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Tourism industry looks to AI to champion COVID-19 travel

Yehia El Amine

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AI

As the world slips into the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, industries are scrambling to find alternative ways to keep businesses afloat as consumer behavior shifts and adapts to a changing norm.

As the Covid-19 era hastens the advancement of many technologies, enterprises are looking at tech to help improve business. One of the most desperate sectors that needs to start enacting change is the tourism industry.

Airline losses are mounting quickly as their revenues plunge to record lows in what was normally one of their most lucrative seasons.

In the U.S. alone, Southwest Airlines Co. lost nearly $1.2 billion during the third quarter—its biggest quarterly loss ever. American Airlines Group Inc. lost $2.4 billion. Alaska Air Group Inc. reported losing $431 million back in October. Rivals United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. also reported massive losses during the third quarter.

The pandemic has wiped out travel demand, bringing a decade-long streak of strong profits to a screeching halt. The four largest U.S. carriers have lost more than $25 billion this year so far.

Ongoing border restrictions and lower consumer appetite for international flights have changed travel as an industry.

Many experts consider that the business models of traditional corporate travel management companies have not evolved for decades, while the existing tools have not kept pace with the modern business traveler and are generally not affordable by smaller and mid-sized businesses.

Hotels used to feel more technologically advanced than our homes but as IoT, AI and consumer tech companies take the lead, the tech gradient has reversed — hotels now feel lower tech than our own homes.

Which is why a big change is needed.

Many in the tourism sector have heralded the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) to be the saving grace amid the pandemic.

AI is creating dramatic technological changes, which will also revolutionize the way people travel. Artificial intelligence is already helping major players in the tourism industry in decision making, managing predictive maintenance, and handling disruptions.

Ranging from smarter virtual assistants and real time chat bots to personalized concierge services, AI is all about utilizing data to create a better experience, and at a rapid rate.

An example of this was displayed during Madrid’s Fitur Tourism Fair, showed a prototype of a hotel offering tailored experiences and stays when customers check-in via a mirror equipped with AI-powered facial recognition.

That information is then used to provide the customer to rooms that compliment their habits and desires; through this smart room, everything within it is interchangeable depending on the customer’s needs and interests, even the choice of art displayed.

In parallel, Paris-based tech consultancy, Altran, is successfully developing a prototype of an AI coupled with an IoT solution targeted toward luxury hotels.

The service allows customers to open and close doors through WhatsApp, the ability to order food in 40 different languages based on speech recognition technology, as well as mattresses equipped with sensors that tips off hotels on the right time to serve coffee.

Other properties, such as the Palladium Hotel Group, have replaced paper brochures with virtual reality (V) headsets.

Governments are also jumping on the bandwagon to attract tourists far and wide.

Europe’s Georgia has recently developed a tourism campaign labelled “Emotions are Georgia,” that uses AI to detect genuine emotions from more than 70 million posts of travelers to trigger an emotional and accurate guidebook of the country.

“These posts are straightforward, heartfelt and uncensored reviews written by regular tourists who have actually visited the country,” Giorgi Chogovadze, Head of Georgian National Tourism Administration, was quoted as saying.

As we’re moving through the different examples, it’s becoming clearer that customization is the predominant theme here. Machine learning and AI is opening up vital information for travel agencies, hotels, governments, and attractions to pinpoint and match the desires, habits, and preferences of tourists.

Hence a personalized menu, preferred room temperature, lighting and other services offered helps increase customer satisfaction immensely.

Embracing artificial intelligence will benefit travelers as well as tour operators, the aviation sector and even hospitality. With the advanced progress that technology is making, radical transformation is all set to happen in the way people live and explore the world.

There is a plethora of ways the tourism industry can capitalize on the many technologies currently in play from AI, IoT, to VR and augmented reality (AR).

Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Customer service goes digital

With the major tech developments that are happening, customers are increasingly expecting instant responses from a company’s customer service arm. This has already surfaced with AI-powered chatbots on social media business pages as well as dedicated instant-messaging apps such as WhatsApp Business.

While the technology has been there for a short while, tech firms are attempting to tweak algorithms to make chatbots speak and answer questions in a more humanlike manner, while increasing response speeds to deliver customer service responses seamlessly.

2. Robot hospitality providers

Robotics is the most attractive facet of AI.

Although we’re still relatively far away from Star Wars-like hospitality, we’re edging closer.

Face-to-face customer engagement is an emerging trend within AI for the tourism industry, Hilton Hotels were the first to integrate this new tech through its welcome bot called Connie.

Connie uses AI and speech recognition to provide information to all customers who speak to it.

Examples like this will increase as AI-powered robots are increasingly able to improve their service by quickly learning and memorizing each human interaction to create a database that would later allow customization.

3. Analyzing data

Human error will always be a common theme when it comes to sifting through files, data, and information, but AI-powered machines can eradicate those errors, completing it faster, cheaper, and more accurately.

From that, the data processed by these intelligent machines can help industries shape their strategies based on customer feedback, needs, wants, and behaviors.

