Travel is expected to be a leading early adopter of generative AI chatbots.
Online travel agents, from Expedia and Kayak to Trip.com and Trip.com, are already using ChatGPT plug ins as "virtual assistants" and it is expected that the time between a suggestion and a booking will decrease.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is also a leader in the airports that say generative AI can help reduce some of travel anxiety and stress. However, long-time analysts are not so sure.
ChatGPT's ability to identify a specific application within a particular business sector and verify it could be a major asset. Researchers expect a huge explosion of use cases in the next year, and customer service is a top target. The travel industry, which was already remade at the dawn of internet, is a prime candidate for rapid adoption.
Already, AI-generated data is being tested in the travel industry, with mixed results. ChatGPT has a major limitation in its travel application: the data is only up to September 2021. This is a major problem, especially in the travel industry where current information is essential to make it useful. But only for now.
AI is already reshaping online travel agencies from the inside. Even if the travelers are unaware of this, the technology influences the recommendations and decisions made.
"Booking.com uses AI and machine-learning for more than a decade," Glenn Fogel said, CEO of
Booking.com's parent company. It is embedded in our platform at every stage.
This includes machine translation of more than 40 dialects and languages, as well as personalized suggestions for trips.
AI as your personal travel assistant
Top travel executives are now analyzing the implications of this latest iteration, which includes the race between Microsoft's OpenAI's ChatGPT, Google's Bard and other early examples. Fogel stated that the large language models at the core of generative AI offer "interesting opportunities, particularly for itinerary creation and question answering." Fogel said that the main concern is not to replace human interaction.
Fogel stated that "Travel fundamentally is about connecting people and communities. This human connection will play a vital role in the traveling experience."
Human interaction will continue to be a key factor in shaping the overall experience of a trip, as AI is able to analyze large databases. He said that the innovation in travel should focus on enhancing human interactions between travelers and suppliers, as well as creating scale-efficient efficiencies.
Booking Holdings' Kayak platform announced recently its official integration with ChatGPT to gradually expand to other users.
a blog post
Written by ChatGPT, edited by Kayak's staff. It described ChatGPT as "a virtual travel assistant," which allows for more conversational interaction with Kayak's Search Engine.
The blog stated that users can receive customized recommendations by typing natural language queries like "Where can I fly from NYC to under $500 in April" based on the search criteria they have entered and Kayak’s historical travel data.
AI can also provide more personalized recommendations due to its ability to understand and analyze natural-language. According to the blog, "If someone asks 'I am looking for a New York City hotel that is close to Central Park,' ChatGPT will understand the traveler’s needs and preferences, and then ask Kayak to make tailored recommendations using that information."
Another focus is on airport stress and anxiety
AI will play the role of a travel assistant, following the traveler throughout the journey. It can also intervene quickly if travel plans are interrupted.
Fogel stated that the potential of AI to eliminate friction, surface values, predict potential issues and intervene in real-time with solutions if you travel goes awry is something which continues to motivate our teams. Fogel said that the use of AI and cutting-edge technologies will allow them to achieve and surpass the ease and personal service of traditional travel agents.
Airports are a prime example of how travel plans can be disrupted. Matt Breed, Chief Information Officer for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and his goal to improve the customer experience in the airport has led him to be an early AI adopter.
Airports are notoriously stressful, Breed added. This is mainly due to the many unknowns that come with air travel. How long will it take to pass through security? Will I have enough time to buy food? "What shopping options are nearby my gate?"
Breed believes that AI-based tools such as ChatGPT, which generate AI by using generative algorithms and AI techniques, can reduce or eliminate anxiety in some cases.
He sees AI as a real-time itinerary analyzer that pulls in information from multiple sources and optimizes the journey of passengers - a kind of travel personal assistant.
"Matt. Traffic to the airport is heavy today. I suggest you leave at 5:25 am, as the projected TSA pre check wait times will allow you to get Starbucks near gate N15. The AI may be able suggest that you place your order so it is ready for when you arrive.
