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ITB Virtual Convention: What is the current situation with AI?

Photo by Alex Knight

In his lecture Florian Bauhuber talks about the future of tourism and the current situation regarding AI.

When one talks about what will most impact the industry in the years to come the discussion usually turns to AI. In his online lecture on Florian Bauhuber of the digital consultancy Tourismus Zukunft assessed the current situation. It was the major global players, among them giants such as Google and, who were mainly pushing AI development, he said. However, the main driver was not Silicon Valley, but increasingly Asia  

AI appears to have recently taken a genuine step forward by beating a human at the Japanese game of Go for the first time. In that context, observers noted that technology was better at teaching AI than humans – a fact that is at once impressive and worrying and which represents a big step forward in the development of AI – according to Tourismuszukunft bigger than the invention of the printing press. “In the future people will remember this as a turning point”, Florian Bauhuber said.

But what view do people generally take of the march of AI? This was something the digital expert also talked about in his online session. He concluded that AI was seen as being capable of many things, including languages and quick learning. As a result, many people were afraid machines would take away their jobs. This was not yet the case, Bauhuber reassured viewers. At present, AI capabilities were limited mainly to four areas: semantic searches, pattern/image recognition and trend forecasts – including for driverless vehicles – and to humanoid robots, which was an important field. By contrast, development in other areas was still in its infancy. So why do people believe AI is making such great strides? According to Florian Bauhuber it was mainly because these four key application fields were converging. This was a so-called hype cycle, a phenomenon that made advances appear huge.

How does AI specifically benefit the tourism industry? According to the digital expert, AI can already carry out routine tasks. An example was chatbots being able to reply to emails. These were already being used by the start-up Adigi. Google’s Duplex on the Web helps mobile phone users with car hire bookings, for example. “Google is already several steps ahead and offering solutions beyond the tourism industry’s accepted standard“, said Florian Bauhuber.

The work environment was an important field, he said. This is an area where AI naturally comes under close scrutiny. Depending on its usage a wide variety of applications were possible, the representative of Tourismuszukunft said. Human emotions were an area where AI had yet to evolve, and for that reason it was unlikely to replace hotel staff. Consequently, employers needed to raise staff numbers, particularly in these areas.

One of the challenges in the future development of AI would be to transfer “dumb” data to systems that could extrapolate information and make sense of it, he said. This was a task of primary importance for destination managers. The German National Tourist Board (DZT) and regional organisations in Germany which were working on a graph database were currently involved in a wide-ranging project in this field. The goal was to transfer locally maintained data to the databases of regional marketing agencies, which would facilitate usage of AI applications on websites.

Improving AI would require a lot of effort, Florian Bauhuber cautioned. Huge amounts of data were needed in order to teach systems. “Naturally, the global players have a strategic advantage“, he said. At the same time this was only the start of a far-reaching trend, and we also faced ethical issues. Specialists in the tourism industry now had the important task of clarifying the situation for policymakers and resisting excessive regulatory restrictions.

After the lecture viewers were able to ask questions. One viewer wanted to know what destination marketeers had to do exactly in order to participate in AI. According to Bauhuber they first needed to contact their respective umbrella organisation, where in most cases developments were already taking place. Often, work was already in progress on open formats to facilitate access to tourist attractions. However, destination managers needed to check for copyright on their texts and images if they were planning to release their own data or make it publicly available, he said. Comprehensive details can also be found at

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