Cognitive Computing

Personal Tour Guides, powered by IBM Watson


This past Thursday, the National Football League (NFL) started its long-awaited season.  In the NFL, 32 teams compete every year to win the prized Super Bowl trophy. The two final teams fight tooth-and-nail to claim the renown as the best football team in all of the world, and the night is capped off with a tradition that started in 1987, where a player is asked by a reporter, “You’ve won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?” And the player responds, “I’m going to Disney World!”

A tourism “Mecca”

The dawn of this football season — and that Super Bowl phrase — brought to mind an article that I recently saw about tourism in the city of Orlando. This central Florida city is considered a tourism “Mecca” by most within the continental United States, and, because of the rich history and global reach of The Walt Disney Company, its keynote theme park has become an international hot spot.

Because of the longstanding flow of traffic to the famed Disney World, other businesses have, over the years, decided to capitalize on those tourists.  Hence, Orlando has become not only a theme park metropolis — with the likes of Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios — but also a hub for museums, restaurants, nightlife and even a fair amount of tourist “traps.”

Overcoming the overwhelming

As you could guess, the copious amount of selections in Orlando can quickly become overwhelming.  Anyone who has made the drive to Orlando knows that a steady stream of tourist billboards begins no less than 200 miles away from the city, trying to pull your attention one way or the other.

And as with many services that offer options upon options — such as the streaming video service Netflix — the decision to choose what to enjoy can often be paralyzing and, in this case, can damage tourism for a city like Orlando.

Battling the Paradox of Choice

This idea of choice-paralysis has historically been named the Paradox of Choice and has rightfully been labeled as a threat to tourism by the city of Orlando.  And, much to the credit of Orlando’s tourism department, they’ve made a step to alleviate the stress of the overwhelming amount of options, without actually hurting any of the options themselves.

This solution has taken the form of an app powered by IBM Watson and TripAdvisor that can interact with tourists in natural language via a mobile device, hear what these tourists would prefer to visit then give tailored recommendations based on their previous search history.  To that end, the app gets to know tourists personally and grows in knowledge with frequency of use.

The app even comes loaded with an “augmented reality map” that essentially gamifies the entire city of Orlando, not only making a visit to the city more enjoyable but further encouraging visits to even more of its hottest destinations. The app also offers discounted tickets to attractions.

In fact, the article mentions that the only thing Watson can’t do is teach you how to get away with cutting Disney World ride queues.

More intelligent than artificial intelligence

Although the app boasts its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, the technology that is held within the Watson APIs that were used to create this app actually go well beyond merely AI and ventures into the realm of cognitive computing. Cognitive computing capabilities through IBM Watson at their most basic level are well displayed through this travel app — the ability to understand the app’s owners’ preferences and learn from those to create even better, more personalized recommendations in the future.

I can only imagine that tourist hubs in the near future — Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles — will see the value in an app like this, powered by cognitive technology, that can make an experience come alive and will make a move to create something similar, for the betterment of the city’s tourists and its local businesses.

This app, powered by IBM Watson, is going to be a game changer for the city of Orlando, but the app has only scratched the surface of what cognitive can do for tourism and for the travel industry.

If you’d like more information on how IBM Travel solutions and Watson APIs can help elevate your organization, please consider visiting

General Manager, Global Travel & Transportation Industry at IBM

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