The increasing role of AI in sustainable travel

From tracking the exact carbon footprint of logistics to optimizing energy systems, from supply chain transparency to in-depth analytics helping responsible businesses create personalized offers for conscious customers: Shruti Shibulal, CEO of Tamara Leisure Experiences, describes the growing importance of artificial intelligence in the travel industry.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has spread its wings and graced almost every sector, and travel and hospitality are no exceptions. What do you think are the pros and cons of this integration?

AI is and will remain an important aspect for innovation and optimization in the travel industry. With Tamara in particular, we found the far-reaching benefits of an internal communications app developed and deployed during the pandemic downturn. During this time, our operations had to adapt quickly in order to integrate high hygiene and safety standards. Delivering a cohesive message and overseeing employee training became much more efficient with the app, which was able to connect the organization across teams, labels and properties.

AI is also key to helping us better understand our guests. We’re able to gather a range of insightful information about their preferences and then tailor the experiences in truly personalized and thoughtful ways. AI is also critical to supporting sustainable innovation. For example, we are able to optimize energy management systems using AI, which helps us to monitor and collect data on the use of resources in a building, allowing us to take well-informed, real-time steps toward energy conservation and efficiency Companies.

However, as AI tools become a larger part of our day-to-day functions, there remains a common concern for how technology can reduce crucial human touchpoints that are essential to the hospitality experience as we know it. However, as a highly personalized, interactive industry, hospitality will continue to remain heavily human-centric and people-dependent. It is unlikely that the nuances of emotional intelligence, cultural resonance, and experience-driven behavior will be perfected by an AI entity, much less that this technology will be adopted by enterprises on a large scale anytime soon.

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What we can expect on a larger scale is a handover of analytical and administrative tasks to technology-enabled platforms. Ultimately, I believe this is a positive change that requires upskilling and training, creating greater potential for professional growth and significantly increasing existing individual productivity.

  • How does sustainable travel benefit from technological advances in travel?

Both high-quality and low-quality technologies offer enormous advantages for sustainable travel. At the hardware level, the growing supply of green building materials, water-saving plumbing and cost-effective water filtration systems are helping to make homes inherently energy efficient.

In the field of software, we are always impressed by new ways of cataloging and measuring essential data. In terms of internal processes, this significantly increases transparency across all functions. For example, we have much more insight into our supply chains. This helps with everything from quality control to evaluating the carbon emissions of our logistics network, which we are actively working to reduce.

A similar level of transparency and insight applies to guest data. Whether this information is collected from our guests in person or from virtual patterns of behavior such as search results or website visits, we have increasing clarity on both consumer awareness and the demand for sustainable travel. This allows us to reach a community of like-minded travelers, employees and partners that we can better serve and also learn from.

  • What current challenges does the travel and hospitality industry in India face in implementing these technologies?

With any integral form of change such as technology-enabled solutions or even sustainable practices, there is a perception that they will be extremely expensive or difficult to implement. Major infrastructural changes that can lead to transformative changes naturally require significant investments and therefore carry certain financial and operational risks. However, incremental changes made to multiple nodes of an organization can have a significant impact. Smaller changes, but implemented carefully and tactfully, can also be highly cost-effective and result in additional cost savings. So one of the biggest challenges we have to overcome is on the human side – namely the perceived risk and fear of venturing into something unknown.

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On the technical side, the process of learning and adopting new practices requires some operational skill. Experimentation along with trial and error is becoming an essential part of finding new and effective business models. However, when these efforts are made in a systematic and diligent manner, the rewards far outweigh the work.

  • What is the outlook for 2022 in terms of travel and hospitality industry globally and in India?

As a group, Tamara has always remained optimistic about the future of hospitality, travel and tourism worldwide. We see this as an incredibly interesting time for the industry. As consumer preferences become more informed and conscious, sustainability becomes a global priority, as technology becomes more integrated into service offerings, as one of the world’s most dynamic industries, we are uniquely positioned to lead conversations and practices that produce meaningful economic and social outcomes and environmental pollution.