Today’s edition of Skift’s daily podcast looks at Booking.com’s AI approach, U.S. visa backlogs, and hotel wellness programs.
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Good morning from Skift. It’s Monday, March 6. Here’s what you need to know about the business of travel today.
Hotels are increasingly investing in wellness as more travelers are placing an emphasis on their physical and mental well-being coming out of the pandemic. So how can hotels best take advantage of the booming consumer interest in wellness? Senior Hospitality Editor Sean O’Neill turns to one expert for answers in this week’s Early-Check In column.
Gregory Miller, an analyst at investment firm Truist Securities, said hotels have to tread carefully in wellness. He acknowledged that even luxury hotels have a hard time running spas profitably, noting that poorly executing a product could damage a company’s reputation. Miller added that hotels investing in wellness need to do more than simply appeal to travelers. He cited research from 2019 that found that local residents represented half of the visitors at nearly 160 U.S. hotel spas.
Miller also said he believes hotel owners are using the term wellness to describe services that truly aren’t wellness offerings.
Next, Booking.com strongly believes there’s a place in its platform for generative artificial intelligence, the emerging technology that includes the creation of images, audio and video. But the company isn’t rushing any decisions about it, writes Travel Technology Reporter Justin Dawes.
Booking.com Chief Technology Officer Rob Francis said the online travel agency has already seen ways it can efficiently use generative AI. However, Francis, who is scheduled to speak at the Skift Future of Lodging Forum in London later this month, declined to provide specifics about how or when generative AI will appear in the Booking.com platform.
Dawes writes that Booking.com is currently addressing several issues regarding the technology, adding a lot can go wrong with generative AI. Francis said he wants to ensure that Booking.com does not give out inaccurate information, which happened at Bard, Google’s new generative AI chatbot.
Finally, the U.S. is working to reduce the lengthy waits Indian travelers endure to obtain visitor visas, a major obstacle in attracting tourists from the rapidly growing market. The U.S. Consulate in Mumbai has brought in consular officers from around the world to assist with visa operations, reports Asia Editor Peden Doma Bhutia in the debut issue of Skift’s India Travel Daily newsletter.
The consulate recently tweeted that it had received help from officials based in Naha, Japan and at the State Department in Washington, D.C. among other locations. Bhutia writes reducing visitor visa delays is a priority for U.S. consulates in India, with the average wait time in India for U.S. visitor visas exceeding 600 days.
Skift addressed the impact of visa processing delays on the U.S. travel industry in a 2023 Megatrend.
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