Platforms like Airbnb, GetYourGuide, Viator, and Tours by Locals have empowered ordinary citizens with knowledge of a city–or with a specific activity to offer within it–to become travel vendors. Through these marketplaces, anyone can sell their travel services, which has increased the already overwhelming amount of content available for travelers, and further complicates their decision-making process. Now, if someone is looking to visit Rome, they not only have hotels to choose from, they can rent a room in somebody’s flat, or book an old villa that has been listed up to offer an authentic Italian experience. Similarly, the same group of people visiting Italy’s capital, instead of booking the traditional, mass-marketed tour of the city’s core, can now opt to have an independent guide who can give them a tailored experience instead.
Due to this excessive content offering, countless hotels and tour operators are competing for users’ attention, and the amount of travel offerings is expected to keep growing. So, the problem remains, how to cut through the noise and find those offerings that work for us?
Conventionally, the way of finding the right option was filtration. Travelers would adjust their preferences by filling a variety of forms, or by choosing selections from predetermined filters. Providers, then, would attempt to match those preferences as best as possible. However, with the skyrocketing number of options available, the filtration interface does not work anymore. The interface becomes a bottleneck, since the infinite number of choices make it too complicated to navigate.
However, there is a solution to this problem, and it is called Generative AI. The New York Times has reported on how travel advisors in the United States are already using ChatGPT–Generative AI’s most widely-adopted tool–to weed out myriad activities and enlist those that could be most relevant to a particular client.
While ChatGPT has firmly embedded itself in other industries, its applications to the travel sector are still in an exploratory phase. However, if something is clear, it is that it has enormous potential to improve a traveler’s journey and to substantially enhance the customer experience. Since ChatGPT has the ability to generate an infinite number of ideas based on analyzed information, it can serve as the processing tool for the abundant content resources available and serve as a new generation interface between providers and travelers, saving a considerable amount of hours that otherwise would be devoted to sorting through dispersed information resources.
The way ChatGPT works is this: you can write, in simple language, your search parameters, preferences, and wishes, and you can receive a tailored result in return. This means that as a traveler, instead of being overwhelmed by a multitude of options and having to use numerous input forms, selectors, and filters to navigate through them, you can now send a list of requirements for your trip to ChatGPT and refine it until you receive a perfectly customized offer that meets all your needs.
This is why generative AI is turning the travel industry upside down. While before, the industry relied on machine learning and predictive analytics, these technologies are turned obsolete by the growing volumes of data. For example, Netflix and Spotify give us a recommendation for a movie, or for a song, based on the songs we just listened to or the films we just watched. But generative AI is different. While predictive analytics is an anticipatory reactive approach–attempting to anticipate a behavior based on the past–generative AI responds to the present, maximizing the chances of satisfying the user and delivering what we are looking for.
After that, we can combine generative AI with machine learning and predictive analytics, and significantly increase the accuracy of the predictions, as GenAi will be generating the perfect offers not only based on the available information online and user's "list of requirements", but also on the user data collected by machine learning and predictions made based on the user's tastes and choices. Implementing this solution is the best way in which technology companies can deal with the heightened amounts of data. Through generative AI, the search interface becomes more human, and the search process becomes more tailored to what the user needs.
As stated, by implementing ChatGPT, these companies can take an even further step, since generative AI could assist them in asking questions to determine the travelers’ needs, which would simplify the selection process and ensure that the choices provided to the customer are highly relevant to their interests.
Personalizing the customer experience and developing a better recommendation system is paramount on the agenda of most companies, especially those that are tech-driven or that consider technological innovation a key aspect of their competitive advantage. However, something else that needs to be considered is the user interface.
Especially as technology companies gear towards massive user adoption, developing a friendly interface will be key in order to ensure that the end user can use it properly and efficiently. Hence, reinventing the user interface has become a priority for technology companies, including those in the travel sector.
Recently, Google showed what a search engine that successfully integrates generative AI will look like, and as Airbnb announced that they would be implementing ChatGPT on their platform, many people are wondering: How will their redefined search engine look like? What other players in the industry will follow suit?
A way in which companies are attempting to reinvent the user interface is by repackaging categories and labeling them strategically from a marketing standpoint. For example, they can label a category as “Find Your Inspiration,” or create a specific category or interest that their algorithm tells them a user is likely to be interested in. The impact of this can be maximized through generative AI.
Besides deciding which products to sell, generative AI can also improve the travelers’ experience by smoothing the planning process. CNBC reported that the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has adopted AI to help its customers make smarter decisions if they are flying through there. For example, generative AI tools can help them to map their journey on their day of departure, including providing them with updated security-clearance times, places to eat near their gate, and even ordering a coffee or meal in advance so that it is ready for them once they clear through the airport’s checkpoint.
Airlines are equally nimble when it comes to finding ways to utilize AI to improve their operations and customer service. A remarkable example of a company that has done it on both ends–sales-wise and operationally–is Air France. Through generative AI, Air France was able to create tailored advertising campaigns, crafted to lure individual customers based on their unique preferences. Over 2,000 ads–each geared towards a particular customer–were created as a result, and according to a report, Air France registered a 50% increase in click-through rates.
There is something that needs to be kept in mind. While generative AI and Chat GPT can completely redefine the customer experience, they do not deter, as many critics say, the human touch. In fact, they enhance it. For a travel planner who is helping a couple design their dream honeymoon trip in Italy, generative AI can make a list of suggestions way faster than any human can. The travel planner can then rely on this information, and add their touch to elevate their customer’s experience even more.
Similarly, implementing generative AI to handle time-consuming tasks and free up the time of personnel–for example, at hotels–to spend more time interacting with customers, creating a win-win situation.
The potential is clear. Successful implementation of Generative AI and its poster child ChatGPT can provide enormous benefits to the travel industry. Players that are able to integrate it with the much-needed human touch and keep in mind factors like the user interface and the overall customer journey, are likely to be the winners and capitalize on an opportunity that Skift estimates could be worth over $28 billion, and that, as the industry evolves, could be worth much more.