AI is the new competitive edge in the travel industry

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March 4, 2024

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly reshaping industries across the globe, and travel is no exception. AI tools and capabilities that were once seen as futuristic are now increasingly mainstream, providing real opportunities for companies to optimise operations and transform the customer experience.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly reshaping industries across the globe, and travel is no exception. AI tools and capabilities that were once seen as futuristic are now increasingly mainstream, providing real opportunities for companies to optimise operations and transform the customer experience.

This growing interest around AI, combined with our longstanding mission to transform airport travel, made it a prime topic for our first webinar.

We brought together a panel uniquely qualified to discuss AI’s emergence and impact on the travel sector. Featuring Manchester Airports Group CTO John Hudson and CAVU Head of Data Sam Cooledge, we tapped into extensive experience leveraging AI to enhance business and rethink customer journeys. Our host Leigh Rathbone, CAVU Head of Quality Engineering, guided the discussion to uncover AI’s origins, its operational capabilities, and the transformative role it can play for travel firms looking to innovate and offer personalised customer experiences.

In our latest Expert Opinion, we summarise the highlights from a fascinating discussion that is as much insightful as it is cautionary. You can also watch the full video here.

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AI is the tool, not the solution

Setting the scene early, Leigh encapsulates the arrival of AI perfectly:

“AI is reshaping the way we experience the world right now. It is no longer a thing of the distant future: it’s happening right here; it’s happening right now. It is profoundly having an influence on how we in the travel industry think, how we act, and how we’re putting our customers front and centre in what we do”.

This set the scene for John and Sam to demonstrate that AI is influencing the travel industry in much smaller, more incremental ways than we might imagine. AI will not change what we do, but how we do it, speeding up and automating processes – especially those involving large volumes of data – to enhance productivity.

However, the travel industry needs to understand the limitations of AI and see it as a tool that can enhance existing human skills rather than replace them, building efficiencies that would not otherwise be possible.

How can businesses in general use AI to enhance their operations?

Before focusing on the travel space, John cites two ways in which AI has been implemented in real world business settings.

AI can level the playing field and improve output…

A joint study by the Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group perfectly demonstrates the potential of AI. In the experiment, 758 consultants were given 18 tasks to complete, with 50% chosen at random to have access to ChatGPT 4 and 50% asked to work without it.

Those working with AI completed 12% more tasks, 25.1% more quickly and with a 40% improvement in quality. Even more interesting, however, is that the lower-skilled cohort of those using ChatGPT saw a greater improvement than the more skilled cohort.

John said: “AI can be a balancing force; it can balance the playing field when it comes to quality and output of our team. Now for me, that means that if I can give out access to AI for my teams, they can start doing things that are technically beyond what they would normally be able to do.”


…but only if used to enhance, not replace, human thought

However, John also references a different study from Harvard Business School – Falling Asleep at the Wheel: Human/AI Collaboration in a Field Experiment on HR Recruiters – which revealed that recruiters using AI to make their decisions for them were less skilled in their judgements and missed out on some great candidates. This is further evidence of the fact that, when AI is relied upon too much, it inspires idleness. We must ensure that AI serves as a guide rather than trusting it implicitly.

How can AI be used in the travel space?

Moving on from the benefits – and pitfalls – brought by AI, we turn our attention to how MAG and CAVU are using AI.

How is CAVU already using AI to optimise its pre-book products and services?

At CAVU, AI is proving invaluable in conducting research and getting insights. Sam explains how we’re using AI to categorise unstructured data from open text feedback models into focused metrics, acting as a segmentation tool to create sense from the noise. With these insights, CAVU is using AI to develop new products and services that match our customers’ needs.

The advantage of this lies in creating a more personalised experience for customers, offering a more seamless and tailored experience. As Sam explains, if we can understand trip types, we can put personalisation at the heart of customer communication. AI then allows CAVU to move at scale, forecasting demand and implementing price elasticity using booking pattern insights.

Sam also describes how AI enables CAVU to create real time adjustments to pricing, avoiding the extensive manual analysis that would otherwise be needed to personalise pricing and adjust it depending on context (for example a major sporting event).


While MAG hasn’t changed what it was doing, this improved efficiency has seen it improve customer satisfaction through more accurate and actionable predictions.

John stresses that this is where AI is a real game changer. It’s not about blanket implementations, but about identifying a problem and then using AI to help solve it in a way that offers real business value. AI was the tool that enhanced, not replaced, human thought and understanding of passenger behaviour, creating insights from vast volumes of data.

Why are we not yet serving a truly personalised experience in travel?

When it comes to travel booking, Leigh highlights that there are those who are willing to share data for a more personalised holiday booking experience with tailored in-airport and in-destination options.

However, while this is an area where we might have expected AI to thrive, its limitations lie in incredibly siloed data infrastructures. Once operators are able to share data commercially with other partners and store it more centrally, and once governmental and regulatory questions around data sharing are answered, a more personalised experience will be within reach.

AI will then be the differentiator, automatically processing these vast volumes of data into useable models, rather than a person having to work through them manually. AI can do everything a human can, but quicker and better.

How can travel businesses start to introduce AI?

Our speakers stress that AI is here to stay and is something that must be embraced. Part of the discussion centred around the fact that, while 18 months ago AI felt futuristic, it is now mainstream: since its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT has been discussed widely across television and radio in exposure not normally achieved by tech launches.

John predicts that, due to its simple and user-friendly interface, ChatGPT will become as ubiquitous as Windows and Microsoft. Users don’t have to be able to code; getting results is as simple as running a Google search. It’s a true disruptor that has become mainstream.


How can those without a tech background start to use AI?

For those travel businesses not yet using AI, our speakers advise that just signing up to free open access tools and starting to use them is the first step. Rather than a complete overhaul, it’s about adopting enhancements and efficiencies and simply testing what its potential is.

Start small and simple – for example using AI for translation, summarising email threads, or organising meetings across multiple diaries. You could even ask it to summarise an article like this into key points! You’ll then see the day-to-day efficiencies that AI can facilitate start to build into time regained for more strategic or value-add activity.

AI is here to enhance rather than replace

John concludes that AI can level the playing field, helping humans to complete more tasks, more quickly and to a higher standard, if we use it to enhance human thought rather than replace it. We must still interrogate AI’s conclusions and not simply accept them.

Both John and Sam agree that recent headlines that predict the demise of our jobs are missing the point entirely. By using it for more administrative or time-consuming tasks, it creates more efficiency and frees up time to spend on activities that add value.

Sam concludes that AI will allow travel businesses to do all the right things, but faster, more cheaply and at scale. It won’t reinvent what passengers want but will reinvent the way that the travel industry works to deliver it. It won’t change what we do, but how we do it. In short, AI will be the new competitive edge. Watch the webinar in full now.