Meet the city that has robots as guides

Have you ever imagined a city having robots as tour guides? 

The capital of Hungary, the 9th largest city in Europe known for their majestic architecture, Budapest presents interesting news for its visitors: the possibility of having a customized travel itinerary created by artificial intelligence.

Well, it’s not a humanoid robot as much as a robot-like-intelligence that will guide tourists in Budapest. The technology, developed by The Trip Boutique, matches Budapest itineraries with visitors’ interests, styles, tastes and desires to make each one a personalized itinerary. 

It is truly remarkable to see Budapest, a city steeped in traditional culture and renowned for its majestic architecture, embracing high-end technology to provide visitors with a truly unique experience. The integration of cutting-edge technology enhances the city’s traditional charm and offers visitors an innovative way to explore and experience the city. Whether it’s through custom travel itineraries crafted by artificial intelligence or other tech-based offerings, Budapest is demonstrating that tradition and technology can coexist and enhance one another.

Also, taking the lead as a city caring for tourist’s experience means it is aligned with customer trends, and creating curated products takes experiences to a whole other level. The benefits it can provide are vast: the itinerary’s pinpoints are assured, research time is saved and, because it is customized by their own tastes and preferences, the content is relevant. With so much information laying around, having good, useful, relevant information is gold.

With that in mind, Budapest will likely provide an excellent experience for visitors, establishing the city as a strong brand and a trusted source of information, potentially leading to increased tourist interest and recommendation.

We caught up with both Fernanda Barrence, CEO of The Trip Boutique, and Csaba Faix, CEO at Budapest Brand, to gain a deeper understanding of the exciting project they have been working on. Keep reading to learn more about their thoughts and insights on the project.

Csaba Faix, Budapest Brand

FutureTravel: Budapest Brand partnered with The Trip Boutique to adopt  AI technology to create travel itineraries for the city’s visitors. How did this idea come up and why did you decide to implement it in Budapest?

Csaba Faix: Budapest Brand has been looking for more interactive features for the official tourism information website. Because of the limitations of our current website, we were looking for a solution that could be implemented with ease. This is how we came across The Trip Boutique’s solution.

CF: We have created itineraries, articles and top lists about Budapest on our official website before. They were targeted at travelers in general and lacked the personal touch. We understood that not everybody travels the same way and wants to explore the same attractions.

Budapest is an open and diverse city. We wanted to show more diverse suggestions to the different types of travelers. We wanted to include more personalized articles without cluttering the website with dozens of articles and suggestions.

AI technology is a game changer in this field as it allows the visitor to really experience their own and unique Budapest. These visitors are offered POIs (points of interests) based on their preferences and choices. This will make them more engaged and excited before or during their travel to Budapest. 

FutureTravel: What were the main objectives with the collaboration? What are your expectations from now on?

CF: Budapest Brand was fascinated by the The Trip Boutique platform. The POIs are curated by the Trip Boutique editorial team and local curators, which means that many local and off the beaten places could be included in the suggestions. If someone wants to get away from the central districts and explore the hidden parts of Budapest or venture off to tiny cafés, the AI-powered tool gives options for that. 

We also wanted to promote the Budapest Card on the platform. The official city pass gives visitors free public transport, free guided walking tours, free thermal bath and free or discounted attractions. We inserted a small icon on all the suggested POIs if they accept the Budapest Card. With this we showed how you can see more and save more in Budapest. The direct sale of the Budapest Card was not a priority with this collaboration, the main objective was to create a cool and interactive addition to the website.

Budapest Brand believes that we should offer the same or at least very similar attractions and experiences for both locals and visitors. We understand that many visitors are interested in local spots and want to visit restaurants, bars, clubs and baths that locals frequent. These spots are not always easy to find but with the help of local curators and The Trip Boutique’s AI solution, visitors have the chance to feel like locals in Budapest.

Our expectation is that by introducing and suggesting new points of interests travelers will venture away from the central areas of the city and explore spots that have a more local feel. The amazing thing with AI on the platform is that if someone prefers the major historical sights in the heart of Budapest, the AI-powered system will recommend those to them based on the user’s preferences.  

