Researchers Find Way to Make Traffic Models More Efficient

Models that predict traffic volume for specific times and places are used to inform everything from traffic-light patterns to the app on your phone that tells you how to get from Point A to Point B. Researchers from North Carolina State University have now demonstrated a method that reduces the computational complexity of these models, making them operate more efficiently.

“We use models to predict how much traffic there will be on any given stretch of road at any specific point in time,” says Ali Hajbabaie, co-author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at NC State. “These models work well, but the specific forecasting questions can be so computationally complex that they are either impossible to solve with limited computing resources, or they take so long that the prediction only becomes available when it is no longer useful.”

The researchers’ starting point for this work was an algorithm designed to help streamline complex computing challenges, but they found it couldn’t be applied directly to traffic problems.

“So, we modified that algorithm to see if we could find a way to use it in models that predict how much traffic there will be in a specific place and time,” Hajbabaie says. “And the results were gratifying.”

Specifically, the researchers came up with a modified version of the algorithm that effectively breaks the larger traffic forecasting model into a collection of smaller problems that can then be solved in parallel with one another.

This process significantly reduces run time for the forecasting model. However, the extent of the improved efficiency varies significantly, depending on how complex the forecasting questions are. The more complex the question is, the greater the improved efficiency.

The modified method also improves run time by allowing the model to recognize when it has reached a solution that is good enough – the solution doesn’t have to be perfect. Traditionally, models will run until they find an optimal solution, or one very close to optimal. But for most purposes, a result that is within 5% – or even 10% – of the optimal solution will work fine.

“Our approach here essentially sets error bars around the optimal solution and allows the model to stop running and report a result when it gets close enough,” Hajbabaie says.

The researchers tested the modified algorithm against a benchmark algorithm used in consumer software to address questions related to traffic forecasting.

“Our modified algorithm outperformed the benchmark in two ways,” Hajbabaie says. “First, our algorithm used far less computer memory. Second, our algorithm’s run time was orders of magnitude faster.

“At this point, we’re open to working with traffic planners and engineers who are interested in exploring how we can use this modified algorithm to address real-world problems.”

The paper, “A Distributed Gradient Approach for System Optimal Dynamic Traffic Assignment,” appears in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems. First author of the paper is Mehrzad Mehrabipour, a Ph.D. student at NC State.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“A Distributed Gradient Approach for System Optimal Dynamic Traffic Assignment”

Authors: Mehrzad Mehrabipour and Ali Hajbabaie, North Carolina State University

Published: April 20, IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems

DOI: 10.1109/TITS.2022.3163369

Abstract: This study presents a distributed gradient-based approach to solve system optimal dynamic traffic assignment (SODTA) formulated based on the cell transmission model. The algorithm distributes SODTA into local sub-problems, who find optimal values for their decision variables within an intersection. Each sub-problem communicates with its immediate neighbors to reach a consensus on the values of common decision variables. A sub-problem receives proposed values for common decision variables from all adjacent sub-problems and incorporates them into its own offered values by weighted averaging and enforcing a gradient step to minimize its objective function. Then, the updated values are projected onto the feasible region of the sub-problems. The algorithm finds high quality solutions in all tested scenarios with a finite number of iterations. The algorithm is tested on a case study network under different demand levels and finds solutions with at most a 5% optimality gap.

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Honda touts new light jet models as private travel surges

Participants will take a closer look after the Honda Jet 2600 Concept Plane was unveiled at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition on October 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. REUTERS / Steve Marcus

October 13, 2021

Las Vegas (Reuters) – On Tuesday, Honda Aircraft Co announced plans for a new light business jet that could fly non-stop across the United States as it seeks to take advantage of the surge in demand for personal travel.

The plane has up to 11 seats and offers up to 20% better fuel efficiency than other jets in this category, the company said. Honda Aircraft unveiled its new design at the National Business Aviation Association show in Las Vegas, the industry’s largest business jet show.We did not guarantee that the plane would be produced or provide a timeline to take orders.

Honda Aircraft Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. in Japan, currently manufactures the 6-seater HondaJet.

Honda’s plans come from the surge in business aviation traffic beyond pre-pandemic levels, for some corporate jet operators to reject new clients. With COVID-19, wealthy travelers consider private flights in small groups to be safer and more convenient than commercial travel.

(Report by Allison Lampert in Las Vegas; edited by Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio)

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Can This New Global Community Tourism Network Shift Business Models? – Skift

The concept of community-based tourism, in which businesses are owned and operated by local communities with revenue, in turn, targeting rural development, dates back to the 1970s. Pre-pandemic, a greater number of community enterprises were entering the tourism value chain as travelers increasingly sought culturally immersive experiences with travel dollars going directly to local communities.

