Is Tech Like AI and Robotics Changing the Personal Touch in Travel?

Chatbots are helping travelers book train tickets, while digital assistants are answering questions about flight departure times. A popular hotel in Japan is staffed by robots, and AI programs are helping major airlines plan their routes. 

The travel and hospitality industries are growing increasingly tech-enabled, if not fully automated. And while travelers can save time and money using these technologies, will they miss the personal interaction that used to come with buying tickets, asking directions or finding the right accommodation? Will travelers still feel they’ve had a unique travel experience if many of the logistics are handled by algorithms?

Major travel and hospitality brands have been grappling with these questions as they further automate services like planning and booking, which were previously handled by people.

It’s a legitimate concern, as there is always the potential for new technologies to distance brands from consumers. But technology doesn’t have to feel like a faceless, digital intermediary. In fact, it can draw brands and people closer together, and make travel feel even more personal than it would otherwise.

Here are a few examples of where new innovations have made travel more personal, efficient and fun:

Voice search – Alexa might not have a pulse, but it’s a program many use in their homes on a daily basis. Bringing voice search programs into hotel rooms, like Alexa for Hospitality, means bringing an assistant you’re accustomed to using at home into your travel experience. By using voice commands, just as travelers would at home, they can leverage Alexa for hotel information, contacting guest services, playing music in their hotel room and other functions that allow for a fully personalized experience.

Immersive experiences – Selecting your lodging by looking at websites and travel brochures offers a two-dimensional view of where you will be staying. But virtual reality tours and 360-degree photos show travelers the view from all angles. Instead of distancing the traveler from the experience, technologies like these eliminate a lot of the guesswork, and offer a new kind of transparency that allows for informed travel planning. In a virtual reality tour, travelers have a better understanding of what it’s like to actually be at a resort and can feel more confident in their booking decision. By viewing 360-degree photos, it’s even possible for vacationers to know what view they’ll be waking up to in the morning.

Automation – Increased automation of the travel experience means that not every interaction will be driven by human beings, but this doesn’t have to detract from a truly personalized vacation experience. For example, with so many vacation rental booking sites available, it’s hard for people to sift through different pages to find the best fit for their travel needs. To more easily locate the best, most personalized options, automated platforms like VacationRenter can simplify the process, showing you the perfect properties to match your search.

One company taking automation to the next level in Japan, the first-ever hotel almost entirely staffed by robots, is planning to open as many as 100 new hotels by 2021 and hopes to sell as many as 1,000 unmanned reception systems to other hotel operators. Even without a human staff, the mostly automated hotel is a smash hit and provides travelers with new ways to personalize their travel experience, for example, by choosing which front desk robot to check in with and using facial recognition to enter their rooms.

These new advancements show that technology can make travel feel more personal. It’s up to travel and hospitality brands to ensure that their customers experience the convenience and enhanced personalization that comes from automation.

10 Fun and Romantic Chicago Weekend Getaways for Couples

When the summer season begins, even lovers of the Windy City look for romantic getaways near Chicago. Waiting out that winter weather gets couples in the mood for sunshine and fun time. Pick out a rental home in one of these romantic Chicago weekend getaway locations for couples and appreciate the local life.

  1. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

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    Celebrate the summer months with a weekend getaway to the cool blue waters of Lake Geneva, WI. Located just under two hours from Chicago, this pretty lakeside town invites romance with spectacular sunsets and quaint restaurants. World-class resorts featuring golf courses that bring in the pros and rows of Gilded Age mansions make heading to this lake town a trip worth taking. Lake Geneva offers lovely rental homes and cabins within walking distance of the freshwater beaches.

  2. Galena, Illinois

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    A main street filled with cute antique shops and cozy restaurants makes Galena, IL a favorite for that romantic getaway near Chicago. Located about three hours from the Windy City, Galena is the home of the historic Belvedere Mansion built in 1857. Wander the halls of this pre-Civil War Era Italianate home, and enjoy guided tours during the spring, summer and fall months. Galena’s parks include Thunderbay Falls, a series of waterfalls that makes a lovely backdrop for those romantic photos. Snow skiing at popular resorts in the winter months provides Windy City couples with a little excitement followed by hot cocoa and a crackling fire.

  3. Mackinac Island, Michigan

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    Hop in the car and head just over six hours outside of Chicago to take a huge step back in time. Historic Mackinac Island is one of the few places in the world where horse-drawn carriages are still the primary mode of transportation. Slow down, sit back and enjoy the views of gorgeous mansions and miles of white beaches. Rent your own carriage and horse or choose a bicycle to explore the island. Shops, restaurants and exciting nightlife draw visitors to Mackinac Island throughout the year.

