Nissah Blanchfield, Sophie Caruana, Professor Brett Martin, 28 October, 2020
While you sit there dreaming of your next holiday or planning your next cruise, you may be surprised to know Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a bigger role in your trip then you thought.
As AI technology advances, so does the prevalence of this technology in our day to day lives and the tourism industry is no exception. Studies suggest that AI and digital assistants are being readily adopted by the cruise ship and customer service industries. The cruise industry are using AI for several tasks such as facial recognition for more efficient boarding, personalised recommendation for on-board activities and monitoring foot traffic and queuing to make better use of on-board services.
A possible implication of the increasing incorporation of AI is that human to human interaction is imperative for the cruise line business. Could this be detrimental to customer satisfaction and customer service? How is this industry finding a balance between human interaction and artificial intelligence?
AI application in cruise ships – user experience and marketing
The application of AI on cruise ships is pivotal to improving the user experience according to a recent study on AI’s application on cruise ships. A common use of AI in cruise ships is Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) based applications designed for guests, as a way to promote on-shore excursions. This technology works through an augmented map showing information such as the cruise route, current position of the ship, and travel times. Guests can also experience a 360° immersive VR tour with pictures or videos of cultural and natural sites. The features of this interactive program allow guests to tap on a destination port the cruise ship will stop at to gain more details about shore excursions.
AI is even being used prior to boarding in the search stages of holiday seekers. Travel agencies can utilise these tools to entice customers by giving them a sneak peak of what the cruise can offer.
This new mode of marketing, moving beyond traditional means of advertising for tourism, could be the answer to enticing more potential customers. These VR & AR based marketing tools provide an incentive for customers in an accessible format using Android and IOS applications. Ultimately these applications aim to promote one-day shore excursions at the ports where the cruise ships stop.
When AI is beneficial - finding the right balance
AI and VR can be advantageous marketing tools. Yet when it comes to customer service in the hospitality industry, human interaction and experience is still highly valued. Studies suggest that AI digital assistants and chatbots should be implemented slowly. Experience, efficiency and authenticity are still pivotal in this industry with machines currently offering more of an informational role rather than empathetic experiences. On cruise ships, customers can get to know the crew, something that would not be possible if the crew were totally removed from customer interaction, highlighting a disadvantage of only using AI. AI does offer an advantage however in terms of assisting with administrative tasks that can increase staff member efficiency and reduce errors.
So, what are cruise ships doing to find this balance between authentic human interaction and useful artificial assistance?
Studies have been conducted on the use of ZOE, a Hotel Management System software driven by Samsung. In cruise ships, the virtual personal assistant connects with the TV to provide guest services. Similar to a Google Home or Amazon Echo, ZOE is activated by saying “OK ZOE”. The assistant is trained to respond to over 800 of the most commonly asked questions with thousands of variants of each question. ZOE is designed to continue learning. This technology is the first of its kind in the cruise industry and has been designed and built around the cruise industry. The main purpose of ZOE is to help customers find the answers to common questions quickly and enhance guest experience. While ZOE is not intended to replace human interaction or crew members, the technology improves guest comfort and flexibility. Rather than queueing in line to book activities, guests can do this from their room with the help of their personal assistant, ZOE. This assistance aspect of AI reflects what is happening in other business to consumer contexts.
AI and customer service
For example, in retailers have recognised the value of using AI in customer service to enhance customer satisfaction, with 55% of retailers planning to leverage this technology within three years. In 2018, 7% of retailers were currently using AI such as digital assistants and chatbots, with another 28% planning to implement it within the next three years. AI is also useful for making purchase suggestions and is transforming the online shopping experience. However, in these instances of AI-human interaction, transparency is important. It is crucial that customers understand when they are talking to a human versus a machine.
Overall, the use of AI in the cruise industry appears to be beneficial. However, human interaction is still fundamental to the service and tourism industry. Companies should learn to find the balance between artificial assistance and meaningful staff and customer interactions.