The potential of chatbots in travel and tourism services in the context of social distancing : Focus on Habit

As many other sectors, the travel and tourism industries faced great challenges following the Covid-19 pandemic, with confinements and border closures bringing travel to a halt. In this regard, the purpose of our research was to examine tourists’ chatbot usage intentions in service encounters within the context of a future international travel, assuming continued social distancing. Our results indicate that automation, habit, social presence and health consciousness all contributed positively to chatbot usage intentions (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 : Proposed model by Hasan, Koles, Zaman & Paul (2021)

Our results highlight that the habit of using such services (e.g., messaging apps, etc.) strongly influences the chatbots use intention, and it is even more significant when tourists have experienced a lockdown. During the lockdown, most of the people were working from home and they were forced to use/adopt new communication tools (e.g., Zoom, Teams, etc.). Therefore, our research underlines that these habits are going to stay and tourists will prefer to use chatbots.

According to Statista (2021), more than 2 billion people are using WhatsApp and 1.3 billon are using Facebook Messenger every month (see Fig. 2). As people are already habituated to messaging apps, they would like to talk to chatbots. Therefore, the chatbots could be an
effective communication and service delivery tool for the service providers.

Fig. 2 : Most popular global mobile messenger apps as of July 2021, based on number of monthly active users (Source: Statista, 2021)

Do we have some evidences from the travel and tourism industry ?

Yes. We do ! Skyscanner (leading flight comparison website and online travel agency), which was one of the early adopters of chatbots in travel industry, affirmed that 69% of the customers preferred chatbots for quick communication with the brand and in February 2018, Skyscanner recorded more than 1 million customer interactions via their chatbot. KLM (Dutch Airline Group) also saw a 40% increase of customer interactions through its Facebook Messenger channel. In an earlier study, Oracle highlighted that 80% of the business would have integrated chatbots by 2020.

The Covid-19 has certainly changed the customer beahviour and their way of travelling. Service firms should explore these opportunities in order to enhance the customer experience.

Our original research on this topic : Hasan, R., Koles, B., Zaman, M. and Paul, J. (2021). The potential of chatbots in travel and tourism services in the context of social distancing. International Journal of Technology Intelligence and Planning, 13(1), 63–83.

What shapes of robots are preferred by consumers in hospitality services?

From one of our research, we found that nonphysical robots, like artificial intelligence in smartphones (Please see photo 6 below), are the most easily identified and preferred shape (mean: 3.65). We can also see from the following pictures and statistics that trash bins (photo 2) or tray robots (photo 4) (mean: 3.49; 3.47, respectively) are also preferred by consumers in the hospitality industry. An interesting point is that Human-looking robots
(photo 1) appeared only one from the lowest preferred (mean: 3.35). It may be because it scares consumers and it requires more research to be done in the future to understand this situation. The spider shape robot was the lowest preferred (mean: 2.31) robot (photo 5) and it lacked hospitality service application.

In conclusion, we can say that human shape robots may not be preferred always in the service sector. Consumers may like nonphysical shape robots because they may provide consumers a sense of control instead of getting scared looking at their scary shapes such as spider robots.

To know more about this research, please visit our following published research in a TOP journal –

de Kervenoael R.;Hasan R.;Schwob A.;Goh E. (2020) ‘Leveraging human-robot interaction in hospitality services: Incorporating the role of perceived value, empathy, and information sharing into visitors’ intentions to use social robots’. Tourism Management, 78 [DOI][Details]