  4. Grand Rapids, Michigan

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    Bright and bustling, Grand Rapids shares an eclectic mix of beer breweries, art galleries, shopping districts and river views. This Michigan city is the home of the Gerald L. Ford Presidential Museum and hosts an annual Festival of the Arts that attracts visitors from all over the world. Romantic couples appreciate the pretty river walks along the Grand River and have the opportunity to explore local theater as well as see a complete opera series. Summertime in Grand Rapids begins with beer festivals featuring Brewers Vivant and Founders. Rental homes and apartments abound in this city, making mingling with the locals a breeze.

  5. Ottawa, Illinios

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    Romance is alive and well with a weekend in exciting Ottawa, IL. This pretty park-filled town is located just 90 minutes from the heart of Chicago but feels like a world away. Wandering the trails at Washington Square Park gives couples a chance to view historic memorials and fountains. Check out the art sculptures at Peck Park, or head inside for a delicious dinner at one of the many fine dining restaurants in the business district. Ottawa offers plenty of outdoor activities and a bustling nightlife that includes craft breweries and wineries.

  6. Cedarburg, Wisconsin

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    Though it’s quaint all year round, Cedarburg is a particularly great spot for couples to hit up in fall and winter, when they can pick pumpkins or get a fresh-cut Christmas tree. There are plenty of opportunities for scenic proposals in this part of Wisconsin, and the historic architecture in the downtown area can make you feel like you’re worlds away from the big city.

  7. Carbondale, Illinois

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    Carbondale provides easy access to the Shawnee National Forest, which is the perfect place for outdoorsy couples to make some incredible memories against the beautiful backdrop of natural rock formations at the Garden of the Gods or Little Grand Canyon. Though Carbondale itself is more of a quaint college town, that may be just right for the kinds of couples who see the romance in nature.

  8. Saugatuck, Michigan

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    Known as an LGBT haven in the Midwest, Saugatuck is home to Oval Beach, a sandy shoreline that’ll make you feel like you’re at the ocean rather than on a lake. Gay-friendly hotels provide respite for couples looking to relax and be themselves without worrying about potential disapproval in a small-town atmosphere. Of course, all couples can also find plenty of romantic appeal in this small town. The beach is for everyone, and if you can’t exactly afford a trip to Hawaii, Saugatuck might be the next best thing.

  9. Kalamazoo, Michigan

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    Want to feel like a king or queen for your weekend away? It doesn’t get more romantic than Kalamazoo’s Henderson Castle, a gorgeous 19th-century estate that really does look like a castle. The castle now operates as an inn and wedding venue, making this a perfect getaway for couples who are auditioning unique places to tie the knot. Beyond the castle, Kalamazoo is an apple-picker’s dream, and there’s a lot of fresh fruit and cider to go around during the harvest season.

  10. Louisville, Kentucky

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    Believe it or not, Louisville isn’t that far from Chicago, though its Deep South charm can make you feel like you’re on a different planet. Louisville is a great place to take in two of Kentucky’s great passions: horse racing and whiskey drinking. If watching horses race around a track isn’t your idea of a great date, a distillery tour may be right up your alley, particularly because many of the distilleries in Louisville are still housed in historic buildings on beautiful rolling properties. Couples who like to live on the goth side of life may appreciate Louisville’s massive Cave Hill Cemetery, a historic graveyard with beautiful grounds that are just right for a picnic.

4 of the Best Hotels in NYC & Alternative Options

Planning a trip to the Big Apple is fun and exciting, and it begins with choosing some favorite activities and a place to stay. Four of the best hotels in NYC, based on ratings, are The Beekman, The Lowell Hotel New York and The Towers at Lotte New York. Times Square in New York is one of the city’s popular tourist areas, and there are also a number of hotels near Times Square in NYC, such as the Renaissance Times Square Hotel. For a money-saving alternative to one of NYC’s hotels, consider creating a home away from home with a vacation rental that delivers all the amenities you want the most.

The Top 4 New York City Hotels

  1. The Beekman
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    The Beekman is located on Nassau Street in Manhattan, and its location puts it in close proximity to some of the city’s popular sights. The Beekman is known for its views of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s also close to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. There’s a restaurant in the hotel that offers well-rated food, and free Wi-Fi is also part of the Beekman’s offerings.

  2. The Lowell Hotel
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    The Lowell Hotel New York is located just off of New York’s famous 5th Avenue, and it’s known for its diminutive size and the afternoon tea served there. With only 74 rooms, the Lowell is smaller than some of the city’s other hotels, but it offers a cozy feeling and touches of luxury that guests appreciate. It’s a bit pricey with rooms costing over $2,000 per night, and it’s rated number two in New York and Number 10 in the world.

  3. The Towers at Lotte
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    The Towers at Lotte is located in Manhattan, in the Midtown east area, and it’s within walking distance of both Rockefeller Center and Times Square. The Towers at Lotte is known for its views of the city and its luxury accommodations. There’s a spa onsite for guests who want some extra pampering, as well as a fitness center for times when a good workout is needed.

