visit, the culture, the food, shopping options, exchange rate, and even the weather.
With people still nervous about traveling because of the pandemic, technology has the potential to change the game anew and get people to travel again, said experts who examined how digital solutions can restore people’s confidence on travel during one of the panel discussions at the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) inaugural Southeast Asian Development Symposium (SEADS) held on 21 October.
Here are 5 digital solutions that can get people to travel again:
1. Artificial intelligence and big data
Artificial intelligence (AI) and big data work hand in hand. Big data collates massive amount of information from various sources about travelers’ behavior, spending habits, and other relevant information, while AI makes sense of the data. Authorities and service providers can then use the information to provide better products and services to tourists.
At the symposium, Carolyn Dedolph-Cabrera, principal IT specialist at ADB’s Digital Sandbox Program, said big data can help with crowd control at tourist destinations. Crowd density data could be broadcast to drive tourists to safe destinations and ensure they visit remote places at the right times, that is when fewer people are around. “For example, in places where there are no COVID-19 issues, then people could go early morning or late evening when the crowds are low. People would be able to see that and then they could plan their visit.”
Jens Thraenhart, executive director at the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, said AI and big data are key to creating smart destinations. Smart destinations refer to tourist destinations where smart city principles are applied to build infrastructure that consider residents and tourists in providing mobility, allocating resources, and fostering sustainability and quality of life for residents and tourists. Technology is typically built-in into the physical infrastructure in smart destinations, where the tourism experience is aided and monitored by technology.
Smart destination has been a buzzword before but again is becoming more important now with AI to help authorities and stakeholders make data-driven decisions involving tourists, he said.
Blockchain is more than just about bitcoins. The technology allows the creation of database, such as financial transactions, by multiple users. The technology lends itself to the setup of decentralized e-marketplaces.
The technology, for instance, powers travel app Triip, which is a blockchain-based version of rental marketplace AirBNB. Through Triip, merchants, like hotels or tour operators, can transact directly with customers, who pay for products and services using site-specific tokens or currency. What differentiates Triip from other travel apps is that it allows customers to earn the tokens by posting about their experiences and photos on the site. The customers can then use the tokens to pay for future travels. Since people cannot travel as freely now, vendors now sell merchandise, like t-shirts, among others, to sell to the site’s users to keep the community going.
Hai Ho, Triip co-founder and CEO, noted that since users were allowed to post content about past travels, the community continues to flourish even if the lockdowns forced people to stay at home.
Steven Schipani, unit head for project administration at ADB’s Vietnam Resident Mission and the panel discussion’s moderator, saw value on how Triip is building a community of users who share information about specific destinations. It is one way of using digital tools to keep destinations top-of-mind for travelers, he noted.
He also felt that user-generated content is reliable. “You have users actually sitting there in the destination… I tend to trust someone that lives in that destination that tells me what the situation is there. That plays very much into getting reliable clear communication and information out there to travelers to once again keep this idea of travel in their minds and let them know what the situation is so when they’re ready to move around again, whether it’s domestically or internationally, they’ll have the most up-to-date information.”
3. Internet of things
The internet of things refers to networked devices that can be operated online. These include laptops, computer servers, mobile phones, smart appliances like refrigerators, televisions, thermostats, wearable technology like Apple watches and Fitbits, and other Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Dedolph-Cabrera said Bluetooth-enabled devices can be used to communicate evidence-based facts to the wearer to help promote social distancing in resorts and other tourist destinations. The devices could alert users if a certain place exceeds the designated number of people allowed. The devices could also alert users when guests under quarantine in a hotel may have strayed out of their rooms, she said.
4. Satellite imaging and drones
Satellite imaging technology and drones could also help people feel secure when traveling. Both can be used for crowd detection at popular tourist destinations or events, said Dedolph-Cabrera. These two technologies, for instance, can help detect if there are too many people at a particular temple in Angkor Wat in Cambodia at any given time. Tourist police can then use the information to disperse people from the sites that have been flagged.
5. Digital health passports
Some countries have started to pilot digital health passports to make air travel safer and more convenient amid the pandemic. Dedolph-Cabrera said digital health status passports could be used to show a person had been tested for COVID-19. The information can then be used as a credential for the person to be allowed entry into another country.
Similarly, the e-vaccine certificate the World Health Organization is developing with Estonia is seen to restore confidence on travel. The certificate is being developed for healthcare data tracking and to boost the health agency’s bid to promote COVID-19 vaccinations in developing countries.