What will ChatGPT mean for the travel industry? 

Carla Vianna
Carla Vianna
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What will ChatGPT mean for the travel industry? 

By now you’ve probably heard of ChatGPT — and if you haven’t, here’s a quick primer: Launched on November 30 by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a freemium artificial intelligence chatbot that has a human-like way of communicating.

After just two months, ChatGPT reached 100 million active users, which made it the fastest-growing consumer application ever created.

The technology is being used for everything from generating code and writing a cover letter to itinerary planning and customer service. The travel industry quickly took notice.

With its advanced natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT can understand and respond to travelers’ inquiries and requests in real time, helping them plan their trips and learn more about unfamiliar destinations. Meanwhile, travel companies are finding ways to automate many routine tasks, freeing up staff to focus on more complex customer needs.

In this article, we’ll explore how your customers might be using ChatGPT for travel purposes — and what that means for tour and attraction operators like you.

Will AI handle all travel planning for consumers? 

One of the biggest questions surrounding ChatGPT is to what extent it can be used for travel planning.

Big players like Expedia have already been leveraging AI technology to streamline their online booking services. Expedia’s chatbots have supported 29 million virtual conversations in recent years, saving over 8 million hours of agent time and helping travelers resolve issues faster with self-service.

Now, Expedia wants to leverage ChatGPT technology to provide its travelers with hyper-personalized search results. And it already has a few use cases in mind.

One of them is the power to help travelers narrow down their hotel search in a matter of minutes. For example, a traveler might ask the chatbot to identify the top hotels for their destination. Then, these suggestions would automatically be added to their Expedia trip board, erasing the need to manually sift through the hundreds of hotel options on the platform.

While there are various itinerary-building tools on the market, travelers have been hesitant to trust AI-powered technology over human expertise. However, as ChatGPT becomes more ubiquitous, it may become easier for travelers to view it as a trustworthy source for trip planning.

Both Expedia and Kayak have launched plugins that can be integrated with the chatbot to give it additional functionality. With large travel companies backing the new technology, travelers may be even more inclined to use it.

Building and supporting tour itineraries

Hopper, like Expedia, plans to explore ChatGPT’s ability to provide concierge-like services, such as recommending travel destinations and creating personalized itineraries.

The question then becomes, “If travelers can take trip planning into their own hands — more so than they already do — will travel agents or tour operators become obsolete?”

A travel writer recently put this to the test. She used ChatGPT to plan a familymoon to the Faroe Islands in Denmark. She reported that the chatbot did help her choose a destination as well as highlight the best time of year to travel there. It also helped suggest hotels and restaurants. But it didn’t do much beyond that.

ChatGPT provided the wrong dates for relevant cultural events and failed to highlight the best flight options, forcing the writer to do additional research on her own.

This is because the chatbot cannot provide real-time flight information, nor book a flight for travelers. Secondly, the technology is limited to data through 2022, meaning travelers might be making travel decisions based on outdated information.

Still, Online Travel Agencies are already finding ways around the chatbot’s limitations. Expedia, Trip.com, and Kayak.com have implemented plug-ins to ChatGPT to make its suggestions bookable. 

The Expedia plugin gives the chatbot access to real-time data, allowing it to provide plane ticket costs and discounts. Kayak’s plugin is used to provide customers with personalized travel recommendations based on their preferences. For example, a user can ask, “Where can I fly to from Miami for under $300?” and receive relevant destination ideas with ticket prices.

Meanwhile, Expedia and Trip.com have also integrated ChatGPT on their websites and mobile apps to further enable trip planning and itinerary-building capabilities. 

Personalization and unique experiences will become more important 

No matter how advanced ChatGPT’s itinerary-building capabilities become, nothing beats the personalization provided by human interaction.

A travel agent, for example, can provide recommendations based on their first-hand experience of a destination. A travel agent might suggest a carriage ride through Central Park or his favorite corned beef and pastrami sandwich from a local deli in Manhattan. These are local experiences the agent enjoyed — AI can never provide this kind of personalized recommendation.

Some travel brands might leverage ChatGPT for content marketing, including writing website copy and blog posts. However, if everyone has access to the same AI content tools, there’s a good chance that the content will start sounding very similar. It’ll be difficult for brands to stand out from one another if their websites and other marketing content all sound the same.

This will make unique, personality-filled copy more important than ever.

Again, it should be noted that the newest version of ChatGPT creates content based on a pool of data that dates back to 2022. It doesn’t actively comb the internet for updated information, as an actual writer or marketer would. Brands will need to double-check everything ChatGPT says, especially when creating content that will be read and shared by customers.

The rise of more intelligent travel chatbots

Travel companies of all kinds are using chatbots to offer real-time customer service, streamline online bookings, and offer tailored recommendations.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are already key components of a customer’s journey at Booking.com. Whether it’s used for instant translation services or automatically informing hosts about a late arrival due to a delayed flight, Booking.com leverages AI technology to provide guests with a seamless travel experience.

The platform isn’t quite ready to experiment with ChatGPT — saying the technology is still in a state of infancy — big players Kayak, Expedia, and Trip.com are quickly hopping on the technology. All three are working to integrate ChatGPT into their chatbots and virtual agents on websites to speed up trip planning and customer service for their customers.

***

While ChatGPT can recommend places to visit, things to do, and hotels to stay at, it still has many limitations.

The tool can certainly be used to enhance existing booking processes, but there’s more to a great experience than a fast checkout.

Tour operators and attractions that can provide guests with hyper-personalized itineraries and recommendations will be in a position to stand out from the rest. 

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Writer Carla Vianna

Carla Vianna

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