How Tech Like AI and IoT Can Make Travel Safer During the COVID-19 Pandemic

November 23, 2020 - 9 minutes read

Young brunette woman traveling in Thailand on train during pandemic Coronavirus. 20s Hispanic in a protective mask wear summer sleeveless clothes and backpack in Asia.

Companies in the travel industry have a responsibility to care for and protect their customers during trips. They should do their best to keep clients out of harm’s way and help them get where they need to go safely, especially if dangerous situations arise.

Despite this duty, varying guidelines and constraints have only served to stoke more fear among travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic. With this unprecedented level of uncertainty, what could help restore the public’s trust in traveling?

The development of artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies has yielded capabilities that many of us could never have imagined just a few decades ago. We can now monitor our health on the fly, attend medical appointments over our mobile phones, and order groceries through our smart assistants. Perhaps these technologies could also help us tackle some of the biggest issues facing travel today?

Troubling Times for Travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the travel industry upside down. Airlines have drastically reduced flights and limited the number of passengers that can board each plane. Hotels have had to implement meticulous measures to ensure proper sanitation and ensure that staff knows what to do in the event that a guest falls ill during their stay. But while these efforts have certainly helped during the coronavirus crisis, more long-term solutions must be instilled.

“Without guidance to promote the health and safety of travelers, there will be no travel, no sustainable reopening of our businesses and no revival of our economy,” according to the U.S. Travel Association’s May 2020 “Travel in the New Normal” industry report.

John F. Rizzo is the CEO of travel booking software company Deem. He believes the solution lies in data-fueled technology: “The only way to quell fear is to create transparency and have data that’s science-based be available to a traveler in real-time and have it curated correctly so that you can make an informed, data-based decision on where you’re traveling.”

According to Rizzo, this would allow us to not only build trust in travel again but also make the industry capable of automatically addressing problems as they occur.

4 Ways Tech Can Rescue Travel

It seems the travel industry already knows their future depends on tech. For instance, one company is already offering automated flight ticket exchange to quickly adapt to their customers’ ever-changing needs. Another has established a communication protocol that allows companies to quickly locate, communicate with, or reroute their traveling employees. They can even dispatch a response team if required.

But these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Other technologies can evolve how we travel in novel ways.

1. Leveraging Real-Time Data

By collecting and analyzing real-time data from hotels, airlines, and other transit hubs, travelers can make better-informed, healthier decisions. For example, a traveler could easily see if his or her flight to New York City is booking middle seats or not. They could also gain insight into what safety precautions the airline is taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Real-time data could even be leveraged to produce a safety scorecard for regions that shine a light on viral outbreaks, political or social unrest, and even crime rates. This information could also be used to recommend specific transportation means and ensure that the traveler’s lodging of choice is in a safe area.

Obviously, personal privacy should play a paramount role in how we examine and act upon data in the travel industry. For example, companies like Google and Apple are hard at work to find ways to notify people that they may be in the vicinity of someone who was potentially exposed to the coronavirus. While this allows people to avoid this person, that person’s privacy must also be protected. Whether we get this right or wrong will establish a precedent for how we handle other health crises in the future.

2. Artificial Intelligence

AI and its subsets such as machine learning now allow us to seamlessly employ predictive analytics to understand likely outcomes of various situations. By combining historical information with real-time data, they can help us recognize and comprehend subtle but vital patterns.

Essentially, these technologies can empower real-time data analysis so that we can alert travelers faster about unusual activities. And they can even help in providing a useful solution to any trouble a commuter encounters.

3. Automation

Besides unparalleled insights, harnessing real-time data analysis and AI enables us to automate more things. And people are definitely ready to accept things that are more automated. A prime example of this is automatically switching planned trips without human intervention if any issue or obstacle arises.

As automation technology continues advancing, travel companies will soon be able to push a button to take care of travelers when unsafe situations occur. On the flip side, travelers will also be able to simply push a button to be directed towards safety if they feel that their well-being could be compromised.

4. Touch-Free Interfaces

The coronavirus pandemic has made it readily apparent that we must make travel as contactless as possible. Technology like the Internet of Things (IoT) is perfect for this. With IoT, cars can be opened with a smartphone — no key or touching door handles required. Why can’t we apply this to other methods of transit?

IoT app development

Soon, we’ll be able to open our hotel room door without touching the knob thanks to our smartphones and near-field communication (NFC) technology. Perhaps we’ll also be able to skip stopping by the concierge too. It’s not too outrageous to imagine a near future where we just walk into a hotel, get detected and recognized by geolocation, and have our credit card information filed away in a split second. The technology then guides us to our designated suite, which then opens its doors as we approach it.

This may sound farfetched, but similar concepts will be implemented in flight check-ins, ticketing, identification verification, and even ordering food while waiting in the airport.

Getting Where You Need To Go With Less Friction

Technology has shown us that it’s possible to have streamlined, efficient experiences in our everyday lives. So why can’t we have the same advantages when it comes to travel?

COVID-19 has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on the global travel industry. But it’s also forcing us to think of new ways to make our transits safer. We’re now considering what the most optimal approaches would be with regards to flights, train trips, and bus rides. And it’s becoming clear that technology will play an integral role in making these new ideas a reality.

How do you think technology can make travel safer? What would make you feel at ease while boarding a plane in the post-pandemic word? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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