Breed believes that this hypothetical scenario, where the technology is brought into the pocket of the customer and personalized, will become a reality soon. Breed stated that "that type of scenario" is not far away, especially when you consider the real-time data feeds which are now available or will soon be released.
Seattle-Tacoma is also using AI to enhance operations. There is still a lot that can be improved. While it does not interact directly with travelers, the Assaia Apron AI is used by the airport for surface decision making.
Breed explained that "being able to make small adjustments to our operations, based on AI suggestions, can really have a big impact on how efficiently and effectively we park aircraft or turn them around. This helps to avoid those delays which travelers really dislike," Breed said.
Staffing, baggage handling and parking airplanes are all challenges when it comes to airport scheduling. AI will play a major role in optimizing operations in the near future, particularly as it becomes more capable of viewing data from multiple systems in real-time. Breed stated that GPT-4's ability to organize and structure data, which at first glance appears unstructured and chaotic, is one of the most impressive features.
Apps and online booking sites are already big players
Travel analysts warn that, amid all the ChatGPT hype, it's easy to overlook the context of a sector where new technology is a constant but often overstated when first introduced.
Max Starkov is a consultant in the hospitality and online travel industries who has worked for over 30 years. When blockchain was introduced, the travel industry declared that it would change forever. It was the same when delivery robots and waiter bots were introduced. The metaverse? "This is the way people will travel in future!"
Starkov recommends using the word tools instead of referring to new technologies as revolutionary.
He said: "These technologies are just advanced tools that enable smart operators and vendors better serve their clients and increase market shares in the process."
He believes that the biggest winners are the OTAs such as Booking Holdings and Kayak who have already implemented ChatGPT plug-ins.
ChatGPT is being integrated into chatbots, virtual agents and websites in order to provide itinerary-building capabilities.
Starkov stated that "AI as a tool for planning will help OTAs shorten the digital customer journey, and move travelers almost instantly from the planning phase to the booking stage of the customer journey."
The time between the suggestion and booking is reduced.
The OTAs have a large number of options to book any AI-generated itinerary, including 2,500,000 multi-room accommodations, 6,000,000 vacation rentals, 600 airline companies, 250,000 local experiences and more.
Starkov's bluntness was in stark contrast to the current sentiment that AI is a replacement for human workers. While human travel agents still have an important role to play, and while few people are willing to call AI anything other than a tool to complement human workers today, Starkov spoke more directly. He said that traditional travel agencies, independent hotels, and restaurants will lose out because they lack the human, financial, and technological resources to use ChatGPT.
He claims that the proof has already been found.
Starkov stated that "the OTAs have proven two of the most important uses of ChatGPT for travel: trip planning, and customer service."
Expedia, Trip.com, and Kayak.com, for example, were "super-fast", implementing plug-ins that enabled ChatGPT suggestions to be booked. Expedia and Trip.com already integrate ChatGPT into their mobile apps and websites to allow trip planning/itinerary creation capabilities.
He said that things will move fast from here. I expect that within weeks or months, smart airlines will add chatbots for customer service, trip planning and language translation, powered by generative artificial intelligence.
He agrees with Breed that more airports are likely to add informational and customer-service chatbots to websites and mobile applications to answer passenger questions, give airline schedules, directions, dining and shopping information, and send out alerts about traffic and schedule disruptions.
Starkov, however, is not as sure about the parts of travel that AI makes easier.
ChatGPT defines its best use cases for travel as an enhanced chatbot (virtual assistant), translator of content and website copywriting. In a blog written by Kayak for the AI, it said: "We have decided that robots are not yet ready to conquer the world... but they are prepared to help people find travel."
It is not guaranteed that this will eliminate the anxiety and frustration that travel brings, but it can make waiting times shorter, chaos seem more organized, and unknowns less frustrating. If it's not able to achieve this, it will at least order you a cappuccino while you wait.