Travellers to Japan can now make use of a new smartphone app developed by Microsoft that includes an integrated artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that communicates with users to provide useful information and assists with bookings.

The chatbot, called Miko, is part of the Japan Trip Navigator that Microsoft has developed in partnership with Japanese travel agency, JTB Corp., and navigation firm Navitime Co.

Miko is able to answer users’ questions using JTB’s collection of travel information while also learning from input and images posted by other users on the app. The chatbot features image recognition technology that enables it to cross-reference photos posted by app users against information in its database to provide helpful details.

Currently, the app features over 100 sightseeing travel plans in areas around Fukuoka, Kyoto, Okinawa, Osaka, Sapporo and Tokyo and has information on approximately 3,600 popular attractions.

“We have created the Japan Trip Navigator to help individual travellers plan their trips, depending on their needs,” said Yasuhiro Tsuboi, who heads inbound operations at JTB.

“This app supports them before and while they are visiting to make their trips more enjoyable.”

The app is currently only available for iOS devices, however an Android version is slated to launch this month. At the moment, it supports just one language, English, however additional languages are set to be introduced in the near future, beginning with Chinese.

Some 28.69 million foreign travellers visited Japan in 2017, with approximately 80 per cent of those travelling alone, according to the Japan Times.

Despite being a popular destination among travellers, Japan can be difficult to navigate and experience for foreign visitors. Numerous companies, particularly tech firms, have recently launched products and initiatives aimed specifically at visitors from overseas.

Japan Airlines, for example, launched the JAL Explore Japan Wifi app last year that enables foreign visitors specifically to connect to more than 200,000 wifi hotspots around the country. A year earlier, the airline created an Explore Japan website aimed at assisting with booking local tours and activities, accommodation and transportation.

Tokyo’s Narita Airport, meanwhile, launched its own app, Wamazing, that similarly targets foreign visitors and features a taxi hailing function along with other booking and payment features for local activities and trips. The app launched in conjunction with a free SIM card that is only available to overseas visitors that offers up to 500MB of data, or usage for five days, with additional data able to be purchased for subsequent days.

For a more in-depth look at some of the new technology and initiatives aimed at making exploring the Japanese capital simpler for foreign travellers, read Business Traveller’s recent feature, “Navigating Tokyo”.

Navigating Tokyo