ChatGPT, the cutting-edge generative artificial intelligence (AI) model, may be poised to make a big splash in the travel industry. While the current use cases for AI may appear limited, researchers expect a surge in applications over the next year, with customer service being a prime target. This is where ChatGPT could shine as a monetizable asset if it can identify a specific, verifiable application in a focused business sector.
The travel sector is an attractive target for AI adoption, given that it was already transformed by the internet. However, the success of AI in the industry has been mixed so far. One major challenge facing ChatGPT’s application in travel is that its data only extends up to September 2021. This is a significant limitation for an industry where up-to-date information is essential.
Nevertheless, the online travel agencies are already using AI to reshape the industry from within, offering recommendations and influencing decisions behind the scenes. With the expected surge in AI applications, the travel sector could be the next industry to benefit from AI’s transformative potential. If ChatGPT can overcome its data limitations and identify a specific application in the travel sector, it could be a game-changer for the industry.
“Booking.com has been using AI and machine learning for over a decade,” said Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com. “It is ingrained in the customer journey at every step on our platform.”
That includes personalized recommendations for trips, and machine translation in more than 40 languages and dialects.
Top travel executives are closely examining the latest developments in generative AI, as Microsoft-funded OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard race to the forefront of the industry. Large language models that underpin generative AI offer fascinating opportunities for itinerary building and question answering, according to industry insiders. However, these executives emphasize that the primary goal is not to replace human interaction.
“Travel is fundamentally about connecting people and communities, and that human connection will always play a crucial role in the travel experience,” said Fogel.
Big companies and AI
Humans simply cannot match the analytical power of AI when it comes to processing large databases, which is why AI can add new levels of value and support for travelers. Despite this, human interaction will remain a critical part of shaping the overall travel experience. “The innovation happening in travel should be all about making the human interaction between travelers and supplier partners even richer, while creating efficiencies at scale,” Fogel added.
Recently, Booking Holding’s Kayak platform announced the official integration of ChatGPT. In a blog post co-authored by ChatGPT and Kayak staff, the virtual travel assistant was described as allowing for more conversational interactions with Kayak’s search engine. Kayak plans to gradually expand its use of ChatGPT to more users in the future.
The integration allows users to receive personalized recommendations by typing in natural language queries, such as “Where can I fly to from NYC to London for under $1000 in June this year” or “Where can I go with $1000 to a summer destination with a beach.” The AI’s ability to analyze natural language also enables it to provide tailored recommendations based on specific needs and preferences. This AI assistant is expected to accompany the traveler throughout the journey, intervening quickly in the event of any disruptions.
Kayak’s integration of ChatGPT represents a growing trend in the travel industry, as companies seek to leverage the potential of AI to provide more personalized and efficient travel services. Fogel, the CEO of Booking Holdings, notes that the primary goal of AI in travel is to improve the customer experience, rather than replace human interaction. The ability of AI to analyze vast databases and predict potential problems in real-time makes it a valuable tool in reducing travel-related stress and anxiety.
General improvements, not disruptions
As the travel industry continues to evolve, artificial intelligence is being increasingly used to make the booking process smoother and more personalized. One way AI can achieve this is through predicting and preempting a traveler’s needs. For instance, a virtual travel assistant powered by AI can analyze traffic patterns to and from the airport and suggest optimal departure times to ensure the traveler arrives on time for their flight. The assistant can also leverage historical data on TSA wait times to help the traveler make it through security quickly, allowing them to grab a coffee or snack before boarding.
Another way AI can improve the travel booking experience is through its ability to handle natural language queries. With this capability, travelers can ask specific questions and receive personalized recommendations based on their preferences. For example, a traveler can ask their virtual assistant to find them a hotel in a specific location with certain amenities, and the AI can present a list of options that fit the criteria.
In addition to these benefits, AI can help minimize the stress of travel disruptions. By analyzing real-time data on weather conditions, traffic patterns, and flight schedules, a virtual travel assistant can provide timely notifications and offer solutions to unexpected changes in itinerary. For instance, if a flight is delayed, the AI can suggest alternative flights or routes to help the traveler reach their destination on time. With these AI-powered tools, travelers can feel more confident and in control of their travel plans.
“Hello there! I’ve noticed that there is some traffic on the road to the airport today. To ensure you have enough time to check in and go through security, I would recommend leaving a little earlier than usual. Based on current traffic patterns and TSA wait times, leaving at 5:25 a.m. should get you to the airport with plenty of time to spare. You might even have time to grab some breakfast at your favorite spot near your gate. Would you like me to place your order to have it ready for you when you arrive? Just let me know, and I’ll take care of it for you. Safe travels!”
How will the market change
AI is becoming an increasingly important tool for big companies in the travel industry as they seek to increase their market share at the expense of smaller tour operators. With the help of AI-powered algorithms, large travel companies can analyze vast amounts of data and create more personalized travel experiences for customers, making it harder for smaller operators to compete.
One way in which big companies are using AI to gain a competitive advantage is by using machine learning algorithms to optimize pricing. By analyzing large amounts of historical booking data, these companies can predict demand and adjust prices in real-time, ensuring that they always have the right prices at the right time. This gives them a significant advantage over smaller operators who may not have access to the same level of data.
Another way in which big companies are leveraging AI is by using chatbots and virtual assistants to provide customers with instant, personalized support. By using natural language processing, these AI-powered tools can understand customer queries and provide relevant information and recommendations. This allows large travel companies to offer a seamless customer experience, which can be hard for smaller operators to match.
Despite the challenges posed by AI, there are still ways in which small tour operators can stay relevant in an increasingly AI-driven travel industry. Small operators can differentiate themselves by offering unique and personalized experiences that cannot be replicated by AI-powered algorithms. By offering niche tours and experiences, smaller operators can attract customers who are looking for something different from the standard travel offerings provided by larger companies. This can help them stand out in a crowded market and build a loyal customer base.
While AI-powered travel assistance may not completely alleviate the stresses that come with travel, it can certainly help reduce the wait time, create a sense of order amidst the chaos, and provide some relief from the unknown. Although it may not be a foolproof solution, it can still order a cup of coffee for you while you wait, making the experience a little more comfortable.