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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.

Cybersecurity

Ways for remote workers to stop cybercriminals

Yehia El Amine

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cybercriminals

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way humans interact with each other across the board, handshakes have switched to fist bumps, massive conferences have gone digital in the form of webinars, and more importantly, employees have built makeshift offices within the comfort of their own homes.

According to Shefali Roy, former CCO & COO at TrueLayer, a UK-based FinTech firm, working from home has become the new norm.

“People are working longer and harder, which can be a big cause for concern with regards to employee burnout since they’re on high alert at all times due to the sudden merge of workstations and home comfort,” Roy said during a the MoneyFest 2020 webinar.

Thus, it isn’t strange for employees to start asking their employers about their work-from-home policy.

While remote working offers safety from a physical virus, it exposes employees to threatening digital viruses. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of this shift in the workplace and have targeted their sights around remote employees across the board.

According to a report published by Kaspersky there have been almost 726 million confirmed cyberattacks since the beginning of the year; “This has put 2020 on course to rack up somewhere in the region of 1.5 billion cyberattacks for the year,” the report stated.

While some companies have rejuvenated their IT security teams to deal with threats, many other companies haven’t and a big number of businesses are exposed to these breaches every day.

This leaves workers to fend for themselves against sophisticated cybercriminals’ intent on stealing their information and wreak havoc on businesses.

Fret not, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance, a U.S.-based cybersecurity non-profit, there are a number of ways that can help you protect your sensitive company information while venturing out of the digital safety of the office:

  • Think before you click. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of people seeking information on COVID-19. They are distributing malware campaigns that impersonate organizations like WHO, CDC, and other reputable sources by asking you to click on links or download outbreak maps. Slow down. Don’t click. Go directly to a reputable website to access the content.
  • Lock down your login. Create long and unique passphrases for all accounts and use multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. MFA will fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics or a unique one-time code sent to your phone or mobile device.
  • Connect to a secure network and use a company-issued Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access any work accounts. Home routers should be updated to the most current software and secured with a lengthy, unique passphrase. Employees should not be connecting to public Wi-Fi to access work accounts unless using a VPN.
  • Separate your network so your company devices are on their own Wi-Fi network, and your personal devices are on their own.
  • Always keep devices with you or stored in a secure location when not in use. Set auto log-out if you walk away from your computer and forget to log out.
  • Limit access to the device you use for work. Only the approved user should use the device (family and friends should not access a work-issued device).
  • Use company-approved/vetted devices and applications to collaborate and complete your tasks. Don’t substitute your preferred tools with ones that have been vetted by the company’s security team.
  • Update your software. Before connecting to your corporate network, be sure that all Internet-connected devices ‒including PCs, smartphones, and tablets ‒ are running the most current versions of software. Updates include important changes that improve the performance and security of your devices.

While employees can arm themselves with these helpful tips to fend off cyberattacks and breaches, remote workers can still educate themselves on how to spot phishing and ransomware attempts.

There are more than a handful of hints that could flag emails as suspicious or malicious, such as:

  1. Strange requests: these types of emails tend to give out information that’s out of the ordinary, maybe an unexpected request or one that isn’t directly relevant to you. The most likely case is that it’s a typical phishing email, even if the domain came from within your very own organization, call the sender and ask.
  2. Generic salutations: If someone is sending you an email and not addressing you personally, then chances are the sender doesn’t know who you are. Best-case scenario, it could be a marketing campaign, or the worst-case scenario is that you’re being targeted.
  3. Spelling errors: especially during emails, people will always double and triple check their emails for typos and spelling errors to remain professional. Thus, finding these errors are ‘phishy’ so beware!
  4. Be wary of attachments: this is exactly how cybercriminals worm their way into computers, which is why if the sender or email seems suspicious, chances are, the virus is laying in wait in the attachment.
  5. Shady URLs: hiding or spoofing links is the easiest thing to pull off, since the URL could take you to a different destination to where a link reads; although staying away from it is the best course of action, you could always hover over the link to check if the destination leads to where you expect it to.
  6. You’ve won our competition:while these traps can obviously be spotted, people are still falling for these schemes in 2020. Always remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it most likely is, so stay away.
  7. Scaremongering: A common approach used by cybercriminals is to claim something like “your account has been breached!”. This creates a sense of urgency and vulnerability and can prevent people from thinking clearly. If the claims in the email were true, would the sender really tell you in this way? Always check through a different means of communication.
  8. Change of behavior: Maybe you’ve received an email from somebody you trust such as your boss, or colleague, but the language used is different from normal. Maybe it’s too formal or informal. Maybe the email signature isn’t the normal one used. You’re probably used to the way these individuals talk to you, so if it’s not normal, something weird might be going on.

As time passes, and technologies get more and more advanced, so do cybercriminals, as they stay up to date with the technological winds of change to further find their weak points. Thus, employees who choose to stay remote have a responsibility toward their employers to remain safe online, as the damages are no longer measured on an individual level, but can take down entire organizations.