4. AR steps in

AI and AR have always had a natural relationship; this is a type of digital technology which enhances a person’s perception of their environment when viewed through dedicated devices or smartphones.

As smartphone penetration is increasing YoY, the step towards AR-enabled travel apps seems like a no-brainer. National tourism organizations, hotel chains and top tourist sites – they all use AR apps to improve the overall visitor experience with interactivity and instantly accessible information.

Some attraction owners and managers are using AR to provide tourists with AR-powered tour guides that can pop-up and provide further details and information on-site. Not only that, but the tech can be used to guide the user through the site to offer the absolute best experience the site has to offer.

The road ahead is rather long before AI fully takes the wheel in the tourism industry. However, travel and tourism companies are persistently trying to look for areas where AI can empower their services in the long-term.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Technology

Google Announces Google Workspace for Everyone

Inside Telecom Staff

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Google Workspace

Google announced on Monday a series of updates that build upon its vision to deliver a single, integrated communication and collaboration solution to everyone via Google Workspace.

Now, all of the company’s three billion-plus existing users across consumer, enterprise, and education have access to the full Google Workspace experience, including Gmail, Chat, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Meet and more.        

In addition to offering Google Workspace to everyone, the company announced new innovations that address the specific challenges and opportunities of the hybrid work world:

  • The evolution of Rooms in Google Chat to Spaces
  • A new individual subscription offer: Google Workspace Individual
  • New enhancements to Google Meet that enable collaboration equity
  • New security and privacy capabilities across Google Workspace

“Collaboration doesn’t stop at the workplace – our products have been optimized for broad participation, sharing and helpfulness since the beginning,” said Javier Soltero, VP and GM, Google Workspace. “Our focus is on delivering consumers, workers, teachers and students alike an equitable approach to collaboration, while still providing flexibility that allows these different subsets of users to take their own approach to communication and collaboration.”

“With this update, Google Workspace is creating a new competitive advantage by optimizing for a single, connected experience across its products that it is extending to consumers and individual business owners, to align with the experience that its enterprise and education subscribers benefit from today,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy, said in a statement.

Google Workspace for everyone

Every day, the world’s most innovative companies, schools and nonprofits use Google Workspace to transform how people work and achieve more together.

It’s a daily part of how leading healthcare providers revolutionize patient care, schools turn remote learning into an immersive, personalized experience, and aerospace companies rethink flight. Starting today, Google Workspace is available to anyone with a Google account, meaning friends, family, or groups of any kind can stay connected, work together, and share helpful information in a single space.

For example, you can organize a junior sports league with ease, take that fundraiser to the next level, or even turn a hobby into a business. Starting today, users can enable the integrated experience in Google Workspace by turning on Google Chat in Gmail.

Connecting content and people in powerful ways

With the introduction of Spaces, the Rooms experience in Google Chat will evolve into a dedicated place for organizing people, topics, and projects in Google Workspace. “Over the summer, we’ll evolve Rooms to become Spaces and launch a streamlined and flexible user interface that helps teams and individuals stay on top of everything that’s important,” a statement by the search engine said.

Powered by new features like in-line topic threading, presence indicators, custom statuses, expressive reactions, and a collapsible view, Spaces will seamlessly integrate with files and tasks, becoming a new home in Google Workspace for getting more done—together.

Spaces will also provide a place to fuel knowledge sharing and community building for teams of all sizes, where all the relevant information, conversations, and files for a project can be organized, and where topics—even at the organization level—can be intelligently moderated.

With the ability to pin messages where everyone can see them, Spaces will play a crucial role in helping people stay connected and informed.

Google Workspace Individual

Google Workspace is also launching Workspace Individual, a powerful, easy-to-use solution that was built to help individual business owners grow, run, and protect their business. This new subscription offering provides premium capabilities, including smart booking services, professional video meetings and personalized email marketing, with much more on the way.

Within their existing Google account, subscribers can easily manage all their personal and professional commitments from one place with access to Google support to get the most out of their solution.

Workspace Individual is rolling out soon to six markets, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, and Japan.

A single, connected experience

As businesses move to a hybrid work environment, the importance of creating secure collaboration spaces and fostering human connection has never been more important. Because Google Workspace was designed to fuel anywhere, anytime collaboration, it’s now helping millions of organizations navigate the challenges and opportunities of the newly emerging work model.

Customers are using Google Workspace to rethink virtual meetings, provide people with modern tools to stay connected and manage their time and attention, and double down on security and privacy.

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Apple reaffirms privacy stance amid Trump probe revelations

Associated Press

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Seeking to protect its image as a guardian of personal privacy, Apple maintains it was blindsided and handcuffed by a Trump administration probe that resulted in the company handing over phone data from two Democratic congressmen.

Apple delivered its version of events Friday in response to news reports detailing the U.S. Justice Department’s aggressive attempts to use its legal power to identify leaks tied to an investigation into former President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

The Justice Department was able to persuade a federal grand jury to issue a subpoena that culminated in Apple turning over the metadata — information that can include general records of calls and texts — about House Intelligence Committee members Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, during 2018. Both lawmakers were key figures on the committee looking into Trump’s connections with Russia; Schiff is now the panel’s chair.

