The rising role of AI in sustainable travel 

From tracking the precise carbon footprint of logistics to optimising energy systems, from transparency in supply chains to deep analytics that help responsible businesses curate personalised offerings 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 all sectors and travel and hospitality are no exceptions. What according to you are the pros and cons of this integration?

AI has and will continue to be an important aspect of innovation and optimisation in the travel industry. At Tamara in particular, we found the far-reaching benefits of an internal communications app developed and deployed during the pandemic downturn. Our operations, during that time, had to quickly adapt to integrate high standards of sanitation and safety. Relaying a cohesive message and monitoring staff training became much more efficient through the app, which was able to connect the organisation across teams, designations and properties.

AI is also crucial in helping us better understand our guests. We are able to gather a range of insightful information about their preferences and then customise experiences in a truly personalised and thoughtful manner. AI is also crucial in aiding sustainable innovation. For instance, we are able to optimise energy management systems using AI that helps us monitor and collect data about the use of resources across a building, which allows us to take well informed, real-time steps towards energy conservation and efficiency.

As AI tools become a greater part of our daily functions, however, a common concern remains the way in which tech can diminish crucial human touchpoints that are essential to the experience of hospitality as we know it. However, as a highly personalised, interactive industry, hospitality will continue to remain highly human-centric and human-dependent. The nuances of emotional intelligence, cultural resonance and experience-driven behaviours are unlikely to be perfected by an AI entity and much less for that technology to be adopted by businesses at scale in the foreseeable future.

What we can expect to see to a greater extent is a hand-over of analytical and administrative tasks to tech-enabled platforms. In the end, I believe this is a positive shift that will require upskilling and training which creates greater potential for professional growth and greatly enhances existing individual productivity.

  • How is sustainable travel benefitting from technological advancements in travel?

There are vast benefits to sustainable travel accrued from both high and low grade technologies. On a hardware level, growing supply of green construction materials, water conserving plumbing and cost-efficient water filtration systems, aid in making properties inherently energy efficient.

In terms of software, we are continually impressed by new avenues to catalogue and measure essential data. In terms of internal operations, this greatly increases transparency across all functions. For instance, we have significantly more insight into our supply chains. This helps with everything from quality control to also assessing the carbon impact of our logistics network, which we actively work to diminish.

A similar level of transparency and insight is true of guest data. Whether this information is gathered from our guests in person or from virtual behaviour patterns like search results or website views, we have increasing clarity on both consumer awareness of and demand for sustainable travel. This allows us to reach a community of like-minded travellers, collaborators and partners that we can better serve and also learn from.

  • What are the current challenges that the travel and hospitality industry in India is facing in implementing these technologies?

There is a perception with any integral form of change such as tech-enabled solutions or even sustainable practices that they will be extremely expensive or difficult to implement. Large infrastructural changes that can result in transformative change, of course, do require a sizable investment and, therefore, pose certain financial and operational risks. However, incremental changes made at several nodes of an organisation can have a ripple effect that is significant. Smaller, though thoughtfully and tactfully, implemented change can also be extremely cost-effective and result in compounding cost-savings. So, one of the primary challenges we must overcome are on the human side – namely the perceived sense of risk and a fear of taking on something unfamiliar.

On the technical side, the process of learning and adopting new practices does take some operational prowess. Experimentation along with trial and error become essential to finding new and effective business models. However, if this effort is made in a systematic and studied manner the rewards far outweigh the work.

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

As a group, Tamara has always remained optimistic about the future of hospitality, travel and  tourism globally. We see this as an incredibly interesting time for the sector. As consumer preferences become more informed and conscious, as sustainability becomes a global priority, as technology further integrates with service offerings – we are, as one of the world’s most dynamic industries, uniquely positioned to lead conversations and practices that result in momentous economic, social and environmental impact.

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