NYT News Service
For now. Will Cordell/The New York Times
I would like to visit a history and amusement park. I also want a reservation for a 7 pm dinner near my hotel in a restaurant that offers vegan food and has a good wine list. Your phone will then generate the ideal itinerary.
For now, travelers using
The powerful new
Software that already offers creative cocktail recipes and college papers may need to temper expectations.
Oded Batta, General Manager at Traveland
Travelling is a great way to meet new people.
ChatGPT was asked by an agency in Bridgeport Connecticut to find out what excursions he could offer to his clients who were going to Tuscany. He wanted to know if the service would help with his job. He received a list with 14 activities including winery visits and museum tours, as well as a gelato stop in the square of medieval hill town San Gimignano.
Battat admitted that he knew about all of these things, but ChatGPT made it easier for him to collect the information. It also delivered the data in a form he could email to a client. ChatGPT is the service Battat uses. It was launched in November and has already shaken up the tech-driven industry, including travel. ChatGPT, unlike the AI familiar to consumers (think website chatbots), is "generative", meaning that it can analyze and summarize information from a large set of data, including websites, books, and other writings available on the Internet, and then use this data to create new original content. The advanced natural language capabilities of ChatGPT allow it to understand and respond in a conversational manner.
There are many uses and limitations
Travel industry could never be the same. Travellers can already "converse" and share information such as a destination, the time of year, and their interests with the system. They will receive a customized itinerary with vivid descriptions. The system responded to a reporter's request for two days in Whistler, British Columbia. It suggested activities like dog-sledding with "a beautiful team of huskies", and snowshoeing, which includes a local guide who points out local fauna and flora. ChatGPT updates its suggestions based on additional parameters. For example, adding that you prefer Thai food in the Whistler conversation led the system to suggest new restaurants. ChatGPT has some limitations. Its information base does not extend beyond 2021 and it is not able to access important travel data, such as airline schedules or weather forecasts, that are subject to change. The software is being updated, with a major update released just this week. It's expected to continue improving. The software can also give answers that are not true because it doesn't know how to distinguish between information that is reliable and unreliable on the Internet. OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, warns users that it may produce "biased" content. The software is available for free on the OpenAI site. ChatGPT can be used by tourist bureaus to create marketing copy that describes must-see attractions, while travel advisors can use the software to send emails to clients or to post on social media. It could be used by airline, hotel and car rental companies to answer more questions. ChatGPT was used by a travel advisor to send a "firm, but friendly, breakup letter" from a client she no longer wanted. The advisor had to write the prompt (the term for a ChatGPT command or question) a few more times before she got what she wanted. The adviser said, "My client told me she understood and was not mad at me." She asked to remain anonymous as she didn't want her former client knowing that ChatGPT wrote the letter.
A 'Significant New Step'
Chad Burt is a co-president at OutsideAgents. OutsideAgents has 8,000 travel advisors on its network. He said that "the imminent death of travel agents was always predicted and every new technology should be used." He gave a recent tech tips seminar to advisers, and is currently compiling a guide of prompts that his advisers can utilize to get the most out of the software. Burt has created more than 100 itinerary using ChatGPT. He said that the result was a great start and could "save some basic legwork", but a good travel agent would still need to fact-check it and enhance it. He explained that only humans can tell the difference between what travellers say they want and what they actually want. He said that the software scores "70 to 80%" but they are not looking for a C-grade. Expedia is one of the largest online travel agencies in the world. It has used AI to program its virtual advisor and personalize recommendations for many years. But ChatGPT represents a "significant step", according to Expedia CEO Peter Kern. Kern stated that his company is considering the new technology to provide customers with a conversational interface to Expedia. For example, they could speak or type questions rather than pointing and click. Expedia can also use ChatGPT's data to improve the personalization of recommendations by combining it with two different types of information that his company collects: the purchase history of customers and the current prices and availability of hotel rooms, airline tickets and rental cars. Aylin Kaliskan, professor of computer sciences at the University of Washington who specializes in machine learning and artificial intelligence and studies how society is affected by AI, predicts other travel companies are likely to follow suit, adding their data and programming to AI systems created by Google and OpenAI to achieve specific tasks. She said that the systems require a lot of data, human effort and investment to create. It will be more efficient for companies to build on them. Travel insurance companies, for instance, could create a system that uses the natural language capabilities of software such as ChatGPT to help travelers select the best policies or guide them in the claims process. Caliskan added that generative AI could improve foreign language translation and help travelers have conversations with locals. Combining it with virtual reality, this technology could allow travel companies and their customers to experience a "preview" visit of a destination by using a VR headset.
Fearing a 'AI Junk Land
Jeff Low, CEO at Stash Hotels Rewards - a company which awards loyalty points to guests who stay in a group of independent hotels - is concerned about the impact that new AI, such as ChatGPT, may have on lodging. Low says that while artificial intelligence promises to automate routine tasks, so workers can connect personally with guests, the reality is quite different. He said that hotels have cut more jobs since AI was introduced. For example, front desk staff were reduced when automated check-ins became popular. He said that "interacting with people is a very important part of traveling." Hotels can distinguish themselves by leveraging these connections. Low is also concerned that unethical firms could use ChatGPT software to undermine the value and importance of reviews posted by guests on travel websites, which many people rely on when making hotel decisions. He said that this kind of software would make it easier for review farms, which generate fake positive or negatively oriented postings, to become more sophisticated. They could even create traveler profiles, who will post reviews in a seemingly genuine manner over a period of months or years. He said that travel companies have systems in place to identify fake reviews. "But if an academic can't tell whether a robot wrote a paper for a student, how can Tripadvisor determine if the review is genuine?" As more travel companies use generative AI, there are also other possible downsides. Burt explained that a natural-language response sounds authoritative and "people will believe it more" than they should. Google rewards fresh content in its search engine rankings, so companies who want to boost their online profiles might use ChatGPT or similar software to create a larger number of blog posts and social media updates. Burt warned that the internet could become "an AI junkland". Even with all of the possible problems, an AI powered future could be a boon for travelers. If ChatGPT and other generative systems have access to the latest information, then a sudden shift in one plan can automatically ripple throughout the rest. This is according to Chekitan dev, professor at Cornell University's Nolan School of Hotel Administration. The system can, for instance, postpone a car rental and notify the restaurant you want to dine at that evening to rebook the reservation. Will the future see an autonomous vehicle which "knows" when to pick you up from the airport after your delayed flight arrives, and then take you sightseeing before taking you to the place that serves the best pad Thai in the town? Maybe AI and virtual reality engineers can team up someday to create a "Star Trek holodeck" experience that will feel almost as real and authentic as a vacation. And we won't even have to leave our homes. Dev stated that "this is uncharted territory for us all."