Neither Schiff and Swalwell knew some of the information had been seized until May 5, after a series of gag orders had finally expired, according to the company.

The revelation of Apple’s compliance with the subpoena emerged at a time when the company has been ramping up efforts to frame privacy as “fundamental human right” in its marketing campaigns. Apple also upped the privacy ante in April when it rolled out privacy controls on the iPhone as part of an effort to make it more difficult for companies such as Facebook to track people’s online activities to help sell ads.

In a statement, Apple emphasized it will continue to fight unjustified legal demands for personal information and keep customers informed about them.

But in this instance, Apple said it was constrained by a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge and said it had no information about the nature of the investigation.

“It would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” the Cupertino, California, company said. “Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”

Apple also believes other technology companies may have been confronted with similar legal demands, based on the broad nature of the request it received for “customer or subscriber account information” spanning 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses.

It remains unclear how many other companies may have been swept up in the Trump administration’s attempt to track down leakers.

In a statement, Microsoft acknowledged receiving at least one subpoena in 2017 related to a personal email account. It said it notified the customer after the gag order expired and learned that the person was a congressional staff member. “We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this,” the company said.

Privacy experts were more troubled by the U.S. laws that allowed the Justice Department to secretly obtain the subpoenas and then keep them under wraps for years than by Apple’s limited compliance with the demands.

The subpoenas represent a “a quintessential example of government abuse” that ensnared Apple, said Alan Butler, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“It’s very difficult to challenge these types of subpoenas, but it’s not impossible,” Butler said. “And if there ever was one worth challenging, it might have been these.”

Apple’s response to the subpoena doesn’t necessarily contradict its stance on the sanctity of personal privacy, said Cindy Cohn, executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. That’s because Apple privacy commitments mostly revolve around shielding its customers from online surveillance.

She thinks the bigger issue is why U.S. law allows a grand jury to issue a subpoena and then block Apple from alerting the affected people.

“The overall secrecy of this is troubling, especially since it appears to have all been a politically motivated investigation,” Cohn said.

Apple has a history of fighting legal requests, most notably in 2016 when the Justice Department sought to force Apple to unlock the iPhone owned by one of the killers in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Apple refused to cooperate, contending it would open a digital backdoor that would pose threats to the security and privacy of all iPhone users. The legal showdown ended when the FBI hired another firm to unlock the iPhone connected to the shooting.

“Apple really put its money where its mouth is that time,” Butler said.


SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — By MICHAEL LIEDTKE AP Technology Writer.

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The 4 major benefits of using cloud computing services for your business

Adnan Kayyali

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cloud computing services

It is hard to argue against the convenience of having a seamlessly accessible hard drive in the sky, used to send, and retrieve data at any point, from anywhere. Whatever documents or files you think might be remotely useful at some point, just stick it on the cloud and forget about it.  

The benefits that cloud adoption brings to businesses large and small are no different. 

There are major benefits to companies that choose to adopt cloud computing services that cannot be overlooked and that give such companies a serios edge over their competition. 

Unlimited storage 

Well strictly speaking, it is limited by the size of your wallet and the number of servers in a warehouse. You do not, however, need to carry any hardware such as portable drives or thumb sticks to store your data. That’s the cloud providers problem, and so long as you pay for space, they are happy to provide. 

Security

Many organizations fear that using cloud computing services may leave them vulnerable to being breached. Using in-house storage may give them a sense of security given the servers are right in front of them. 

But consider this, a cloud provider’s full-time job, their specialty, is to constantly monitor and secure their connections and respond in cases of emergency.  

Though there is a gap in readiness to adopt, 75 percent of IT professionals view the public cloud as more secure than their own data centers and solutions according to a 2020 report by Oracle; while response times to breaches and disaster recovery are made easier and much faster compared to in-house security teams.  

On top of all that, there are the decreased costs; organizations need not divide their time and resources on security if they can outsource all that to specialists for a price. 

Collaboration and Flexibility 

The ability to access data from any device gives employees the ability to, well, do just that. In any conference or meeting, on a plane or in a hotel on vacation – not that an employee should be working on vacation, but it’s a brave new world. 

This increased flexibility makes it easier for different departments and employees to collaborate and access common files. Like a companywide Google doc. 

Scalability

If a business needs to increase their bandwidth, or adversely, if they no longer need it for whatever reason, they can easily scale their needs up and down. 

Instead of adding, removing, storing, or modifying in-house servers, the company can simply tell their cloud provider who can scale their processes based on the needs of their customers. 

In parallel, if a company is looking to implement a new operating system or software update, a lot of time can be saved by simply applying the change through the cloud itself.  

We know by now that companies who do not advance don’t stay around. The adoption of cloud computing services is the perfect way for small, medium and large-scale businesses to take care of their tech needs without splitting themselves into parts or wasting resources that could be used to improve and grow their business. 

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