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Feature Articles

The importance of IoMT security across the healthcare system

Karim Hussami

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IoMT

In our hyper-connected world, advancing technology in IoT is bringing promise to many systems across industry sectors.

The Internet of Medical Things or IoMT which is a subset of the Internet of Things is one of the many emerging technologies that has impacted the healthcare system and our lives.

Hospitals and medical centers depend on smart devices for doctors to monitor their patients and their medical situations quickly and efficiently. In addition, these devices offer more precise analysis and earlier recognition of medical issues with the help of information flow.

According to a report published by Deloitte, “Hospitals in the U.S. have an average of 15 smart medical devices per bed, while the IoMT market is expected to reach $52 billion by 2022.”

Security risks for smart devices

IoMT, like any other technological device, is also subject to security risks such as cyberattacks. Malicious activities have increased in number in the last few years targeting medical institutions and being the cause of major disruption in the healthcare system, financial losses, which has lowered patient’s confidence in healthcare.

For example, hackers disabled computer systems at Düsseldorf University Hospital in Germany last September and led to the death of a patient while doctors attempted to transfer her to another hospital. The ransomware attack scrambles data, making computer systems inoperable.

The hospital’s President Arne Schönbohm said hackers took advantage of a well-known vulnerability in a piece of VPN (virtual private network) software developed by Citrix and warned other organizations to protect themselves from the flaw.

The need to implement robust IoMT security solutions in the medical industry has never been more important. Encryptions and conducting a secure boot – making sure that when a device is turned on, none of its configurations have been modified – are some of the basic yet fundamental security measures providers and manufacturers of IoT devices can take.

Other important security measures:

  • A defense strategy should be put in place and implemented with multiple layers of security available to protect against any risk. Make sure that authentication is properly followed, device access is limited, and device-to-device communication is monitored carefully.
  • The IoT device should be tested before it is put into production. Monitoring device security should be done throughout its life cycle to ensure fewer vulnerabilities. After the machine has been produced, security measures should be incorporated into its design such as conducting a risk assessment before the device is released for use in the market. Authentication measures should be built into the device.
  • Create an environment for teaching the culture of security, where the IT department can inform employees about issues and their dangers on the system or company they work for. In addition, conducting regular trainings to recognize vulnerabilities, cyber threats, risks and anomalies will speed up breach response.

Cyberattacks will never simply vanish. No matter the level of precautions we take, there will always be a degree of risk but making sure devices are secure and teams are vigilant and prepared, may help reduce overall disruption caused by cybercrime.

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Feature Articles

Taiwan: plans that will enable Fintech firms to access more customer data

Karim Hussami

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Taiwan: plans that will enable Fintech firms to access more customer data

An open database of information is highly relevant for enterprises to get an idea of people’s needs and preferences which will give companies a chance to improve the quality of their products and services and help cultivate new ones.

The Joint Credit Information Center (JCIC) in Taiwan is planning to establish a database for local financial technology firms to obtain information on consumers’ credit risk information, the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) reported.

One of the ways in which financial service providers tend to use or deliver innovative services, is by adopting new technology. This has led Taiwan financial industry to spend over $700 million in 2017, on FinTech R&D and solutions in the areas of AI, AML, biometrics, blockchain, cloud services, cybersecurity, data analytics, payment, among other tech initiatives.

More info, better service

Taiwan’s information technology infrastructure is well-developed, with 90% 4G penetration and 80% mobile penetration, according to the International Trade Administration. “Taiwan is a strong market for e-commerce, online entertainment, mobile payment, and other technology-driven services.”

According to FSC Banking Bureau, electronic payment users exceeded eight million people in April 2020.

Respectively, information about consumers is a crucial part in company’s businesses and continuity as well as its success, that is why sharing is essential to progress.

After Fintech companies held a meeting in June 2020 with Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) Chairman Thomas Huang, suggestions circulated during the discussion noting that the center should make its data accessible to the fintech firms for the fact that the type of information it provides could help with developing various financial products or services.

As plans go ahead, the database would be launched in October 2021, according to the Banking Bureau, adding that fintech companies could also use the National Development Council’s open data service.

According to the Taipei Times, up until this time, 426 financial sector companies including local banks, securities firms, credit cooperatives, insurance providers and credit card issuers are among the businesses that have benefitted from JCIC’s raw data – currently not including Fintech enterprises.

Consumer approval before gaining access

Accessing information related to consumers is not as simple as one might think because it depends on customer approval and whether they agree to share their personal preferences online for a specific service.

Banking Bureau Chief Secretary Phil Tong said, “With consumers’ approval, the agency (JCIC) would provide their lending and repayment data to the companies, including how much money they have borrowed, what kind of loans they have taken and whether they have repaid on time.”

According to sources, the new database will not include consumers’ raw data and will follow personal data protection rules. The JCIC doesn’t share customers actual financial records.

Obviously, the new normal in business practice is for companies to obtain information about their customers, whether by their own efforts or by the help of a third party. Today, data enables growth.

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