Another benefit was the data-analytics that we received from The Trip Boutique about the most liked points of interests and traveler behavior, length of stay, etc. This can help the Budapest Brand team to make better-informed marketing decisions. 

FutureTravel: What was the most challenging aspect of making this collaboration happen?

CF: Most DMOs (destination marketing organizations) are public organizations that are operating under local municipalities, city halls or governments. Administration, the feedback from all stakeholder departments and thus a final solution may take longer compared with the commercial sector. We appreciated The Trip Boutique’s resilience and perseverance and that they understood how this system works. 

FutureTravel: How are people — residents and visitors — responding to the use of the tool/feature so far? 

CF: We have seen an outstanding interest by visitors who were planning their trips to Budapest. Our social media channels directed the users to try out the platform. The Trip Boutique’s AI solution has done a good job in creating 3-day itineraries that would fit the traveler’s preferences.

The tourist information website is targeted at leisure visitors to Budapest and is translated to 7 languages. The AI solution at this moment is available in English at our website. We are looking at how to expand our cooperation with the TTB to bring more languages and to make this solution available to an even wider audience. 

Locals who have tried the TTB’s personalized planning tool were excited to find points of interest that they may pass by every day but haven’t noticed. We believe that we could also offer them new and exciting spots to discover in their own town. 

FutureTravel: We wonder how cities will adapt to the tourism of the future, considering technology and innovation as means to connect with new generations, habits, and behaviors. How is Budapest working with technologies (such as AI) to attract visitors and enhance business prosperity?

CF: Budapest’s tourism has not been an early-adopter on technological innovations so far. There is a paradigm change taking place and we are tirelessly working on digitizing and using the latest innovations in our projects. Digital sales promotion tools and online advertising are already a part of our marketing. Data and research driven decisions are also important. As a cultural organization we are also working on bringing technology and contemporary developments to the art and festival scene. For the Budapest Spring Festival last year, we opened the Cinema Mystica exhibition that blended technology, art, light and sound design. Creating experiences involving technology in the offline space is also part of our mission.

At the end of the day, we believe that first hand experiences in Budapest, local stories and the atmosphere and vibe of the city will be more important than the new technologies. Eventually people will put down their smartphones and will visit destinations where they can really be offline. The Metaverse does not enable visitors (yet) to feel the invigorating warm water at the thermal baths of Budapest, to smell the freshly roasted espresso at a historical café, to dance the night away in an eclectic ruined bar in the Jewish district or to make eye contact and smile with a fellow traveler on the trams while looking at the World Heritage panorama along the Danube river.

We have to find the balance between real and digital experiences at destinations. They do complement each other.

Fernanda Barrence, The Trip Boutique

FutureTravel: Can you tell us about The Trip Boutique? What was the motivation to kick off this collaboration with Budapest Brand?

Fernanda Barrence: The Trip Boutique focuses on the AI-based personalization of travel experiences, giving destinations (and the most diverse types of travel brands) the superpowers to provide individual advisory to their travelers and visitors. By combining artificial intelligence with human expertise, The Trip Boutique has built a suite of proprietary tools and a match-making technology to identify the hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, attractions, and experiences in a destination that best fits each traveler’s interests, lifestyle and tastes.

The partnership with Budapest Brand was therefore a great match: Budapest is an amazing, culturally rich, diverse and sizable city with no shortage of interesting offers. It is a fantastic case for the adoption of personalization tools like ours to help visitors discover the version of the city that appeals the most to them, beyond the main touristic sites and the typical top 10 lists. Besides sharing our vision on how individual travel experiences should be unique, Budapest Brand also saw the opportunity to elevate their visitor’s experience by helping them conveniently plan their stays and enabling them to have a truly authentic local experience.

And we can measure the success of this approach easily and in real-time: the feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly good! We’ve been receiving comments like: “It made everything easy and helped me focus to make the best of my short stay”, or “So clever!” and even “Every city needs to have this!”. That says it all!

FutureTravel: How does The Trip Boutique’s tech solution stand out from competitors?

FB: Tech-based personalization is not easy to do well, it can come across as robotic and imprecise. That’s why our focus and motto have always been: “Technology with a human soul”. Our system augments 2 very human aspects: high-quality curation and smart personalization. Good recommendations can only come from good knowledge about places and about people. When well-curated data meets rich traveler profiles, you get great recommendations.

