Is it really less than a year since ChatGPT burst into our lives with much fanfare and jazzhands, inspiring a multitude of industry thought pieces despairing ‘oh what will become of us!?’
It feels like it’s been around a lot longer to be honest, or maybe that’s just due to the way in which the technology has evolved and how quickly we’ve all got used to it. But now that the dust has (momentarily) settled and GPT, Bing and co are no longer deemed the big bad wolves putting us all out of work, perhaps it’s worth exploring how businesses, specifically travel brands, have harnessed AI’s potential and used it to revolutionise the travel industry, mostly for the better.
ChatGPT is emerging as the main poster boy for AI technology within an industry already blazing a trail of digital innovation. According to global market research firm Euromonitor International, AI chatbots are key game changers in the future of holiday planning, with a staggering 97.8% of travel executives predicting a significant impact from AI on the industry within the next five years.
Who’s using it?
The big hitters of travel lost no time in hopping aboard the high speed AI train. Let’s take a closer look at how three of the most well-known names in the industry have integrated GPT technology onto their platforms.
Online travel agency Expedia announced its collaboration with OpenAI, ChatGPT’s founders, back in April 2023 (worth noting that Open AI’s chief, Sam Altman, sits on Expedia’s board). Integrated into Expedia's app, ChatGPT lets customers ask travel-related questions, serving up personalised advice on local sights to see, suitable hotels and best times to visit. Unlike conventional chatbots, ChatGPT can have sophisticated conversations with users, using natural language to emulate the style of a human travel agent. Recommendations are then saved in the app’s ‘Trips’ tab for future reference.
Expedia’s use of AI doesn't end there. The company employs artificial intelligence to track flight pricing trends, helping travellers pinpoint the most cost-effective times to book their trip. This multifaceted early adoption of AI technology has helped put Expedia at the forefront of personalised and efficient travel planning.
By integrating ChatGPT into the Expedia app and combining it with our other AI-based shopping capabilities, like hotel comparison, price tracking for flights and trip collaboration tools, we can now offer travellers an even more intuitive way to build their perfect trip.
Similarly, travel search company Kayak were early adopters of ChatGPT, implementing the ChatGPT plugin as part of its search engine to enable a more intuitive and personalised service. The savvy tool is able to tackle queries regarding hotels, flights, car rentals and holiday activities, offering real-time recommendations that align with the traveller’s bespoke requirements. The result? A more fluid, conversational interaction that not only enhances the booking experience but simplifies it too.
TripAdvisor has also effectively integrated OpenAI technology with the launch of its travel itinerary generator. Currently in public beta for U.S users only, this tool analyses TripAdvisor’s vast pool of over one billion user reviews to help craft personalised day-by-day itineraries based on the user’s prompts relating to destination, preferred dates, who they are traveling with and the types of activities they are interested in. The generator then digs through this treasure trove of data to offer tailored suggestions for a variety of activities and experiences based on user preferences.
By harnessing the power of generative AI, we can begin to fully unlock the potential of our platform’s unparalleled review and traveller intent data, allowing us to offer truly unique travel guidance to our members.
What’s happening elsewhere?
Not all travel brands are using ChatGPT technology in the same way. MyTrip.AI, for instance, is using it to ‘superpower’ various business operations like marketing, sales and customer service with its own version of ChatGPT. This involves developing a writing assistant designed to create improved customer communication and travel-related content, yet remaining true to the ‘the voice and tone of your company’. So, in this case, it's not just about boosting the traveller experience; it's also enhancing the way travel companies interact with their audience.
Indian travel firm MakeMyTrip has been using ChatGPT technology to offer voice-assisted booking capabilities in multiple Indian languages. Similar to the other travel brands mentioned in this article, the platform provides personalised travel suggestions tailored to a user's unique preferences, budget and interests. What sets this apart is its multilingual prowess. Now, planning a holiday or booking a flight isn't confined to just English; the platform can interact in a range of Indian (and other) languages.
Accommodation rental platform Lodgify recently rolled out a GPT-powered AI Assistant, designed to streamline guest communications. This virtual assistant crafts contextually relevant, personalised responses to guest enquiries based on Lodgify account and reservation data. From providing check-in instructions to recommending places to eat nearby, this AI tool covers an array of guest requirements. Hosts also have the option to review or edit AI-generated responses before they are sent, ensuring accurate and tailored communication.
It’s worth noting here that a certain other well-known accommodation rental platform was initially more cautious about adopting GPT technology. Airbnb was originally primed to be early adopters of the ChatGPT plugin, but decided against it, as CEO Brian Chesky explains below:
The reason why is I decided that the interface of pure tech space with widgets at the bottom was probably not the right interface for travel
The AI fly in the travel ointment
While ChatGPT and its fellow language models are getting much better at ironing out the often amusing flaws that plagued the platforms in the first couple of months after roll out, they’re still prone to the occasional gaff (or hallucination to use the proper lingo).
When it comes to travel, however, inaccurate information is no laughing matter, particularly if you are using AI technology to pull together flight itineraries, activities and hotel bookings.
Travel firms using GPT plugins have remained fairly tight-lipped on the matter, although during its rollout, Expedia did state that ‘measures have been taken to limit inaccurate results and inappropriate responses; at times, the experience may not work exactly as expected’, and in all honesty, I struggled to find evidence of any major cock-ups as a result of the plugins (though it’s a different story for travellers using the ChatGPT platform directly) so it may be that it’s a case of so far, so good….
People are still best for travel
…But! Just to repeat the mantra of techies and marketers everywhere, however slick, realistic and bullet-proof a chatbot appears to be, it will never ever (once more for the people at the back) EVER replace the skills and efficiency of a human travel advisor. For instance,
- A chatbot can only ever provide personalised travel guidance up to a point, resulting in a lack of authenticity for destinations and travel experiences.
- Chatbots can't match the emotional understanding or reassurance that human advisors offer during travel planning (at least not yet anyway…).
- Real life travel advisors can read between the lines and grasp nuanced requests, while chatbots rely entirely on the prompts provided.
- Humans offer first-hand travel anecdotes and insights that a data-driven chatbot simply can't provide.
So…what next for AI in travel?
If the hype is to be believed, AI *could* potentially add an eye-popping $1 trillion extra into the global tourism industry by 2025, far surpassing the impact of its predecessor, machine learning, which has been knocking about for quite some time. As more travel brands follow Expedia’s lead with GPT plugins, we’ll also see further examples of automated customer service and AI-led marketing campaigns, as well as the advancement of voice and facial recognition technologies.
As seen with MakeMyTrip, AI will also play a significant role in smart navigation and multi-language support, helping travellers explore new destinations in their native tongue.
ChatGPT’s role in the travel industry is more than a tale of technological triumph; it's a chapter in the wider narrative of what it means to travel in the digital age, revolutionising how travel providers operate and how travellers experience their journeys. AI is not just the future of travel, it's already firmly embedded in the present.
If you’d like to chat to our experienced technical and travel experts about how AI could be used to enhanced your travel business, why not get in touch?