Generative artificial intelligence (AI) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) activities are attracting the highest levels of investment in travel technology at present, according to innovation specialist, Plug and Play.
Experts from the Silicon Valley-headquartered firm shared a range of insights into the latest investment trends on the Travel Tech Stage at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2023).
The innovation specialists explored how macroeconomic headwinds and fears of a global recession were affecting travel startups during an ‘Investment Trends Leading Travel Tech’ session.
Increased focus on profitability
Kristie Choi, Early Stage Tech Investor at Plug and Play, noted that venture capital (VC) investment witnessed a “dramatic pullback” in the second half of 2022, a trend that continued into Q1 2023. “While this looks pretty scary, there are still billions of dollars of dry powder out there to be gained,” she told attendees. “Travel tech round dynamics tend to follow similar patterns as the wider tech market, and we are seeing an increased focus on profitability and cash efficiency in this segment.”
Travel sector leading the curve
Choi said that the travel sector was leading the curve in terms of generative AI investment and adoption. This technology is being leveraged to enhance the customer experience by facilitating trip planning, automating refunds and back-office processes, and supporting content creation. ESG is also a major focus for the travel technology sector, she explained, with sustained investments in transparent data reporting and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) serving to bolster the growth of responsible tourism. The influencer economy, meanwhile, is “driving business away” from online travel agencies (OTAs), according to Choi, as companies look to attract the Gen Z market by integrating direct booking into the channels of content creators.
Following Choi’s presentation, Mike Sung, Director, Partner Success – Travel & Hospitality at Plug and Play, joined Natalie Seatter, Chief Product Officer at OAG on the ATM Travel Tech Stage for a conversation about travel technology investment trends.
AI importance in tourism industry
Speaking on the growing importance of artificial intelligence to the tourism industry, Sung noted: “It’s going to be very interesting to see how generative AI is leveraged, especially among travel suppliers in the metaverse. There’s a lot of experimentation happening in the metaverse, and for generative AI, it’s not just about text. It’s also about audio, video and graphics. I think this technology is going to ramp up the velocity of [Web3] solutions, especially for travel and hospitality.”
Cloud-based data warehouses
Commenting on the need for investment in data transparency, Seatter said: “The big elephant in the room is the large cloud-based data warehouses [the industry] is using to power platforms. It’s either really hard to understand the carbon-emission cost of these platforms or no one wants to tell you how big it is – or maybe it’s a bit of both. I think that’s certainly one of our challenges.”
The day-three session followed the ‘Plug and Play: Sustainable Tech – Startups Pitch Battle’ on day two of ATM 2023, which saw six new ventures compete for a range of industry support and data. Sustainable commercial food waste solutions company, Winnow, beat off stiff competition from CarbonClick, Eilago, Hotelverse, OACIS Middle East Limited LLC and Thrust Carbon to be crowned this year’s winner.
ATM 2023 is being held in conjunction with Dubai World Trade Centre, and its strategic partners include Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) as the Destination Partner, Emirates as the Official Airline Partner, IHG Hotels & Resorts as the Official Hotel Partner, and Al Rais Travel as the Official DMC Partner.