The Impact of AI on Traveller Behaviour: Insights from Phocuswright Europe 2023

The Impact of AI on Traveller Behaviour: Insights from Phocuswright Europe 2023

By Marijke Timmers, Chief Marketing Officer at Atlas

The travel industry is abuzz with discussions on how advanced technologies, especially AI, are revolutionizing traveller behaviour. At the recent Phocuswright Europe 2023 conference, this topic took center stage at the Roundtable discussion hosted by Atlas. In this blog, our Chief Marketing Officer, Marijke Timmers, shares her insights and reflections from this conversation. 

Marijke Timmers, CMO, Atlas
Marijke Timmers, CMO, Atlas

Marijke has more than 20 years of experience marketing some of the world’s fastest growing companies, delivering high-impact, measurable marketing and customer experience programs. Before joining Atlas, Marijke was Head of Marketing for eNett International (now WEX) and held senior marketing positions at ANZ Institutional, Barclays Capital and Citigroup. She’s had the privilege of creating multiple brands from scratch and rebranding Lehman Brothers to Barclays in 2008. Currently based in New Zealand, Marijke leads the Atlas Marketing & Communications team to deliver brand management, customer acquisition, customer experience, employee engagement and exceptional usability across Atlas platforms. 

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending the Phocuswright Europe conference in Barcelona. The event draws the region’s top travel industry players and is a unique opportunity to connect with over 400 key decision-makers across three days of networking and thought-provoking content sessions.  

On day one, Atlas hosted the Traveller Behaviour Roundtable. Along with our moderator Madeline List, Senior Research Analyst at Phocuswright and expert panelists – Mario Gavira, Chief Strategy Officer at and Ryandeep Bains, Business Development Manager at STR, I participated in this non-scripted, off-the-record, open discussion on traveller behaviour.  

The audience chose to focus on technology.  

The rise of AI in travel search and booking 

It’s no surprise that AI is the key technology on everyone’s mind when it comes to driving traveller behaviour. Expedia’s integration with ChatGPT earlier this year gave us a glimpse of experience-centered search capability. Travellers no longer need to specify the destination and dates; flexible, interest- and experience-led searches can now determine the best place and time for their travel needs. This game-changing advancement allows for hyper-personalized, one-to-me interactions, breaking away from the traditional one-to-one or even older one-to-many model. 

Other tech giants are also embracing AI. Google recently announced the infusion of generative AI into their search engine and marketing tools, while MakeMyTrip partnered with Microsoft to introduce voice-assisted booking in Indian languages. With personalized travel recommendations and curated holiday packages, AI-powered tools are already transforming the way travellers plan their journeys. 

While it was evident at the roundtable that many people in the room were experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) about using generative AI, there was also a lot of scepticism, fear and concerns about accuracy, bias, privacy, security, and unintended consequences of using such tools. 

However, as millennials and Gen Z travellers reach maturity and become an even more significant customer segment, early adoption of AI technology can help travel businesses capture this demographic. According to American Express Travel’s 2023 Global Travel Trends Report, millennials and Gen Zs are more likely to spend money on experiences rather than consumer goods (46% vs. 37%). As the first generation of digital natives seeks more immersive travel experiences, the demand for experiential search and booking tools will only increase. 

Marijke Timmers (Atlas), Ryandeep Bains (STR), Mario Gavira ( and Madeline List (Phocuswright) at Phocuswright Europe 2023

Early adopters will lead the industry 

Travel businesses can’t afford to be followers in this space – other industries will drive the adoption of AI and inevitably change customers’ expectations whether we like it or not. It might be about leveraging AI for operational efficiencies or improving customer experience, but it is clear that the future of business has AI in it. 

At Atlas, we employ AI and machine learning in various ways to power our airline booking platform and create a seamless experience for travel agencies and their customers. 

Today, we use AI to categorize and process thousands of airline passenger email communications, automate processing steps for refunds and improve our customer service. As a marketing team, we use it to produce outlines for our communications so we don’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper. The results generated by AI might not be perfect, but it is a start.

We’re constantly looking at new ways AI can help us be more efficient for our customers, and AI offers a lot of opportunities to do so. 

Data Infrastructure: the driving force behind AI 

But trendy technology tools like Chat GPT are only the tip of the iceberg. To deliver exceptional customer experiences, data and infrastructure play crucial roles.  

Immediate response and an omnichannel presence are essential to meeting and exceeding traveller expectations. By harnessing the power of robust data infrastructure, we can adapt to the ever-changing market dynamics at high speed and respond effectively to travellers’ demands. Without next-generation infrastructure to support data collection, organization and utilization, businesses won’t be able to perform at the necessary levels to survive (and eventually thrive) in this world of constant technological advances.   

We at Atlas recognize the importance of this foundation. We have heavily invested in our infrastructure, enabling faster and more scalable searching capabilities. Our platform currently performs 8000 queries-per-second and less than half a second response per query – that is the industry best. 

AI is an enabler, not the ultimate answer 

So, with infrastructure capable of powering AI technology and generating more humanized, personalized experiences for travellers, are we as technology companies now more in control of behaviour or are we simply responding to what the market wants? 

As a customer-obsessed marketer, I believe that technology is just an enabler and AI is only one part of the mix – it shouldn’t and can’t be the entire strategy. Travellers are diverse. Their preferences for travel and the way they book it are equally diverse. By offering flexible search options, we can capture all types of travellers, doubling potential revenue. 

If you have plans to service the younger generation, generative AI can play a vital role in not only inspiring them to travel but encouraging them to make ethical and sustainable travel choices. With 82%* of Gen Z and millennial travellers showing interest in going on a vacation with minimal impact on the environment in 2023, a different kind of travel research, powered by a different kind of technology, can enable them to avoid over-tourism in the most popular and well-travelled destinations. These AI-powered search tools will facilitate tailored and sustainable travel experiences, aligning with the aspirations of socially responsible travellers. 

So no, I don’t think technology has all the power. Yet.  

Undoubtedly, there is much room for improvement when it comes to AI. However, instead of fearing it, we can embrace it and learn how to utilize its potential. Younger, more tech-savvy travellers are increasingly interested in having access to such technology. As more travellers adopt and use AI, it will continually improve its ability to meet their needs. So why not seize this exciting opportunity for growth? 

What are your thoughts on this topic? We’d love to hear them in the comments! 

 *American Express Travel’s 2023 Global Travel Trends Report 



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