FutureTravel: With so much information laying around, customized services matter to customers to decode their wants and needs, organize them and facilitate decision-making. How can this curation mindset be applied to the travel industry?

FB: The travel industry is the perfect case for curating information, for several reasons. For one, the travel and leisure sector offers so many options to choose from – thousands in some destinations – that it is actually humanly impossible for travelers to process all of them. Information overload is a source of stress and can lead to decision paralysis – and who wants to feel stressed when planning for or enjoying their next holiday or getaway? The information overload affects not only travelers, but also travel professionals and advisors, and AI-based curating solutions will help them perform tasks better and elevate their roles.

Second, there is a massive amount of data either generated by travelers themselves or that they are willing to share about their dos and wants while traveling. This data is precious and in most cases underutilized, kept in isolated silos, or even uncollected by travel brands. Since personalization is about curating the right things for each individual, knowing those individuals well would be game-changing in the travel industry. 

Recent research by Google (2022) shows that travelers are investing more time pre-trip (77% of their time on the preparation, planning, booking and dreaming phases) than on the trip itself (16% only). This is a real unbalance, a lot of it is spent on decision-making, and travel brands that help travelers navigate those phases with a curated and personalized approach will take a head-start in this inevitable transformation that will come. For that, established travel companies need to invest in getting to know travelers’ wants and unmet needs and derive solutions from it, but very often they move slowly, as they face the barrier of legacy business protection. Collaborating with start-ups in the field, such as The Trip Boutique, can be an easy and agile way to apply the curation and personalization mindset.

FutureTravel: While for many people AI is still a stereotypical remote reality; though, we are aware that it is used for creating algorithms, discovering patterns as well as decoding people’s behavior in order to improve their experience, especially when it comes to travel. How do you see travelers responding to adopting AI to their travel experiences? 

FB: I believe that travelers are more than ready to experience AI. AI is already pervasive in many areas of life, and personalization, for example, is a reality in so many different industry verticals. The travel industry just happens to be a bit behind in some aspects, even though demand is there for AI-enabled services. For example, surveys show that travelers have overwhelmingly been demanding more personalized offers for years, and yet few established players have managed to attend to this demand. At The Trip Boutique, we can already observe the response from travelers: their feedback to our service is not only overwhelmingly positive but our service is also rated way above the industry average. That is thanks to AI tools and smart algorithms, which create a delightful and simple experience for our partners that are really different from the status quo.

FutureTravel: When we are talking about the travel industry – what are the key players that need to gather to apply tech innovation and bring AI closer to a larger public?

FB: In the travel industry, the large established players have the means and the reach to shake things up and bring AI closer to a larger audience, but are sometimes not nimble enough, or depend on legacy systems and processes that make it more difficult to bring innovation to the market. That’s why, as is often the case, we see the change starting slowly at a smaller scale with early adopters, until it gathers momentum. Look at the electrification of cars: it took years to change the industry until it reached a tipping point when almost every established car brand started to produce electric vehicles. That’s why we believe innovation and change in this area will come from collaborations between start-ups and established players. The Trip Boutique and Budapest Brands’ cooperation is a great example of that.

FutureTravel: In your opinion, what is the potential for tech innovation in the travel industry? What are the opportunities in the sector?

FB: There are many opportunities, which often center around providing better information or helping with the administration and logistics of traveling. Customer support is an area that could massively benefit from AI, greatly reducing costs and transforming the traveler experience. 

The main opportunity that The Trip Boutique and Budapest Brands are addressing together are in travel planning and personalization. With such a significant amount of overwhelmed travelers who want and even need technology to help them navigate all the options and manage their trips better, there is a real and untapped opportunity ahead of us. Travelers want to be able to focus on the enjoyable part of vacations, which is experiencing the places they visit and their culture, history, food, architecture, and way of life. 

But the opportunities don’t stop there: sustainability is on everyone’s mind, and technology can help travelers make better-informed decisions, and choose from socially and environmentally conscious companies. It can, in many ways, also help travel providers reduce their waste and carbon footprint.