Demystifying Machine Intelligence in Travel and Transportation

By Joe Hasselman

Machine Intelligence has been changing the way we travel for generations. In 1946, American Airlines released the first automated booking system. By 1976, United Airlines deployed their Computerized Reservations System to travel agents. In the 1990’s, Lonely Planet’s first website, Expedia, and Priceline were born. Throughout the early 2000’s, Global Distribution Systems and the Internet enabled Kayak and Hotwire to innovate the OTA model with aggregation. Today, nearly every airline has an “intelligent” (or at least dynamic) application; major hotel chains are deploying automated concierge advisors; the TSA utilizes myriad scanning and visual recognition security technologies; preferences and digital behavior are being used to provide tailored offerings; and travelers can even purchase luggage that follows them between terminals at the airport (yes, this really exists -- check out Travelmate: a fully autonomous suitcase robot).

Over the past five to ten years, developer-friendly services have been built by leveraging the enabling technologies described in the Machine Learning 101 section — catalyzing adoption among technologist communities and driving the proliferation of applications utilizing machine intelligence today. The themes below dissect the ways in which these technologies are most drastically impacting the travel experience.


Chatbots are a unique and effective medium to connect with customers. Facebook Messenger, IBM Watson, Heroku, Amazon Alexa, and Slack (among MANY other) platforms provide frameworks for building and training chatbots. These applications may be deployed as a concierge at a hotel helping locate the gym or an airline app’s messenger alerting travelers of delays or a voice-command interface to book a ticket.

Search & Exploration

Travelers can now search in natural language to find desired and tailored experiences wherever they go. Intelligent services like WayBlazer recommend events, restaurants, parks, museums, and experiences that will most likely resonate with the traveler by combining reviews, rankings, and travel guides.

Logistics & Operations

It is now easier and faster than ever before to book across 200+ countries in dozens of languages. Intelligent transportation systems — from human-less airport railways to breakthrough autonomous vehicle technology — are changing how travelers get from A to B. Further, dynamic pricing algorithms are shifting the way we spend money based on real-time supply and demand throughout the travel experience — during both booking and transport.

What might the future hold?

Soon enough, simply booking a flight ticket will trigger a human-less Lyft or Uber ride to be scheduled. Truly personalized restaurant and activity recommendations will be immediately and automatically sent with one-click booking features through a messenger application. Trip planning will take a fraction of the time it does today. Even after reaching the airport, the traveler will be guided to their gate with shopping, lounging, and dining suggestions along the route. The airport will be more than a means to get elsewhere; it will be a place to be in itself.

Hospitality staff will be notified by social monitoring systems when influencers arrive at the restaurant bar or check-in to a hotel, enabling the team to proactively create an incredible experience for them – perhaps with a drink or dessert on the house. Airlines may even target specific loyal and influential fliers troubled with delays to compensate in unique ways.

Like autopilot in an aircraft, Machine Intelligence cannot manage all the maneuvers and services provided by the travel industry. The pilot handles take-off and landing similar to the ways in which travel companies continue providing differentiated experiences for travelers. Throughout the flight and the travel experience, however, intelligence helps to optimize for personalization, scale, and convenience.