There’s a new poster child for generative AI – ChatGPT – that is taking travel and the world by storm. It joins Google’s large language model (LLM), PaLM2 that powers Bard, and Facebook’s LLaMA at the cutting edge of generative AI, in the myriad of ways that this new technology will reshape the customer journey and how travel operations are managed.
66% of all bookings are conducted online in 2023, and mobile accounts for 35% of all online sales
Source: Euromonitor International
With travel highly digitalised, where 66% of all bookings are conducted online in 2023, and mobile accounts for 35% of all online sales, disruption from generative AI is already rife.
Balancing privacy and personalisation
To date, consumers are relatively comfortable with new technology such as voice assistance providing personalised product information. However, the big question is how much they will embrace generative AI that depends on increasingly sharing their private data to enable true personalisation.
45.1% of consumers agreed that they are concerned about how much data companies hold on them in 2023
Source: Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Digital Survey
There is already resistance: 45.1% of consumers agreed that they are concerned about how much data companies hold on them in 2023, while only 23.1% felt in control of their data and 21.8% would not be willing to share any personal information at all.
Generative AI goes mainstream
Released in November 2022 by OpenAI, supported by Microsoft, the speed of adoption of ChatGPT4 has been record-breaking, reaching 100 million users within two months, going viral thanks to the program’s ability to create content in text or visual form, answering questions and providing recommendations in a natural way.
According to ChatGPT itself, “ChatGPT is a powerful language model that can perform a wide range of tasks related to natural language processing and generation.”
This is leading to an accelerated new phase of automation, with functions as diverse as operations, communications, marketing, promotion, sales, coding and even sustainability all experiencing a shake-up.
A resounding 97.8% of travel executives stated that AI would have an impact over the next 1-5 years
Source: Euromonitor Voice of the Industry: Travel Survey
AI is already a fact of life in the travel industry.
Leap forward in personalised trip planning
Expedia announced in April 2023 its collaboration with OpenAI, offering in-app trip planning powered by ChatGPT for iOS, as well as offering a plug-in to ChatGPT Plus users. The Expedia ChatGPT experience provides personalised recommendations and facilitates bookings, acting like a virtual travel assistant, delivering relevant results for hotels, flights and what to do in the destination.
Booking Holdings’ Kayak and OpenTable also announced ChatGPT plug-ins. Other travel brands like TripAdvisor, GetYourGuide and Klook followed suit. Trip.com integrated ChatGPT into TripGen, its newly released AI chatbot that provides real-time assistance, itinerary planning and booking tips in the pre-trip stage. Hotels and airlines, meanwhile, are turning to generative AI for customer service, whilst automating menial tasks.
Ever more integration of ChatGPT will take place across the different stages of the customer journey. Generative AI is only at the beginning of its journey, giving consumers the “ultimate concierge” at their fingertips, as Airbnb puts it.
AI race creates controversy and risks
However, the path of AI adoption will not run smooth as there are major concerns over consumer privacy with countries like Italy temporarily banning ChatGPT. There are also concerns over large language models being reliant on out-of-date internet knowledge, with a lag of two years in the case of ChatGPT with no access to current events or real-time information. However, access to real-time data has been enabled for the latter thanks to a new plug-in with Microsoft Bing.
Furthermore, the risks of amplifying misinformation, bias and inequality are all too real. Safety and security of consumers must be of paramount importance. Tech leaders like Elon Musk recently demanded a pause on AI development to avoid risks to humanity including possible extinction from superintelligence, stating that the AI race was out of control and time was needed to enable government policy to play catch-up.
Another risk from relying on ChatGPT is that everything will become increasingly generic, leading to a loss of authenticity for 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 fulfilled to the necessary standard in the real world, leading to consumer dissatisfaction and personal risk.
AI unleashes new era of work
There are already alarm bells ringing about what an era of mass automation will usher in regarding the future of work, especially for routine tasks. However, opportunities exist to move to a 4-day week, creating additional leisure and blended travel demand, whilst upskilling the workforce in creativity and empathy where machines cannot compete.
Travel agents faced mass disruption due to the rise of online travel three decades ago, that led to mass store closures and job losses. Now, the sector is ripe for more disruption as generative AI accelerates automation of tasks across every stage of the customer journey, before, during and after the trip. With Microsoft planning to integrate generative AI into its Microsoft 365 Copilot software, it will become ever more prevalent in consumers’ daily lives and work, whether we like it or not.
As before, travel brands will take the rough with the smooth 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.
Read our report, Travel in the Metaverse for more analysis on the impact of future technology on travel brands and destinations.