Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa are the modern way to request room service or housekeeping in many hotels and on cruise ships.

Hotel concierges are used to tackling a wide range of questions and requests, but not many could do so in seven different languages and without a moment’s hesitation.

That’s why they are finding their roles increasingly under threat from voice-controlled devices powered by artificial intelligence, such as Amazon’s Alexa or the recently launched Zoe on MSC cruise ships.

Zoe is programmed to respond to more than 800 of the most commonly asked questions with thousands of different variants of each question. She can help reserve restaurants and excursions or check a guest’s bill — all in an impressive seven languages.

Alexa for Hospitality

Given that many customers already have this technology at home, the use of virtual assistants to speed up the fielding of queries is an obvious move for the hospitality industry.

Village Hotels was the first firm in the UK to install the Amazon Echo Dot, enabling guests to find out gym opening times, things to do in the local area or to request wake-up calls.

Amazon has set up is its own division called Alexa for Hospitality to meet industry demand, with global clients including Marriott International. It has also started enabling Amazon customers to temporarily connect their account to the Alexa-enabled device in their hotel.

Power to disconnect

Not everyone is happy to find a voice-controlled device in their room, however. At a recent industry conference in the United States, Best Western Hotels & Resorts president David Kong said that a pilot program involving Alexa had not gone well.

“If someone wants an extra towel or to say a light isn’t working, they can use Alexa to communicate with us. But what we found out was when most people got into their hotel room, they disconnected it,” Travel Weekly reported him as saying.

Travel agency Kuoni also posted a recent video on social media highlighting the knowledge of its staff concerning popular tourists destinations compared with the answers given by voice-activated technology.

Fuel-efficient aircraft are pushing the boundaries of air travel with marathon non-stop flights of up to 19 hours.

New ultra-long-haul routes, including London to Perth and Houston to Sydney, have entered service in recent months as the major airlines continue to cut the time it takes to travel the globe.

The current longest flight is a Qatar Airways service between Auckland and Doha, which takes 18 hours to cover a distance of 9,032 miles.

But that record is set to be broken later this year, when Singapore Airlines launches the world’s longest passenger service between Singapore and New York. That’s a trip of 9,521 miles with a duration of around 19 hours.

Greater fuel capacity

The record-breaking Singapore service will use the Ultra-Long Range version of the Airbus A350-900. The jetliner offers increased fuel-carrying capacity of up to 165,000 litres and a higher 280-tonne maximum take-off weight.

The extended range does not require the installation of additional fuel tanks, just an adaptation of the fuel system within the existing fuel tank.

To improve the travelling experience, the new planes will be quieter and have improved air systems, along with features such as higher ceilings, larger windows, an extra wide body and lighting designed to reduce jetlag.

Kangaroo route

The launch of new planes and a period of more affordable oil prices have put ultra-long-haul travel back on the agenda for the major airlines as they look to target the all-important corporate travel market.

According to travel data provider OAG, the number of ultra long-haul flights —over 7,000 nautical miles — has tripled to 19 in the last decade.

This includes the recent launch of the Heathrow to Perth service on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner — a journey of 17 hours that would have taken four days to complete in 1947. Now operator Qantas is reportedly looking to extend the non-stop range on the so-called Kangaroo route from London to Sydney.

The number of disabled passengers travelling by air is up by two-thirds since 2010, helped by a drive to improve assistance at airports.

The majority of the UK’s top 30 airports offer ‘very good’ or ‘good’ service for disabled travellers, a study by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has found.

However, four airports including Heathrow and Manchester were found to have not met the CAA’s expectations and have been told they must improve.

Overall, the number of people with a disability requesting help when travelling by air reached over three million journeys in 2016. That’s a rise of over 66% since 2010 and well above headline passenger growth for the same period.

Disability framework

The CAA’s framework is the first of its kind in Europe and aims to ensure there is a consistent and high quality service for disabled passengers across UK airports.

Of the airports reviewed, six were rated ‘very good’, 20 rated as ‘good’ and four rated as ‘poor’.

Those with the best ratings performed well in areas such as customer satisfaction, waiting times and engagement with disability organisations.

East Midlands, Exeter, Heathrow and Manchester airports were rated poor but have all now committed to make improvements and the CAA expects work to implement these plans to start immediately.

Hidden disabilities

CAA director Richard Moriarty said the UK aviation industry should be proud that it continues to serve a rapid increase in the number of passengers with a disability.

As part of its aviation strategy, the government has also committed to make aviation more accessible for people with both visible and hidden disabilities, such as dementia, autism, loss of sight or hearing.

This follows research by the CAA that found 23% of people said they had a condition that might affect their ability to travel by air, with 30% of these people defining this as non-physical.

The CAA has asked airports to provide quiet routes and areas, as well as offer passengers the option to wear lanyards or wristbands so that staff can identify and meet their needs without having to ask questions.