Is Artificial Intelligence, commonly known as AI, the long-awaited savior of the human race, or is it the bane of today’s fast-paced, always-looking-for-a-shortcut society?
Although often without their knowledge or consent, consumers are affected by AI more than they realize. From healthcare to financial interactions and transportation to agriculture, AI is now playing a major role. The travel industry is not immune from its far-reaching tentacles.
According to the National Research Group (NRG), a global data and insights firm, journalists are using AI to write online travel guides, influencers are showing their followers how to plan vacations with ChatGPT 2 and everyone from small travel agencies to industry giants are actively exploring how to use these technologies to provide a smoother, safer and more interactive digital experience for their customers.
In theory, AI-powered travel tools could be enormously helpful to consumers, helping to take the hassle out of vacation planning while offering the kind of personalized advice previously available only to those who could afford the services of a human travel agent.
But are travelers really ready to put their faith in AI when it comes to complex tasks like booking flights and accommodations, an itinerary or planning a budget? And what can travel companies do to ensure that the tools they’re building today are more than just a novelty, and instead have a real impact on the travel experiences of their users?
Consumers are certainly open to using AI to help with activities they see as a fun part of the travel experience. For example, 39% say that they’d be interested in getting recommendations for attractions to visit from an AI, while 36% would consider using an AI to find out about local dining options. But with these sorts of use cases, it’s important that consumers feel as if they’re still in the metaphorical driving seat.
“While we believe in AI and are open to leveraging it, we lean into extreme personalization and surprise and delight our travelers, which can never be replaced by a machine,” explains Inspirato SVP Destination Experience, Ashlee Collins. “While ChatGPT and other AI tools can certainly provide a base or supplement an itinerary, it has a long way to go to fully replace human-planned trips. A big part of my job is knowing members personally and treating them as I would friends or family. If I know a family member has a bad knee, I’ll choose a journey with less walking. If a member loves art, I’ll suggest a trip around a gallery opening date or special exhibit.”
Despite its purported advantages across all consumer sectors, a number of consumers still do not trust AI when it comes to certain aspects of planning and booking travel, according to NRG’s study. From travel enthusiasts being duped by shoddy AI generated guidebooks on Amazon to errors in gaps of information generated by systems like ChatGPT, AI does not yet seem to be the solution to holistic travel planning.
Kuoda Travel Founder and President Mery Calderon adds, “A boutique travel company will proactively reach out and check in with you throughout your trip, which is something that AI doesn’t have the capacity to do. Intricate itineraries with lots of destinations and activities require the touch of an experienced agent that can weave them seamlessly based on realistic timelines and expectations derived from past experiences. When traveling internationally, a certified travel company can ensure your safety at all times, going as far as creating real time alternatives when unforeseen circumstances arise.”
A summary of the NRG study concludes:
* 81% say if they were using AI to help plan a trip, they’d want to double check all the information given to them by the AI before making any decisions based on it.
* 81% are unwilling to share any information about their children with AI.
* 77% say that they are not comfortable letting AI access visas, passports or other important travel documents.
* 51% say they’re worried AI-powered travel tools will fail to adequately protect their personal data.
On the other hand, consumers are already excited about the potential applications AI could have for the travel industry. Forty-six percent of US consumers expect AI to have an overall positive impact on the travel experience, while fewer than half that number (18%) expect that it will be a net negative for travelers. Also, 61% of consumers say that they’d be willing to use a conversational AI to help plan a future trip.
Perhaps the most relevant and exciting application of the technology, from a consumer perspective, is the possibility of using conversational AI as a kind of virtual travel agent or concierge. Before a trip, consumers could ask an AI for personalized recommendations about which sites to visit, where to eat and stay or how to get the most out of their budgets.
However, while ChatGPT can make suggestions for pre-planning, it can’t solve problems on the fly. Human destination concierges help make sure the trip goes smoothly and can amend your itinerary in real-time. Collins says, “These concierges are locals who know the area like the back of their hand and meet you at the property to help you settle in, give you an overview of the house and share their personal recommendations. They also stay in touch your entire trip and can continue making reservations and plans in real time.”
According to Calderon, AI creates an itinerary based on the most common searches it has learned from other travelers, but not everyone has the same travel goals, and AI doesn’t have the same kind of knowledge that an expert living in your destination does. She says, “AI is only as good as your own ability to clearly write down what you need, and the accuracy of the information available on the internet. Expert, local travel agents analyze, anticipate, and have the knowledge and connections to match you with your ideal travel guide, hotels, and experiences.”
Collins says, “My prediction with AI in the travel space is that, even if the technology improves and travelers become more trusting of it, we’ll start to lose the human connection and excitement that can come with planning a trip. I love my job because I get to create memories for our members and build custom itineraries with my own recommendations included from my own experiences.”
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