Imagine that your flight is delayed and instead of a stressful few hours wondering if you can make your rental car and restaurant reservation on time, that the system linked to your bookings automatically contacts everyone and sets up new times to eat and collect your car. This could be the future of travel booking using generative AI such as ChatGPT.
AI is already being used a lot in companies in the form of online chatbots to help answer questions or give common advice. ChatGPT, amongst others, is different in that it can generate new content by summarizing existing online content.
That means, if you ask it to create an itinerary for the south of France over 10 days, it can look at what is already online in books, on webpages and other online itineraries, generate its own itinerary and then respond in a more communicative, conversational way.
For travel agents, this is already a big plus, not because they don’t know how to spend ten days in Provence but because it writes the summary for them that they can then modify before sending to a client—it essentially does the legwork and saves more time.
The new version of ChatGPT-4 is now available and will be able to, crucially, accept images as well as text, and describe those images in detail. The impact for travel could be immense.
As Skift describes, imagine being lost in a strange city and taking a photograph of where you are. Not only might ChatGPT be able to help you find your way back easily but it could also provide detailed stories and history about the place you find yourself in and suggest nearby places that might mean that getting lost was a good thing.
Many of the large travel companies, such as Booking.com and Expedia are confident that generative AI, as it is known, will be very beneficial for the travel industry but it may take a while to work out how to use it effectively.
Glenn Fogel, the CEO of Booking Holdings has said that many large companies are building the foundations for using it in the future. A significant challenge is “the problems of how to obtain real-time data from countless sources, process it all to result in optimal solutions, and then act rapidly to benefit consumers will not be solved overnight.”
Likewise, Rob Francis, chief technology officer at Booking.com has said that while they weren’t rushing headlong into the ‘frenzy’ around using AI (such as ChatGPT), they do think it has a real purpose. There are issues that this technology, being in its infancy, has the ability to irritate customers by answering incorrectly and turn them away from brands before ideas are properly tested—Francis has said that there is a credibility issue to address before people start rushing into using the technology. The worse thing would be to leave travelers underwhelmed. There are also privacy issues.
One of the biggest issues for travel companies is that ChatGPT, for example, is currently using data from 2021. For travel organizations that poses an issue in that it can’t provide updated restaurant information, train timetables or weather forecasts. That means that travel companies need to link their own tech with the data—something that Trip.com are trying to do to get a certain ‘freshness’ to the data. Additionally, ChatGPT cannot yet identify between reliable and unreliable data and it can provide data sometimes that is biased.
However, once up-to-the minute information is available for ChatGPT and other generative systems, it’s easy to imagine how once one aspect of travel plans change, it becomes much easier to change the rest, with relatively little stress.
The travel industry is clearly not immune to its impact and like every other industry at present, it’s working out how to use it to their advantage and how not to get left behind.