What future for travel agents with Artificial Intelligence set to replace jobs? Abta 2018 speaker Dr Paul Redmond spoke to Ian Taylor

What future for travel agents with Artificial intelligence set to replace jobs? Abta 2018 speaker Dr Paul Redmond spoke to Ian Taylor

Travel businesses need to embrace technology even as artificial intelligence (AI) eliminates jobs and “changes everything”, Dr Paul Redmond of Liverpool University will tell Abta’s Travel Convention in Spain in October.

Redmond will address the convention in Seville on ‘Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’ he says AI will bring. The Liverpool University director of student experience wowed last year’s convention when he spoke on the differences between generations.

“We see the effect of technology in a lot of sectors, particularly on white-collar jobs, but I’ll talk about the impact of AI on jobs in travel,” he said.

Redmond notes fears about technology are not new, but said: “There’s been a huge acceleration in technology since 2007. It is changing everything, and we need to work with it. It’s not either people or technology, it’s about working together – staff and technology.”

At the university, he said: “Technology is changing attention spans. We’re having to engage students differently. It’s a challenge getting them to be in the moment and to notice where they are.

“We’re still building lecture theatres the same as 100 years ago. We’re still running exams. We’re still quite formal, with a history department in one building, science in another, [but] students want flexible space.”

When students graduate and look for work, he said: “There are jobs, but they are different. Accountancy firm PwC used to take 1,000 graduates a year [as trainee accountants], but you can do accounts on an app.

“Companies are also looking more for behaviours than for specific skills. But how can you be assessed for something like passion? If you apply for a job with Unilever, you have to make a phone video of yourself that is assessed by algorithms. How do you pass that?”

Redmond agrees “it doesn’t seem possible” to create enough new jobs to replace all those likely to be lost to AI, and asks: “How is it going to work? Probably we’ll work at a more flexible level.”

In travel, he said: “Customers don’t need to go to a high street agent for information. They want a customised analysis and a focus on experience.

“It’s a great opportunity to provide personal service, knowledge and support.”

Redmond will tell delegates: “Concentrate on areas customers want and on terrific customer service, and maximise the benefits of having excellent, motivated staff. Great customer service is something computers and robots can’t do yet.”

He will add: “Your customers will never be any more happy than your staff – that is key.”

Redmond will speak on the first day of the convention, which will be themed on ‘Truth, Trust and the Future of Experts’.

The Travel Convention 2018 takes place on October 8-10 at Barceló Convention Centre, Seville. Full details: thetravelconvention.com