How Ambient Intelligence can bring value to travel experience?

It is almost a norm in science fiction movies that doors open automatically, rooms know when you are about to enter, and coffee machines can predict when it is time for a hot cuppa. Ambient Intelligence has been a concept for a long time, but only through recent technological advancements, it has become a real possibility to bring this interactive technological omnipresence into our everyday lives. First Ambient Intelligence systems are already here but the future promises even greater advantages.

Ambient atmosphere with lots of color

But what is Ambient Intelligence, actually?

Ambient Intelligence, or AmI for shorter, is a term used for sensor-reliant, sensitive technologies, that interact with the user, interconnecting different appliances <sup>3</sup>. Many have probably heard about Amazon’s voice-command assistant Alexa or have used a smart tv, but Ambient Intelligence goes beyond voice-recognizing AI. Smartness and AmI are often mentioned together but are not synonyms of each other. Rather, smartness includes many different technologies, including Ambient Intelligence, that all together create a smart environment <sup>1</sup>. Special characteristics for AmI are interactivity, sensitivity, adaptability, and omnipresence <sup>1</sup>. Plus it is embedded in everyday life. An example of AmI system could be interconnected, voice-operated kitchen appliances. Now, wouldn’t it be cool to let your fridge order the groceries?

As technology progresses, it is forecasted that in the future existing and emerging technologies will be more interconnected and interoperable through smart technologies. <sup>1</sup> Ambient environment has been described as a place where humans are “surrounded by intelligent interfaces supported by computing and networking technology that is embedded in everyday objects, such as furniture, clothes, vehicles and smart materials”. <sup>2</sup> This suggests that future with ambient environment is slowly but surely on its way, but are the users ready for this?

Judging by the full potential AmI technologies have, we are still in the beginning stages of the journey. However, AmI systems are already used in many places, such as hospitals, smart homes, and even in schools and kindergartens. <sup>3</sup> Smart homes utilizing AmI systems are helping inhabitants to live happier, safer, and healthier lives. <sup>4</sup> AmI can help relieve stress by making everyday tasks easier, faster, and less stressful. Other perks are its ability to offer entertainment and even customize environments. <sup>4</sup>

There has also been research on use of AmI in commercial settings. Combining AmI and e-commerce principles can create foundations for ubiquitous commerce, or u-commerce in short <sup>5</sup> , a new potential for e-commerce. Another research has been focusing on utilizing geomarketing in the creation of a personal shopping assistant for customers visiting a store. <sup>6</sup> This implies that AmI will be used on a much wider scale than at first glance one might comprehend, truly intertwined with everyday experiences, making it difficult to specify when AmI is assisting you or not.

colorful reflections of home décor bottles in sunlight creating special ambiance

Ambient Intelligence in tourism ecosystems

In the tourism field, Smart hotel concept has been gaining a lot of interest. Much like smart homes, hotels utilizing smartness and AmI systems will create interconnected and sensitive environments. This kind of hotel can use technologies such as a digital wallet, sensor-activated lights, voice-assisted room functions, room décor customization, or even automated real-time translation <sup>7</sup> to create an ambient environment.

Opportunities with AmI have been also explored in interactive museums and even on a city tour <sup>8</sup> but there is much more potential in tourism-related enterprises. One of the biggest, life-changing aspects of AmI is that it increases inclusiveness and accessibility. For example, AmI systems can make it easier for guests with impairments to deal with physical and service-related barriers that they face during their stay. <sup>9</sup>

But what does Ambient Intelligence actually bring to tourism ecosystems? Intelligence, flexibility, sensitivity, and adaptability to all stakeholders, including customers. <sup>1</sup> Good thing about AmI technologies is that they can be used in many places. For example, technologies tested and used in healthcare could very well benefit visitors staying at a hotel or visiting a spa. For companies, the real challenge lies in integration of these new systems into their existing business, which should be done in a way that complements the existing practices, rather than replaces them completely. <sup>2</sup>

smart phone in a technology related ambiance

Value for customers

For customers, Ambient Intelligence can create new experiences and value. AmI supports service that happens in real-time. For customers time is essence and technologies such as AmI allow them to engage with companies and brands whenever they desire. AmI technologies enable value co-creation across multiple platforms among all stakeholders. As an effect of smartness, everybody becomes dynamically interconnected within the ecosystem, and therefore everybody participates in creating value. <sup>1</sup> For AmI systems to work as intended, it is important to add a touch of human element to them. Interaction should be enjoyable, natural, and technology itself easy to use. These systems should recognize user preferences, needs, and wants, but also know when to interrupt and when the communication is too much. <sup>3</sup>

