How AI, VR and AR will change how you vacation

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Reality (AR) are changing the way Americans are traveling. We only have room to fly up from here!


Project Time Off has reported that American vacations are at an all-time high, with U.S. workers taking an average of 17.2 vacation days in 2017, which is at an all-time high since 2010 (17.5 vacation days.) For reference, in 2014 U.S. workers took only 16 vacation days, a record low. There is still plenty of room for improvement, however - 52% of U.S. workers have left unused vacation time go to waste, and 24% of U.S. workers have not taken a vacation in over a year.

Not to fear, however - Bill Gates believes that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can make our lives better!

“Machine learning will make humans more productive and therefore able to accomplish the same amount of work in less time,” says Gates. That’s a good thing, he says, because “the purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things. More free time is not a terrible thing.”

In a nutshell, Gates and his friend Warren Buffet (the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and investment guru) believe that automation will free up time, allowing some workers to be significantly more productive and free up resources for “all kinds of possibilities for everything else.”

We understand that automation and technology will make it easier for U.S. workers to actually get to their vacations. But how is technology changing the vacations themselves?

AI makes booking and traveling easier

Artificial Intelligence is in a lot of the digital technologies you are already using to interact with the world. From your preferred Maps app to voice assistants like Siri and Cortana to many of the online travel apps, artificial intelligence is creating a more straightforward way to travel.

Booking.com Global Director of Customer Service James Waters says that Booking.com customers prefer - by about 80% - to get the information they need for their travel themselves. AI helps them accomplish their tasks, largely behind the scenes.  

Many AI programs now have names, in a push for the technology to be received better. (Some of the names are kind of fun - Mezi is a shopping assistant, Carla is a personal travel assistant that helps with policy-compliant trips, and Claire is a B2B travel management bot.) Many of these AI-based programs are meant to be a travel companion - if you’re traveling alone, don’t fret. Your trusty travel app has your back!

Lola, for example, is a travel app in which AI operates as your personal travel assistant, instant messaging you and connecting you with a real-life travel agent. The AI pairs your preferences to travel accommodations that you would prefer, airlines that meet your needs and keeps all of your booking information in one place. All of this data is available in an online platform (app) that can easily be super hands-on, or managed with the assistance of a real-life travel agent.

AI has enabled the travel industry to compete based on relevance, helping to personalize services, manage pre-, in-, and post-trip needs, predict future travel choices, and complete bookings. Pretty fancy stuff. 

Artificial Intelligence also has helped the travel industry by:

  • Creating conversational and digital interactions for booking travel

  • Enabling agencies to increase security, while lessening the impact on travelers (think of facial recognition for embarking on a cruise)

  • Improving machine learning to increase in-airport sales, building recommendations for commonly forgotten items

  • Conversing with users to persuade them to use their vacation days on specifically tailored travel

AI has even helped with social media, creating a funnel in which complaints can be handled in a more prompt manner, and praise can be shared with millions. Mindtree’s PaxPulse, for example, monitors real-time social posts, and reaches out to customers if they’re expressing negative emotions (like the frustration for a delayed flight), delivering resolutions that can stem negative feelings and foster positive ones.

AI can:

  • Make travel recommendations (think Google date tips)

  • Provide dynamic pricing

  • Give real-time travel assistance

  • Fly your plane (Boeing is making a pilotless airplane!)

  • Improve the concierge-quality in hotels and airports

VR helps consumers “try before you buy”

Virtual Reality (VR) is changing the travel game - before a consumer even begins to plan their vacation.

Gone are the days in which a photo editor would have to manually paste together multiple still-frame snaps to create a collage. Now, there are 360-degree cameras. The multiple lenses capture absolutely everything, in every direction. The software (in real-time) stitches the images together instantly, producing photos and videos that a visitor can immerse themselves in.

VR isn’t just for someone who buys a headset anymore, either - on any of the major platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), you can experience VR with 360 photos. No matter what device you are currently using, VR is there - just drag left or right or in whichever direction you choose to explore your new, digital surroundings. For the consumer, they can gobble it all up, live, in 4K resolution.

VR has changed the tourism industry in such a way that destinations now have to compete with resorts and other destinations that are providing their potential customers with in-depth, immersive looks into what it’s like to stay there.

Take Las Vegas, for example: The Convention and Visitors Authority showcases a 360 video of a helicopter tour over the city. Quark Expeditions gave their Facebook followers an immersive video of a penguin colony.

VR is changing the travel industry by letting you grab your cell phone and see a 360 video or panorama of what your vacation would look like. Or, you could grab your VR headset and experience where you airline seat would be; what your rental car could look and feel like; what your accommodations offer; what you can see and experience while you travel.

There are even companies who (are in the process of) making all-in-one experiences through which you can put on your headset, pick out what you like, add it to your cart, and purchase it - all without having to take off your headset, or leave your immersive experience.     

AR will be used for more than just catching Pokémon

Artificial Reality, or the technology that lays a virtual world on top of your current, live one, is growing in popularity. AR has grown from the warm reception of its predecessors, AI and VR. While top tech companies have a few ideas for the future of AR, their three main projections include:

  1. That AR will be consumer-focused

  2. The physical and digital world will be indistinguishable

  3. AR will expand into your other senses (like touch and smell)

Currently, popular tourist destinations are thinking of creative new ways in which they can use AR. The Museum of Natural History has their Skin and Bones app, in which you can hold up your phone over a set of skeletal remains and see what the animal might have looked like while it was still alive.

Zoos can use AR overlays to show how an animal would live in the wild, or fill in for those who are needing a break. Locations that aren’t accessible can now become immersive experiences, allowing those who would previously be barred from traveling up five flights of stairs to experience the same wonder as their more able-bodied companions.

Together, AR, VR, and AI are changing the travel industry, making booking easier, shopping more seamless, and experiences more enriching.


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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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