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An AI chatbot could help plan your next vacation

As Expedia's new artificial intelligence-powered travel planner rolls out, the question looms large: will AI change the way we travel?

While  Internet made travel information more accessible, AI is personalising it. (Pexels/Leah Kelley)
While Internet made travel information more accessible, AI is personalising it. (Pexels/Leah Kelley)

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When travel plans finally make it out of WhatsApp groups, planning an itinerary while considering everyone’s wants and preferences can often be the most exhaustive part of it. 

With artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI-powered tools now making life easier in different sectors, especially those that seem to squeeze out every bit of your energy – from creating content to writing love letters – AI's venture into travel planning might come as a relief for many.  

Earlier this week, Expedia, an online travel brand, launched conversational trip planning powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT which can help travellers plan how to travel, places to visit, where to stay, and how to get around. Furthermore, the chatbot also saves the hotels discussed in the conversation under the “trip” section in the app, so that you don’t have to constantly try to remember a suggestion. This is a feature aimed at helping people stay organised. 

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"By integrating ChatGPT into the Expedia app and combining it with our other AI-based shopping capabilities, like hotel comparison, price tracking for flights and trip collaboration tools, we can now offer travellers an even more intuitive way to build their perfect trip," Peter Kern, vice-chairman and CEO, Expedia Group, said on its official website. 

Other AI-powered tools that can help with trip planning include Roam Around, which can help build an itinerary for a city. Then there's Roamr, which comes with the extra help of maps and photos, and iPlan.AI, which aims to provide free, and customisable itinerary. 

Currently, there is focus on using AI and machine learning (ML) to deliver personalised and relevant trip options such as hotel locations, room type, date ranges, price points and much more. For instance, if you want to book the cheapest flights but often struggle with price tracking, AI can compare current flight prices with historical trends and price fluctuations, making it easier for you to decide. 

This, however, leads to an unavoidable question: as AI-powered features seem to present a hassle-free travel planning experience, would the new technology also change the way we travel? It could, at least for millennials and Gen Z, who seem to prefer fast results and less human interaction. 

Interestingly, this is not a new perspective triggered by the latest boom in AI. In 2019, a customer trends report by Zendesk showed that Gen Z and millennials were more optimistic about the benefits of AI in customer service. At least half of them agreed that AI will create more personalized support for them, as reported by ZDNET. The report showed that younger people were more comfortable with self-service. 

Calling up travel agents to discuss plans feels like a thing of the past now, with the Internet purging information with every click. The Internet is becoming increasingly integrated with our lives, from using Google Maps to check directions or familiarising ourselves with a new place, to turning chatbots to help with quick queries. AI personalizes this travel information, further cementing the path ahead towards self-service. 

There are diverse ways to make people try out AI-powered technologies. While Google Earth and Street give a glimpse into unfamiliar areas, virtual reality using AI could provide a more immersive experience to help with decisions about destinations. 

AI can also be used for hyper-personalisation, where, along with real-time data, a personalized experience can be created based on your interests and experiences. From activities to dining options, everything can be catered for the user, increasing the chances of a unique experience. Moreover, natural language processing can be used for accurate translations, making different regions of the world more accessible. 

However, AI comes with its set of limitations. For instance, ChatGPT’s data ends in September 2021 so its memory doesn’t go beyond that time period. So, if you ask for a list of the cheapest airlines, the list will be most likely based on data before that, making it unusable for now. Or, it might recommend a restaurant that was considered among the top five in a certain city until 2019 but permanently closed earlier this year, as CNBC journalist Monica Pitrelli pointed out recently in an article. 

If you are looking for help with planning a trip, getting an overview of a place, and ideas for places to visit, AI-powered tools may be good assistants. Right now, that’s the most they can do – assist.

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