Travel Associates embrace AI, virtual reality as key industry tools

FCTG tech guru Wendie Lee talks IoT, chatGPT and travel advisor relevance

This week, Flight Centre Travel Group’s luxury retail brand, Travel Associates, hosted its business leader’s event in the lead up to the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) Asia Pacific trade show in Singapore. Wendie Lee, Chief Product Officer (Technology) Global – Independent & Luxury Travel for Travel Associates, lead a session focused on how the metaverse, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are now influencing the industry.

Lee spoke about the rapid expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) – physical objects embedded with technology for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems via the internet – and how it has unlocked new opportunities within the luxury travel industry. However, for the industry and its people to stay at the forefront of the movement, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and the metaverse must be embraced and deployed as key tools. Lee also shared some interesting luxury market statistics.

Belinda Pignone, Travel Associates Customer Success Manager; Rachel Kingswell; GM Travel Associates AU/NZ; Ashleigh Teixeira, TA Head of Operations NZ, Wendie Lee; Joshua Pollok, TA Management Accountant; and Askin Erkec, TA Head of Operations AU.

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The millennial market

“Consumers aged 18 to 34 are going to considerably increase the use of travel advisors. That makes it really interesting when we start talking about how relevant this technology is to that demographic for us to grow and maximise our luxury market,” said Lee.

“I do believe that embracing technology is the only option – it’s fundamental.

“For us to stay relevant, we need to be relevant for the millennials, the 18 to 34s, but we also need to continue to challenge ourselves to work differently within our business operations.”

“We know that the younger generation’s expectations are very different than ours, they don’t question virtual reality, they’re using it on social platforms, so they don’t need to embrace it – they’ll actually just expect it as a minimum standard,” added Lee. The tech queen provided examples of current integrations, such as hotels and travel companies providing virtual reality elements on websites, allowing users to experience a digital version of the hotel room and see where they’re going to stay, or look at attractions.

Maintaining industry relevance

Lee referenced ChatGPT, and explained that when asked what roles AI will likely replace in the future, ChatGPT named travel agents on the list.

Wendie Lee, Chief Product Officer (Technology) Global - Independent & Luxury Travel, Flight Centre Travel Group

Lee commented: “The future role of the travel agent will depend on how they adapt to changing customer preferences and evolving technology. Those who are able to offer personalised, high-value services and leverage technology to streamline their operations and enhance customer experience are likely to remain relevant for the years to come.”

From left: Shelley Jacquemin, TA Toorak; Anne-Marie Pauliuk, TA Elsternwick; Gemma Gannon, Gannon & Turner TA; Wendie Lee; Sally Stockdale, Martin, Stockdale & Turner TA in Hampton.

“Ecosystem is a term you’ll be hearing more of. An ecosystem is where all of these emerging trends collide together with the connections of the Internet of Things, and the way data works with AI, and it creates an ecosystem of tools. It’s really important to understand that’s going to happen more and more.

“It unlocks partnerships with brands and distinctive industries to work together in a much more seamless way to create an end-to-end experience for our customers,” added Lee.

Lee shared that Flight Centre Travel Group is now a major partner with Microsoft, a development that reflects the group’s dedication to becoming a next-generation provider with the latest technology fully integrated into daily work, tools and habits.

“My vision is to create a luxury ecosystem with partners, with amazing technology products, to create amazing travel experiences,” Lee added.

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