  4. Renaissance Times Square Hotel
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    The Renaissance is a Times Square hotel. Guests can stand on the hotel’s balconies and look out over the Theater District and Times Square. A variety of attractions are within close walking distance of the Renaissance, and there’s a lounge in the hotel where guests can grab a drink and enjoy the NYC nightlife scene.

Vacation Rental Homes: A Great Alternative to NYC’s Luxury Hotels

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Vacation rental homes with your favorite amenities deliver a cost-effective way to enjoy a stay in the city. These homes may be houses or apartments that are rented out by the owners. Choose a rental home that provides easy access to the sights you want to visit, and enjoy a vacation that delivers the comforts of home.

10 Must-Do San Francisco Getaways for Couples

Weekend getaways from San Francisco fill the gamut with a wide spectrum of things to do. Find a vacation rental home that’s centralized to your itinerary, pack your suitcases and get ready for a romantic getaway San Francisco style. Here are 10 must-do activities to pencil in on your schedule.

  1. Visit Wine Country
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    Take a limousine through Napa Valley for a romantic, scenic getaway. You can stop at several of the vineyards to tour around a little and taste local vino. Napa is loaded with popular wineries like Robert Mondavi, Stag’s Leap and Inglenook.

  2. Muir Woods
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    Get close to nature, close to the city by hiking through Muir Woods. Massive redwoods create a canopy of shade as you walk through the winding trails among these famous giants.

    Local Pro-tip: Book your parking reservation early so that you are not turned away at the gate. Then at the end of your day, head around the corner to Muir beach for sunset – it’s magical


  3. Monterey Bay
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    Kayak in Monterey Bay for a leisurely way to absorb the beauty of this tourist hot spot and marine preserve. Kayaks are available to rent so you and your loved one can have a no hassle glide across the water.

    Local Pro-tip:After grabbing a bite to eat in quaint Carmel-by-the-sea, take a tour of 17 mile drive passing by the beauty of Pebble Beach and the Lone Cypress.


  4. Sausalito
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    Spend a weekend in Sausalito and take in the grandeur of this beautiful. bayside village. Have a delicious lunch at Bar Bocce while you watch the sailboats as they come and go in the harbor. Enjoy dinner at The Barrel House with an incredible waterfront view. Shop at the boutiques, tour the unique galleries, and grab a drink or two in one of the charming pubs.

    Local Pro-tip:Bike across the bridge to take in the tremendous sights of the bay area. It’s well worth the effort, then you can take the ferry back to the city without having to climb the hill out of Sausalito.

  5. Half Moon Bay
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    Take some time to enjoy the numerous beaches, hiking trails, and parks of Half Moon Bay. It’s less than an hour from San Francisco, and a beautiful hour drive at that! Couples can do as much or as little as they desire in this relaxing beach town which offers waterfront dining, horseback riding on the beach, and paddle boarding or surfing in the famous California surf.

    Local Pro-tip: If you are around Half Moon Bay in the winter months, keep an eye – and ear – out for the surfing at Maverick’s. One of the largest waves in the world, it’s a treat to behold the surfers stare down these giants of the Pacific.

  6. Pescadero, California
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    Experience Mother Nature at Pescadero. Hike, take a goat tour, kayak, meditate and picnic without the bustle of city noise. Listen to the birds singing and the rustle of leaves in the wind.

  7. Mendocino Coast
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    The Mendocino Coast is an isolated nugget of beauty. With gorgeous beaches for sunning within the cliffs, redwood forests for hiking, spas for pampering, and sunsets worth watching at the end of the day, you’re bound to have a memorable weekend. Make the most of a weekend by spending it here where romance can flourish.

    Local Pro-tip: Take the scenic route by driving up historic Route 1. It’s one of the most beautiful drives of the country and will leave you in awe of the rugged California coast.

  8. Big Sur
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    Big Sur boasts a 90-mile coastline of water, waterfalls, redwood trees and a mysterious fog that hovers. Explore this area to find some of the magnificent wildlife that calls this place home. You might catch a glimpse of a whale, see a few sea otters and plenty of exotic birds. Keep your camera on hand.

    Local Pro-tip:Well first of all, you MUST drive down. Then on your way, take a moment at famous Bixby bridge.

  9. Yosemite National Park
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    Yosemite National Park is an ideal weekend retreat. It is a busy tourist attraction, so be sure to secure your Yosemite Valley vacation rental months ahead of time. The park offers up-close views of nature and wildlife while hiking. Winter offers horse-drawn sleigh rides and ice skating.

    Local Pro-tip:If you are a photographer, there are two tremendous events to be aware of: Horsetail falls burning with the sunset, and the full moon rising over Yosemite Falls.

  10. Lake Tahoe, California
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    Ski, tube or snowboard at the numerous resorts around Lake Tahoe in the winter. Beach bum it in the summertime. Hike the Rubicon Trail and tour the Vikingsholm castle.

    Local Pro-tipIf it’s a big vacation weekend, it will be heavily trafficked everywhere. After labor day and before memorial day you will find friendlier staff, and more enjoyable moments with less crowds.