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Hospitality will always need friendly faces

PATA CEO points out dangers and opportunities of increasing use of technology in tourism

Being ready to re-skill and keeping a curious mind will be key to adapting to the changing environment in the tourism industry as technology, in particular artificial intelligence, plays a more dominant role, according to the CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Dr. Mario Hardy.
The travel expert’s comments came at the PATA Travel Mart 2017, held in concert with the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO), at the Venetian and Parisian.
The CEO points out how ‘chatbots’ are already being used to automatically respond to certain requests by customers in companies ranging from online travel agents (OTAs) to restaurants, lauding the ease with which they can be set up.
“Machine learning is the important part,” points out the CEO, referring to the human element of AI, in which the computer mimics responses from humans to questions and circumstances, learning from the methods and responses and adding onto the formulated responses already input to it. This element, notes Hardy “takes time,” referring to PATA’s development of its “chatbot for the tourism industry”.
The CEO revealed the name of the chatbot for the first time at yesterday’s event, “Thurstin”, after the founder of the organization Lorrin P. Thurstin. No release date has been set so far for the chatbot, which would draw upon the organization’s “67 years of history” as “it’s going to take us a long time to build it to the point where we can share with you”, ensuring that no user would think it’s “too dumb”, points out the tourism expert.
While on one hand Hardy points out that he’s “fascinated by how machines can learn to become human,” he also recognizes the dangers of technology’s increased role in the sector, and while it’s a “fast growing industry,” with “1 in 11 jobs in the world” in tourism, it will in particular threaten tour operators and to a lesser extent hotels.
“I’ve stayed in a hotel with no humans – it was efficient but it wasn’t pleasant,” notes the CEO. “You still need the human exchange with people. I like to see machines assisting humans but not replacing us in all we do,” he opines.
On a macro level this also applies, as with increasingly diverse technology, lifespans of businesses are also decaying.
“Brands used to be able to last 50 years or 100 years,” states Hardy. “I used to say to the young startups that ‘in 15 years your brand will not exist anymore’. Now I tell them seven years and that time is getting shorter and shorter. Big brands we know today probably will not exist in 15 or 20 years,” he points out.
One of the ways Hardy hopes to not only allow the youth to keep up with technological changes and business trends, but also be able to re-skill themselves, is through increased cooperation between countries’ ministries of tourism and education.
“I’ve been pushing for three years to get the tourism ministers to work more closely with the education ministers, to get young people to join our industry and to be interested, for the simple reason that we’re a fast growing industry […] our growth rate is double-digit,” points out the CEO. Given the growth, the industry will always have room for more employees, with Hardy pointing out: “these machines won’t replace everyone’s job, in the hospitality industry we need friendly faces.”