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‘The travel marketing industry is using AI like a drunk uses a lamp post’

The chief executive officer of APD Singapore has described the adoption of artificial intelligence in travel marketing as “under-baked” and hugely lacking behind the technology’s advancement.

Tobias Wilson, who is also the chairman of the IAB Singapore, compared the current use by many in the industry to a “drunk using a lamp post”, taking a quote from McCann Hong Kong ECD Martin Lever regarding his ArtMap project for Cathay Pacific.

He added that 99 per cent of markers had not linked up their data well enough to use AI effectively.

From right: Chaitali Pramanik and Tobias Wilson

Speaking during the inaugural Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit, he said: “We’re so under-baked in the application of AI, especially in travel where we have so many extra data points. Our adoption of AI is being massively lacked by the speed in which the technology is advancing.

To get started with AI: if you’re truly looking at retention as a spend focus, then you have your foundations right. But if you don’t have all your data linked up and there’s a gap between sales and marketing, then don’t even think about AI. You have to get your basics right.

Looking specifically at chatbots as a potential starting point for travel marketers keen to boost their AI credentials, he added: “For a chatbot to be effective, it needs to be given the right guide rails and a North Star to develop towards. It needs backing from all sides of the business, from loyalty to acquisition and every touchpoint – not just one part of the division that thinks: ‘What’s hot? I know a chatbot’.”

However, his views were countered by Justin Peyton, the chief strategy officer for Digitas Asia-Pacific.

“This notion that you need to have one bot to do everything is wrong,” he said. “It’s hard to get all your data in one place, but I disagree that you should wait until that point before you start. If you can give me a code that means I don’t have to go through an IVR – brilliant. If a chatbot can get me to the right human, that’s great. It’s a simple thing that can be done today.”

Peyton: “If a chatbot can get me to the right human, that’s great. It’s a simple thing that can be done today.”

He added: “The fact I can go to China and hold up a Google Translate and translate a street sign – that’s the future. But it’s about then how do you connect all these different areas.”

During the discussion, IBM Asia-Pacific’s marketing lead Chaitali Pramanik, who recently shared her thoughts on AI ahead of the summit, argued that AI was unlikely to become a replacement for humans both in the backend and on the frontline of hospitality.

Going against the views put forward recently by Elon Musk suggesting that a ‘Skynet’ landscape was on the horizon, she said: “It’s not like you replace your entire call centre with a chatbot; you identify those within your workforce which are low-skilled.

“AI is not a magic button that you switch on and then you’re an AI-driven company.”

Her views were echoed by Cindy Tan, TripAdvisor’s vice president for display in APAC, who added: “Hospitality is a human-centric business. When the human expectations are not met by a robot then there is a misalignment.”

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