ChatGPT: hype or reality for travel?

Hype about ChatGPT got UAE ministerial forum to investigate reality of nitty-gritties of bringing them into the different industries. Whether it is students using it to do their homework or creating works of art comparable to Picasso prepared in a flash, news is full of stories about ChatGTP or similar AI systems, and their seemingly limitless powers.

TT Bureau

Simon Goddard, CIO, travel search and booking technology provider Vibe, believe that while ChatGPT is a step forward for Artificial Intelligence (AI), any major impact could still be a long way off yet. “I would urge everyone in travel to try and plan a weekend break or family holiday using ChatGPT. For sure, this is much better than anything to date and the potential applications are enormous, but for now do not believe the hype: what you are seeing in the news will not be a reality in travel for a while yet—and to some extent the human element will never be 100 per cent replaced.”

Aside from a need for the software to evolve further, Vibe, which is UK-based but has clients all around the world, including the Middle East—highlights five important factors that mean the roll out of ChatGPT in the travel space will be slower than perhaps some estimate.

Firstly because of a massive barrier to entry in the form of cost that will exclude all but the very biggest of travel companies. Currently only mega-businesses have the R&D budgets and computing power to make true AI possible. For example, Microsoft is set to invest US$10 billion in OpenAI as part of a funding round that would value the company at US$29 billion.

Secondly because without access to personalised data about the user, ChatGPT (or other AI for that fact) cannot recommend anything personalised—meaning that everyone gets offered the same results regardless of age, gender, location, or multiple other basic factors that would be necessary to tailor results. In travel, this is crucial as most good travel agents know their top clients personally.  For example, they can build on previous trip knowledge to recommend places and properties that are immediately suited to the traveler. More advanced factors such as budget, ages of children, birthday milestones and so on would all add further to planning the perfect holiday.

When it comes to travel, as opposed to picking a birthday present or recommending a restaurant, there is also still too much risk around getting basic but essential data wrong. For example, imagine if AI gives wrong information on what vaccinations are required for a trip or incorrect advice on visas and immigration rules? Or does not allow enough time for a stopover resulting in missed flights. An additional problem is that currently, Chat GPT only knows about information available until 2021 – and more than ever we are now acutely aware that geo-politics, terrorism, pandemics, and disasters can make whole regions no-go areas overnight. This means human checks are necessary and that not only defeats the object of using ChatGPT it also undermines confidence which in turn reduces uptake until it can have less lag time on knowing about ‘current’ affairs.

Serious concerns also exist that any at-scale provider who offers an affordable version would monetise this by proving biased results to lead people to their adverts or products. ChatGPT is exploring a subscription model for revenue generation, but it is difficult to see consumers paying for yet another monthly subscription on top of Netflix and countless others. More likely is that Google or Microsoft Bing will take full advantage of more lucrative advertising models with their offering, especially as these are better aligned with their search engine commercial models. At the moment, we understand when adverts are presented to us in the search engine results.

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