Business / Tech

New Japan travel app pairs Microsoft’s AI chatbot with Navitime guidance

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Two Tokyo-based firms and Microsoft Japan on Thursday launched an English-language tourism app with an AI agent to target a surge in inbound tourists that is projected to continue.

The Japan Trip Navigator app for Apple iOS was released by travel agency JTB Corp., navigation firm Navitime Co. and Microsoft Japan. The companies said they aim to make the free app a dominant resource for tourists.

The app allows travel plans to be made by tapping JTB’s network and answers questions with the help of an AI concierge devised by Microsoft. Navitime’s technology was added to help people find their way around.

Japan set a record with 28.69 million tourists last year, and about 80 percent were individuals travelers, according to Yasuhiro Tsuboi, who heads inbound operations at JTB.

“We have created Japan Trip Navigator to help those individual travelers plan their trips depending on their needs,” Tsuboi said at a news conference in Tokyo. “This app also supports them before and while they are visiting to make their trips more enjoyable.”

The app offers more than 100 travel plans in five areas surrounding Sapporo, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa, and provides information on more than 3,600 popular spots, JTB said, adding that the figures are expected to rise.

It also offers an AI chatbot that lets people exchange messages with a travel concierge named Miko. In addition to performing basic tourism tasks, Miko can also identify spots people have photographed, Microsoft said.

The tech giant added that the AI agent is customized for the app and will become smarter as more people use it. In terms of tourism knowledge, Miko will be smarter than counterparts like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft said.

Other developers are actively targeting tourists as well. Rakuten Inc. launched its J-TripGateway app last month, while Gurunavi Inc. released the Live Japan Perfect Guide Tokyo in April, which JTB has also been involved with.

Tsuboi of JTB, however, said the agency is focused on Japan Trip Navigator, aiming for 2 million downloads by 2020.

The service is only available in English for now, but other languages will be added down the road, JTB said without giving a timeline. The app will also be made available for the Android operating system next month.