AI: The End of the Beginning for Travel & Tourism

Joslyn McIntyre

November 13, 2023

AI can do so many things these days. With just a few words typed into a prompt, it can generate eye-popping images. It can produce paragraph upon paragraph of witty marketing text. It can even manufacture original music based on a few words or ideas. In terms of creative expression, AI is close to rivaling human output, at this point.

At this year’s Remarkable Venue Awards, we welcomed Marc Mekki, an author, speaker, and coach invested in digital innovation, emerging technology, and human-centric design thinking. Mekki gave a rousing keynote speech about the power, possibility, and limitations of AI as applied to the visitor experience. Here are just some of the visionary ideas Mekki spoke of, illuminating a world of possibilities for museums and attractions.

Personalize tour experiences to individual taste

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

— Arthur C. Clarke, the acclaimed sci-fi author

Summon a photograph of the Plaza de España in Seville, and ask AI to narrate a voiceover tour — in the voice of Taylor Swift. No problem for AI (and Mekki demonstrated just such a feat). Prefer to learn about this gorgeous Spanish plaza in the voice of Penélope Cruz or Sofia Vergara? That can also be done by AI!

As Mekki invited the audience (and now, you the reader) to imagine: “You could scale personalized tour experiences to thousands of people, simultaneously, with content generated very easily on demand.” And with AI, you can do so in the style and tone of each individual traveler, engaging with people with deeply personalized content that grabs and entertains them.

Bring the past to life

With a prompt, AI can also bring historical figures back to life, enabling visitors to see not just the art, for instance, but the artist. Iconic figures from history can be “reanimated” to further contextualize their artworks, discoveries, and legacies in highly realistic audio and video.

To illustrate this AI feat, Mekki played a clip of Pablo Picasso himself introducing Seville to the attendees of the RVAs — in English, which was not his native language. How is this possible? With AI.

With this capability, AI allows curators and museum organizers to craft more exciting narratives of our shared human culture in ways that engage and entertain the visitor. Hearing about Picasso’s works from Picasso himself brings rich context to the works of art the visitor is seeing, and enables them to immerse themselves in that historic context.

Reach people in more languages

The Picasso video illustrates how AI goes beyond dubbed video to actually change the language a person appears to be speaking. What starts in one language can now easily continue in another, making it possible, as Mekki describes it, to “break the boundaries of language itself, a capability that allows museums to bring people even closer together and foster a deeper understanding between people in more ways than one.”

Language, after all, is one of humanity's oldest technologies. And now, it’s combined with one of the newest, giving us a deeper connection to our human heritage and to the people and stories that make travel worth embarking upon in the first place. This is a capability that museums and attractions could use to reach far more people with their exhibitions as well as their digital marketing efforts.

Interact with historical characters

“My hope is that someday, when the next Aristotle is alive, we can capture the underlying worldview of that Aristotle in a computer, and someday some student will be able to not only read the words Aristotle wrote, but ask Aristotle a question — and get an answer.” 

— Steve Jobs

So far we’ve talked about seeing historical characters come to life in a language every visitor can understand. But what if you could take it further? What if you could, for example, ask Aristotle himself about the nature of reality?

Tourism has existed for thousands of years, and Mekki says, “Attractions, venues, and art have spoken to us through books, exhibits, and applications, and for the longest time, that was enough. But I don’t think it is anymore. Now, for the first time, we can expect more than just being spoken to. We can actually have a two-way conversation.” 

We’re moving from passive engagement to a more active form of engagement, thanks to AI and other technologies like holograms and virtual and augmented reality. AI can be used to create interactive experiences for visitors — the ability to, for instance, ask questions of a historical character and have them answer in detail. 

Mekki believes that with “sophisticated, personalized digital agents with distinct personalities, with multilingual capability, with conversation skills, and memory even — much more than the chatbots we know today — we will fulfill the decades-old promise of a more fluid interaction between humans and computers.”

Interact with any object at all

In fact, AI can enable interaction with just about any historical figure, modern personality, or even inanimate object. Imagine a girl in a field of tulips having a two-way conversation with a tulip bulb. The flower might talk about what it’s like to be a tulip, where tulips originated, what the history of tulips has been about, and more.

Or picture an older gentleman standing in front of a famous painting he’s always been fascinated by, asking it about itself — and having it respond. Imagine talking to any painting about its deeper meaning! These are all possibilities in the world of AI.

The magic of AI in travel and tourism

AI’s destiny is not to replace humans. There will always be a firm place for human chaperones, guides, and intelligence — in the travel and tourism industry and beyond. Technology like AI is not about replacing humans, but amplifying the experience with new, evocative, compelling ways of telling the stories worth telling. After all, isn’t that what travel is all about?

Read about all the winners of the 2023 Remarkable Venue Awards or read the 5 Valuable Lessons From 2023’s Remarkable Venue Awards Winners.

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