Artificial intelligence (AI) has well and truly arrived in travel and hospitality. From wayfinding apps to booking engines to concierge services, AI-related technologies are rapidly gaining traction across the industry.
In fact, travel companies’ AI-influenced revenue more than doubled between 2018 and 2021 and is expected to roughly triple by 2024. Additionally, almost half of the executives surveyed by Accenture say the return on AI initiatives exceeded expectations. However, Accenture’s research also suggests there’s a significant disparity in AI maturity across the industry.
Travel’s AI Achievers move ahead
We found, for example, that only 13 percent of travel companies are “AI Achievers,” whose AI-maturity means they get a strong competitive advantage from the technology.
These companies recognize AI is the key to understanding today’s traveler needs and delivering highly personalized travel experiences in real time. And they’re using it to reinvent their pricing, develop stronger marketing capabilities, improve revenue management, and streamline operations.
Take Accor’s collaboration with dailypoint, which uses AI for better guest insights, enabling hotel operators to improve personalization. And Meliá, which undertook a sizeable initiative in AI workforce training. Its CEO-championed AI drive has seen the group train 1,000 “change makers” to support the automation of administrative tasks and focus staff on guest service.
What about the lagging long tail?
Look beyond these successes, however, and you find a long tail of travel companies that are relatively immature when it comes to both the strategy and the practice of AI.
Other than the 13 percent of AI Achievers, for example, there’s only about 20 percent of travel companies that are at least somewhat advanced in their AI maturity. This leaves as much as two-thirds of the industry barely scratching the surface of AI’s potential.
The upshot is that the travel industry as a whole lags a number of other sectors. In fact, 12 of the 16 other industries we analyzed have higher average AI maturity scores.
The relative AI immaturity of travel’s long tail is putting these companies at a competitive disadvantage. This is because the historical data travel companies have traditionally used to run their businesses and deliver their customer experiences is becoming less and less relevant. Today, the fundamentals of the travel business increasingly rely on applying machine learning and AI to capture data and identify trends in real time.
Charting a path to AI maturity
The good news is that there are several ways all companies can learn from AI Achievers and improve their AI maturity.
First, champion AI as a strategic priority for the whole business. By leading from the top, a company can ensure AI initiatives have the organization-wide focus they need. The overwhelming majority of AI Achievers have formal senior sponsorship for their AI programs.
Second, invest in talent and skills. Widespread data and AI fluency among employees is required to get the most out of the investment, since the workforce needs to work hand-in-hand with AI tools and solutions. Again, over two-thirds of AI Achievers do this, making AI training mandatory for most employees.
Third, create an industrialized core of AI platforms, tools and teams. This helps the company quickly turn AI concepts into usable products and seamlessly integrate AI into existing solutions. It’s also important in working with the wider ecosystem to deliver better end-to-end traveler experiences and increase operational efficiency.
Fourth, design and apply AI responsibly from day one. Responsible AI practices are increasingly a legal, moral, and reputational necessity, whether that’s avoiding bias, protecting privacy, or maintaining customer trust through transparency. AI Achievers are significantly more likely to be “responsible by design” in their use of AI.
Finally, think both long and short term. Investment capacity may well be constrained in the post-pandemic period. Prioritization is key. Focusing first on the data foundation will often make most sense as it can deliver short-term AI initiatives that don’t necessarily require a broader transformation.
A new era for travel and hospitality
AI offers huge potential for an industry feeling somewhat bruised by a challenging couple of years. The technology’s ability to transform traveler experiences, boost efficiency and empower employees is going to be vital as travel and hospitality looks to capture new customer segments, and recapture old ones, in the post-Covid economy.
Just as in other sectors, AI promises to usher in a new era in smarter operations and experiences. Those that can master the art of AI maturity are destined to be at the forefront of this change—and reap the greatest rewards from it.
About the authors
As the Global Travel Industry Sector Lead for Accenture, Emily Weiss is responsible for driving the growth of Accenture's Travel business across Hospitality, Aviation, and Travel Services through the delivery of transformational industry solutions.
Sergiy Nevstruyev is a Managing Director in Accenture’s Travel industry with a focus on helping companies on their digital transformation journey.