Is artificial intelligence, better known as AI, the long-awaited savior of the human race, or is it the bane of today’s fast-paced society that is always looking for a shortcut?
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 an important role. The tourism industry is not immune from its far-reaching tentacles.
According to 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 is actively exploring how to use these technologies to to provide a smoother, safer and more interactive digital experience for their customers.
In theory, AI-driven travel tools could be extremely helpful to consumers, helping them take the hassle out of vacation planning while offering the kind of personalized advice previously only available to those who could enable the services of a human travel agent.
But are travelers really ready to trust AI when it comes to complex tasks like booking flights and accommodation, itinerary or budget planning? And what can travel companies do to ensure that the tools they build today are more than just a novelty and instead have a real impact on their users’ travel experiences?
Consumers are certainly open to using AI to assist with activities they consider a fun part of travel. For example, 39% said they would be interested in getting recommendations for attractions to visit from AI, while 36% would consider using AI to learn about local dining options. But in these types of use cases, it’s important that users feel like they’re still in the metaphorical driver’s seat.
“While we believe in AI and are open to using it, we strive for extreme personalization and surprising and delighting our passengers, which can never be replaced by a machine,” explains Inspired SVP Destination Experience, Ashley Collins. “While ChatGPT and other AI tools can certainly provide a foundation or complement an itinerary, there is a long way to go to fully replace human-planned travel. A big part of my job is knowing the members personally and treating them like friends or family. If I know a family member has a bad knee, I will choose a trip with less walking. If a member likes art, I will suggest a trip around the opening date of a gallery or special exhibition.”
Despite the supposed benefits across all consumer sectors, a number of consumers still don’t trust AI when it comes to certain aspects of travel planning and booking, according to NRG’s study. From travel enthusiasts being duped by shoddy AI-generated guides on Amazon to errors in information gaps generated by systems like ChatGPT, AI still doesn’t seem to be the solution to holistic travel planning.
Kuoda Travel Founder and President Mary Calderon adds, “A boutique travel company will proactively contact you and check in with you during your trip, which is something AI doesn’t have the capacity to do. Complex itineraries with many destinations and activities require the touch of an experienced agent who can seamlessly weave them together based on realistic timelines and expectations drawn from past experiences. When traveling abroad, 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 that if they were to use AI to help plan a trip, they would want to double-check all the information given to them by AI before making any decisions based on it.
* 81% are unwilling to share any information about their children with AI.
* 77% say they are not comfortable allowing AI access to visas, passports or other important travel documents.
* 51% say they are worried that AI-driven 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 less than half of that number (18%) expect it to be a net negative for travelers. Also, 61% of consumers say they would be willing to use 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, users can ask AI for personalized recommendations on which sites to visit, where to eat and stay, or how to get the most out of their budget.
However, while ChatGPT can make suggestions for planning ahead, it cannot solve problems on the fly. Human destination concierges help make sure the trip runs smoothly and can change your itinerary in real time. Collins says: “These concierges are locals who know the area like the back of their hand and welcome you to the property to help you settle in, give you a tour of the house and share their personal recommendations. They also stay connected throughout your trip and can continue to make reservations and plans in real time.”
According to Calderon, AI creates an itinerary based on the most frequent searches it has learned from other travelers, but not everyone has the same travel goals and AI does not have the same kind of knowledge as an expert living in your destination. She says, “AI is only as good as your own ability to write down clearly what you need and the accuracy of the information available on the internet. Expert local travel agents analyze, forecast and have the knowledge and connections to match you with your ideal travel guide, hotels and experiences.
Collins says, “My prediction for AI in the travel space is that even if the technology improves and travelers start to trust it, we will start to lose the human connection and excitement that can come with planning a trip. I love my job because I create memories for our members and create personalized itineraries with my own recommendations incorporated from my own experience.”
Follow me at LinkedIn.