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So many Big Brothers VII

Average number of vacation days earned (in green) in several countries versus the actual number of vacation days taken (in yellow). The difference (in red) are days not used. Image credit: Expedia


The travel sector was one of the first to undergo a digital transformation. The idea of going to a travel agency to get a ticket or plan a travel is long gone. However, we are now planning our travels, sometimes just reinforcing our dream to travel, by looking at web travel agencies, be it Tripadvisor, Expedia, Airbnb… and through them we are also making all our travel arrangements. In doing so we are sharing with them many more personal data that we used to share with a brick and mortar travel agency!

In exchange, we get plenty of time to browse alternatives, we get to see other people experiences and recommendations and these are becoming the guiding beacon for our choices to the point that a market of “fake” recommendations has sprung up. Tripadvisor removed over 1,000,000 fake reviews just in 2018. Artificial intelligence is now helping these travel service providers in detecting fake reviews (both positive and negative) but, unfortunately, artificial intelligence is also being used to create “fake” reviews! And, of course, these are plaguing much more than travel websites.

Our data are therefore mixed up with data generated by many other people, some of them being algorithms and machines. Web travel agencies use our data (and they get almost the same variety of data intercepted by social media) to create our profile and then target their offer. They are most likely to share our profile (or let others make use of it) with third parties generating revenues. As a matter of fact, how can you expect TripAdvisor to be in business if it is not generating revenues? Since all it gets are data, our data, they have to generate money out of them. In exchange we enjoy a very good service for choosing our next destination, what restaurants to visit, where to stay, what local tour would fit our fancy.,,

Web travel services are using our data to generate insights by correlating millions of users and sell these insights to municipalities, hotels, restaurants, tours organisers and so on. The tourism business is now deeply entrenched with these web providers because they have changed the way we make our choices.  I noticed more and more people going on TripAdvisor (or other travel providers) to choose a restaurant in their own city, and obviously in finding one in a new place. Other people reviews are now the main source for decision making (hence the crucial importance of trusting these reviews).

I even saw a few teachers advising their students to complement their knowledge on a country to use these web sites and read what other people have to say on a specific location.

There are travel websites that let you get in touch with local people willing to share their knowledge with you and, if you so wish, to take you around once you get there. You get to trust them because of the reviews other people have left on their website and knowing that you also will be leaving reviews. It is a kind of crowdsourced review that creates a reputation and it works pretty well. Google is offering a local guide platform where everyone can become a “local guide” (watch the clip).

All of these is stimulating more and more interactions and these, in turns, are recorded and analysed to generate economic value. They provide benefits to each of us in terms of better choices, targeted info, customised services. The trade off is part of our privacy.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.