But this model wasn’t as widespread nor as prioritized by mainstream tour companies. Communities lacked access to training and resources to set up their own businesses to compete, while governments and for-profit travel companies focused on selling established mainstream tours over the more complicated task of doing commerce with local communities.

Now that’s all about to change. Planeterra — a community tourism focused non-profit organization founded in 2003 by small-group tour operator G Adventures’ founder Bruce Poon Tip — is launching a first-ever Global Community Tourism Network this week.

This initiative builds on the success of the Planeterra model by scaling it up to bring in more community tourism enterprises to market, promoting them to travel companies across the tourism value chain — beyond Planeterra’s main travel partner G Adventures — and working with those travel companies to integrate community tourism experiences into their existing product lines.

In turn, this will bring in more consumer demand and more profits in the hands of communities and social enterprises.

Establishing this community enterprise market connection model and making it accessible at a global level is a game changer for the travel industry at a time when most companies are rethinking how to operate more sustainably and destinations are adopting revised sustainable management plans and considering how to “build back better” on the other side of the pandemic.

“We’re in discussions with a lot of travel companies, be they tour companies, hospitality companies, accommodation providers, even cruise lines,” said Jamie Sweeting, president of Planeterra. “We believe that community tourism could be a component of any of these kinds of experiences.”

Since the quiet initial phase in December, 212 community partners in 66 countries have joined Planeterra’s new network, which has three main pillars: training, online community and market connectivity.

Nepal Kathmandu Planeterra Community Tourism Cooking Class

A cooking class in Kathmandu, Nepal through Planeterra — Image courtesy of G Adventures.

Planeterra’s ambitious vision is to reach, by 2030, 50 million travelers experiencing community tourism, a cumulative $1 billion worth of income reaching communities, and 3.5 million lives improved.

Sweeting said this would mean signing on and working with thousands more community-owned businesses in the coming years to reach that goal.

“In 2019 the international travel industry was an $8.3 trillion industry — is it really asking too much to have a billion dollars worth of that 8.3 trillion to go to communities? I don’t think so,” Sweeting said.

Over $10 million was spent in communities from 2015-2019 through four of Planeterra’s travel industry partners and brands. The potential now is even bigger.

Another standout feature of this project is that it’s been traveler-funded so far, to the tune of $200,000 in donations that came in from fundraising campaigns during the pandemic.

Sweeting said it was rewarding to see travelers who had been to these kinds of enterprises wanting to give back and pay it forward to see this kind of tourism grow post pandemic — not as a hand out, but as a hand up.

“I think more than ever, there’s going to be a competition for the consumer, both by destinations competing with each other, but also travel companies,” Sweeting said. “This is a way to differentiate yourself and be able to stand out in the marketplace as a company that is committed to supporting the people and the places that you’re taking people to visit.”

The Community as Stakeholder

Much has been said of communities as stakeholders in a future responsible travel ecosystem. What the pandemic showed is their lack of broader integration in the tourism industry, which left social enterprises and their communities vulnerable and isolated at a time of crisis.

Evie Ndhlovu, Planeterra’s East and Southern Africa community and development specialist, said it was an eye-opener for the organization and its community tourism partners.

“We started to see that there were quite a lot of barriers coming between a lot of our partners and the tourism sector,” Ndhlovu said.

That’s when Planeterra built its free online learning platform with over 30 webinars, worksheets and training resources to support its existing community tourism partners during the global tourism shutdown. It’s also when Sweeting had the idea to expand the reach of Planeterra’s learning hub and model, which was then green-lighted by Planeterra’s chairman Poon Tip.

In addition to the learning hub, an online community has been set up for peer-to-peer learning, allowing communities to share experiences, stories and support one another.

With its expanded network of volunteers, also a first for Planeterra, the new partner communities that joined the quiet phase of the Global Community Tourism Network have been wide ranging in size and location, including in countries where Planeterra had no prior connection.

“We have started speaking to this partner who are excited to use our resources to train six communities around the national parks of Sierra Leone,” said Ndhlovu. “We are also having success with strategic partners who are umbrella organizations or networks within countries or regions — for example the Kenya Community Based Tourism Association, who have over 200 smaller community tourism enterprises.”

Partnering with larger groups allows for information to reach community enterprises that are lacking internet access.

Joel Callaňaupa, Planeterra’s program manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that around 70 new partners from his region have signed on to the new platform in the last three months, most of which are small women’s and youth associations. While these groups are still suffering from the lack of tourism due to the pandemic, they are positioning themselves for a post-pandemic surge.

