Robert Silk
Robert Silk

Visit Orlando has launched the first destination app to make use of the artificial intelligence technology of IBM Watson.

"We wanted a whole different approach to give value to our visitors," Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel said.

The app features a query application called, "Search in your own words" that on its surface is similar to the iPhone function Siri. Users either type or verbalize what they are looking for, and the search function comes up with various answers and options.

But because the search employs artificial intelligence, it is able to tailor answers with specificity, said Felix Laboy, CEO of the travel tech company Wayblazer, which partnered with IBM to build the Watson platform for Visit Orlando.  Wayblazer is the only travel tech company that is working with IBM Watson.

The app aims to put all of Orlando "in the palm of your hands."
The app aims to put all of Orlando "in the palm of your hands."

Laboy gave as an example a search for a "family-friendly" Italian restaurant. With the Visit Orlando app, he said, the search function might zero in on restaurants that have kids menu items. And if there are various pictures that could be displayed from a particular restaurant, the app might choose a photo of a family meal as opposed to, say, a photo of a couple dining by candlelight.

Better yet, said Laboy, the Visit Orlando search function has a memory and therefore learns about a user's preferences as he or she makes repeated queries over the course of an Orlando visit.

"If you are doing a bunch of queries that are family-friendly, it is probably going to learn that you are on family trip, and it is going to provide answers that are more family-specific," he said.

Going with Laboy's example, I tried querying "family-friendly" Italian restaurants and then compared those results with a query of Italian restaurants that would be ideal for a date. Sure enough, the responses and the photos the application returned were different, though there was some overlap.

Laboy also cited what he said is another strength of the query function of the Visit Orlando app: Unlike what one would encounter on a general Google query, the app will only respond with businesses that are members of Visit Orlando, providing a more organized and curated experience for its users.

Aguel said that making the vast offerings of Orlando more manageable for the average traveler was a major goal as his organization set about developing the app.

Several years ago, Aguel said, Visit Orlando sponsored an experiential study in which tourists were tasked with going to all of the recognized Orlando attractions. It took 67 days.

"We are trying to create a scenario here to make sure you can find it all in the palm of your hands," he said.
Along with its incorporation of artificial intelligence, the Visit Orlando app has several other new features.  For example, with the touch of one button, app users can place a call to speak live with a destination expert.

It also offers an augmented reality feature in which users point a phone at the businesses in their immediate vicinity. The phone's camera will then display an overlay of information that can help with dining, shopping and entertainment decisions.

In addition, the app offers an augmented reality game that is similar to Pokemon Go, except this one features magical orbs that must be collected to gain entry into a prize sweepstakes.

Though it was released in late August, Aguel said the app remains in the beta-testing phase. He said he hopes it will be refined and ready to roll out in time for the winter tourism season.

"We know we're not finished getting adjusted, but overall right now we're very, very happy with the results," Aguel said.

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