Ambient Intelligence is unfortunately not all positivity and rainbows. Technological advancements bring up darker issues such as privacy, compromised accessibility, and even worries about people neglecting their basic needs as a result of excessive smart technologies. <sup>10</sup> These concerns might seem a bit farfetched for the time being, but it is important to keep in mind the possible negatives that come along all the positives. For customers loss of privacy, information leaks, and hacking can cause serious consequences.

sign post in sunset depicting future direction

So how does AmI bring value to travel experiences?

All in all, Ambient Intelligence presents intriguing possibilities, and it will be very interesting to follow how AmI systems and usage will develop in upcoming years. For the tourism sector, it gives new opportunities for value creation, and for customers, it will be thrilling to explore all the new ways everyday life can be enhanced. At this moment intelligent systems are more common in home and healthcare environments, but the real experiential value lies in the possible use in tourism and leisure. Global pandemic has introduced us to a world that is more accustomed to technologies and tourism industry is taking notes. It is not plausible to take your Alexa with you on holiday, yet, but perhaps in the near future, it will be possible. It would make a tourist’s journey a whole lot easier if it would be possible to integrate your own smart device into the AmI system that is used in the destination, acting as your own, fully personalized electronic butler. But for now, there are still concerns about privacy, and AmI applications are not advanced enough yet.

Reoccurring themes on articles used on this post have been the expected growth in interest for real-time interactions. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest pros of AmI systems and will make lives more convenient, but at the same time a question emerges about what happens in a long run to our everyday lives? Will our cultural and traditional tendencies fade, or does the AmI support our cultural roots? Is human-on-human contact going to be more rare as we move towards a world where technologies and robots are doing tasks for us, instead of us doing them ourselves? If every day is seamlessly assisted with technologies, it surely will translate into travel behaviour as well. Judging by how us humans are using phones even during holidays, it could be very possible that AmI technologies would be the first thing to pack with you to a holiday. On the other hand, in the future value of travelling could also lay in experiences outside the scope of technology, and digital detox would be a big trend. However It is impossible to see in the future, but for the time being, technology is definitely presenting more promising opportunities for the future of travel.

<sup>1</sup> Buhalis, D. 2019. Technology in tourism-from information communication technologies to eTourism and smart tourism towards ambient intelligence tourism: a perspective article. Tourism Review 75 (1), 267-272.

<sup>2</sup>Buhalis, D., O’Connor, P. 2005. Information Communication Technology Revolutionizing Tourism. Tourism Recreation Research 30 (3), 7-16.

<sup>3</sup>Cook, D., Augusto, J., Jakkula, V. 2009. Ambient intelligence: Technologies, applications, and opportunities. Pervasive and Mobile Computing 5, 277-298.

<sup>4</sup>Friedewald, M., Da Costa, O., Punie, Y., Alahuhta, P., Heinonen, S. 2005. Perspectives of ambient intelligence in the home environment. Telematics and Informatics 22 (3), 221-238.

<sup>5</sup>Keegan, S., O’Hare, G., O’Grady, M. 2008. Easishop: Ambient intelligence assists everyday shopping. Information Sciences 178 (3), 588-611.

<sup>6</sup>Zaim, D., Benomar, A., Bellafkih, M. 2018. Geomarketing Solution: An Ambient Intelligence Application in Shopping. Smart Application and Data Analysis for Smart Cities (SADASC’18).

<sup>7</sup>Mutreja, A., Chan, J., Peko, G., Sundaram, D. 2022. Jazz: A Design Metaphor for Ambient Intelligence Tourism Systems. AMCIS 2022 Proceedings 13.

<sup>8</sup>Sadri, F. 2011. Ambient intelligence: A survey. ACM Computing Surveys 43 (4), 1-66.

<sup>9</sup>Michopoulou, E., Buhalis, D. 2013. Information provision for challenging markets: The case of The accessibility requiring market in the context of tourism. Information and Management 50 (5), 229-239.

<sup>10</sup>Aczel, M. 2017. The dark side of technology, by Peter Townsend: Scope: general interest, review. Level: general readership, non-specialist, specialist. Contemporary Physics 58 (3), 1-2.