Ultimately, Planeterra’s goal in creating this central platform is to empower communities long-term, not just in earning tourism revenue but in leadership.

“These are literally, hundreds and hundreds of these communities struggling with the same things, but they don’t know each other,” said Sweeting, noting that community tourism is often misconceived as limited to low to middle income countries, whereas there are marginalized and disenfranchised communities in every country, including in North America, where indigenous community-run businesses in the Navajo Nation were disproportionately impacted by Covid.

“My wish and desire is over time that they’ll want to take this on and they’ll steward it themselves,” Sweeting said.

A Quantum Shift and Competitive Opportunity for Tourism Businesses and Destinations

Pre-pandemic, while tourism grew exponentially and the world’s largest and foreign-owned travel companies and governments touted numbers, revenue was minimal in comparison for local communities in those destinations. United Nations’ reports have shown that leakage in tourism could reach up to 70 and 80 percent in some regions, such as Thailand and the Caribbean.

“I think that people are realizing that there is a bit of a quantum shift happening here as we try to build back,” Sweeting said. “Is it going to be all about more travelers coming and technically spending more money, or is it going to be about what kind of travelers and where that money is going and who is benefiting from that money?”

In a post-Covid world in which Millennial and Gen Z consumers in particular are more conscious of supporting responsible travel brands and sustainable tourism options, community tourism is a model that destination marketing organizations are increasingly eyeing as a valuable tool to stand out to them and to convey the authenticity of their destinations and pull in travelers that way.

A 2019 report from Euromonitor International examining the potential of expanding community tourism in the region also showed that tourists were willing to pay up between $50 to $300 for an add-on community tourism experience to their beach vacations.

“That’s what is different about the Planeterra model — it’s very market focused, and ridiculously customer focused to be perfectly honest,” Sweeting said. “We knew from the very outset, if this doesn’t work for the traveler, it won’t work for the community, it won’t work for the travel company and you won’t have a sustainable livelihood program.”

Recently, Panama’s government and the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism announced a new partnership with Planeterra on a project to develop Panama’s community tourism offerings. The goal is to bring to market at least 10 community enterprises.

“In our Master Plan, we have priorities the development of tourism experiences focused on the ‘discerning traveller’, a global trend that is demanding more and more authentic experiences that benefit local communities and their surrounding environment,” Panama Tourism Minister Ivan Eskildsen said in a press release.

With more countries, tour operators and tourism companies — even all inclusive resorts, Sweeting said — now able to approach Planeterra to connect them with community enterprise experiences in their respective destinations, it’s a change that’s likely to shift tourism offerings and tour business models in the coming years.

Travel companies that were doing this pre-pandemic knew that this was a value added experience for the traveler, Sweeting said. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, it can be a component of your trip and I think if we just begin to do that, we’ll see this kind of tourism grow exponentially.”

A Better Kind of Tourism

Calling community tourism “a better kind of tourism,” Planeterra’s Sweeting hopes more travel businesses and destinations will prioritize it as part of their recovery plans.

For now, the organization is working hard on seeking new funding to further expand its Global Community Tourism Network, while standing ready to serve as “matchmaker” and mediator between community tourism enterprises and the private sector to help the two sides establish a business relationship so it’s win win for all.

For those companies still digging out of a financial hole, Sweeting said Planeterra stood ready to begin conversations on future integration of community tourism irrespective of current finances.

The success of Planeterra’s new Community Tourism Global Network model relies on a collaborative approach — one that will require not just community tourism enterprises to show commitment, but also governments, destinations, NGOs and businesses to create the enabling environment for these groups to thrive.

It has to potential to jumpstart the reimagined, improved post-Covid travel industry to which tourism leaders have been giving lip service since the start of this global tourism crisis.

For Ndhlovu, it’s an exciting initiative that puts communities around the world at the heart of tourism. “When communities are actively participating, the possibilities are endless.”

Photo Credit: Community tourism focused Planeterra, founded by Bruce Poon Tip in 2003, is launching a groundbreaking new Global Community Tourism Network tomorrow. Courtesy of G Adventures

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As Buyers Rethink Service Models, SalesTrip Touts Pairing CRM with T&E

SalesTrip’s Manoj Ganapathy discusses: 

  • The value of a subscription pricing model
  • Shifts in travel evaluation due to the pandemic
  • The potential allure of a CRM platform to TMCs

An industrywide re-evaluation of corporate travel and expense management service models could well be among the most transformative long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The sudden outbreak of the virus a year ago laid bare weak spots and inefficiencies in traditional structures, while the subsequent shutdown of travel gave corporate buyers the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate foundational aspects of their T&E programs.

