Advancing personalised travel planning
Expedia announced in April 2023 its collaboration with OpenAI, offering in-app travel planning powered by ChatGPT for iOS, as well as offering an add-on for ChatGPT Plus users. Expedia's ChatGPT experience provides personalised recommendations, acting as a virtual travel assistant, providing relevant results for hotels and what to do in the destination.
Kayak and Booking Holdings' OpenTable also announced ChatGPT add-ons. Other travel brands such as TripAdvisor, GetYourGuide and Klook followed suit. Trip.com integrated ChatGPT into TripGen, its recently launched artificial intelligence chatbot that provides real-time assistance, itinerary planning and pre-trip booking advice. Meanwhile, hotels and airlines are turning to generative AI for customer service, while automating menial tasks.
Inevitably, further integration will follow so that ultimately the travel planning and booking stages will blend seamlessly, depending on access to real-time booking functionality. Generative AI is only at the beginning of its journey, giving consumers the "ultimate concierge" at their fingertips, as Airbnb puts it.
The AI race creates controversy and risks
However, the road to AI adoption will not be smooth, as there are major concerns about consumer privacy with countries such as Italy temporarily banning ChatGPT. There are also concerns that large language models rely on outdated internet knowledge, with a two-year delay in the case of ChatGPT without access to current events or real-time information. However, access to real-time data has been enabled for the latter thanks to a new add-on with Microsoft Bing.
Moreover, the risks of amplifying misinformation, bias and inequality are all too real. Security and consumer protection must be paramount. Tech leaders such as Elon Musk recently called for a pause in AI development to avoid risks to humanity, including the possible extinction of superintelligence, claiming that the AI race was out of control and that time was needed to allow government policy to catch up.
Another risk of relying on ChatGPT is that everything will become increasingly generic, leading to a loss of authenticity of destinations and travel experiences.
Quality control of service delivery will also be required to ensure that there are no disconnects between dream trips crafted by generative AI, but not met to the standard needed in the real world, leading to consumer dissatisfaction and personal risk.
AI unleashes a new era of work
Alarm bells are already ringing about what will usher in an era of massive automation regarding the future of work, especially for routine tasks. However, there are opportunities to move to a 4-day week, creating additional demand for leisure and package travel, while enhancing the creativity and empathy of the workforce where machines cannot compete.
Travel agents faced massive disruption due to the rise of online travel three decades ago, leading to massive shop closures and job losses. Now, the industry is poised for further disruption as generative AI accelerates the automation of tasks at every stage of the customer journey - before, during and after the trip. As Microsoft plans to integrate generative AI into its Microsoft 365 Copilot software, it will become increasingly prevalent in consumers' daily lives and work, whether we like it or not.
As before, travel brands will take the hard yards to navigate this new phase of digital transformation with a test-and-learn approach. However, only those that ultimately celebrate the human touch of travel and hospitality will thrive.
Author: Carolina Bremner. Euromonitor's Voice of the Consumer: Digital Survey.
Caroline is Industry Director at Euromonitor International, specialising in the travel sector. Based in London, she has over 16 years' experience in the industry and 24 years' experience in consumer market research.
Caroline manages global travel content strategy and has developed one of the most extensive travel research resources, including travel forecasting modelling.
Caroline advises clients from national tourism bodies, international hotel chains, travel intermediaries and online travel agencies on travel trends in a post-COVID world, such as accelerating digitalisation, sustainability and innovation.
Caroline started her career in the travel industry before joining Euromonitor International, working as a tour guide at a major tourist attraction in Edinburgh.