That openness to change could be a ripe opportunity for providers operating outside of the traditional travel management company-centric paradigm. One such model, which had been gaining ground even before the onset of Covid, situates some corporate travel operations within the framework of customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

That’s the foundational principle of SalesTrip, a booking and expense management tool that operates within CRM behemoth Salesforce. Launched in 2019, the London-based company has scored clients on both sides of the Atlantic and in January closed a seed investment funding round. SalesTrip founder and CEO Manoj Ganapathy spoke with BTN payments and tech editor Adam Perrotta about the advantages of uniting T&E with CRM, and his vision for how that model will thrive in the post-pandemic landscape.

BTN: Despite the fact that corporate travel activity largely has been at a standstill for most of the past year, SalesTrip has added new customers over that time. From your perspective, to what extent was that driven by companies taking the opportunity to re‐evaluate their approach to travel and expense during that downtime, when there wasn’t any actual travel to support?

Manoj Ganapathy: For the most part, we have seen demand from companies looking for ways to better understand their employees’ discretionary spend. The significant downturn in travel has allowed them the time to do this, [and] accelerate the consolidation of the data silos still prevalent in corporate travel. And, as part of companywide cost-cutting initiatives, they’re no longer willing to accept [paying for] travel as the cost of doing business, and instead are shifting to understanding what the tangible outcome of travel spend is. They want to know the real impact a trip will have … and exactly what future revenue can be expected as a result of the travel.

BTN: Building travel and expense capabilities within Salesforce offers a value proposition when it comes to tying expenditures to sales and calculating ROI for business travel. Are there any other advantages to that model?

Ganapathy: There are many, including the ability for companies to create a branded user experience {to drive] employee engagement, and the use of dynamic or situational workflows, such as releasing a travel budget when a sales deal reaches a certain stage. But the most important is the ability to predict future travel volumes and spend. As SalesTrip [measures] travel booking and expense management against specific business activities … customers are able to analyze how much travel was required at different stages of the sales lifecycle. It’s then possible to predict the probability of success for future trips. Lastly, given Salesforce is a [software-as-a-service] platform, customers benefit from the predictability of a subscription pricing model. We don’t charge transactional booking fees, so customers aren’t faced with fluctuating costs depending on the volumes of travel. Right now, with business travel grounded, that isn’t such a concern. But when it resumes, the last thing a finance leader needs are high and unpredictable costs.

BTN: What effect has Covid‐19 pandemic had on the needs and wants of your customers when it comes to travel and expense? How are you positioning yourself to meet those new demands?

Ganapathy: The needs of our customers have simplified in that we’re not seeing requests for high-touch travel services. As such, the demand is from very practical buyers who wish to know the why behind spend. … This is really the foundation of SalesTrip, and so we’re well-positioned to meet these demands.

The laser focus on costs forced by the pandemic will shift the future of travel away from that costly [transactional] model and towards the more flexible subscription model.”

BTN: How central of a role can a CRM‐based service model play for a company’s travel operations? Can this model replace a traditional TMC—even for larger companies—by providing the full array of necessary “TMC‐like” services? 

Ganapathy: We’re a licensed travel agency in several countries so [we can] serve as a TMC, meaning there is no need for customers to commission a separate service. We are not, by design, a high-touch TMChowever, so we understand that some customers might want to retain existing relationships with the more traditional TMCs. We’re flexible to these needs, and a small percentage of our larger customers use another agency for their ticketing and offline service. But it’s no secret that the fees these traditional TMCs charge are, for the most part, unjustifiable. Charging online booking fees for something which is by definition self‐service can rub buyers the wrong way. As a result, the laser focus on costs forced by the pandemic will shift the future of travel away from that costly [transactional] model and towards the more flexible subscription model.

BTN: On the other side of that, it seems like the CRM ecosystem/channel also could be an attractive avenue for traditional TMCs to reach clients, including smaller companies that don’t yet have managed travel programs. Have you seen interest from traditional TMCs in this space, and if so, what competitive advantage do you have over those providers in this context?

Ganapathy: Our previous research revealed that 80 percent of travel spend is incurred by [companies’] commercial teams. That same 80 percent live in CRM systems, using them on a daily basis. The potential reach is clear to see, and combined with the scalability of a cloud platform, represents a significant channel. We knew this when founding the company, and the more progressive TMCs see the exact value we provide that can augment their own offerings. Combining the services of a TMC with direct travel booking and expense management via the CRM platform offers clear advantages to the customer, not only for ease of use but also in cost savings. It’s not easy to connect the transaction-built world of the travel industry to a … highly customized modern CRM system, but there was a clear need for it, and is exactly why SalesTrip was founded.

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