AI isn't 100% ready for trip-planning just yet
- "They have a terrible habit of hallucinating," or giving wrong answers, Fogel noted in an interview with Axios.
Why it matters: Trip-planning often involves scrolling through endless reviews and checking myriad flight and hotel reservation options in too-many open tabs and windows.
- It's natural to wonder: Wouldn't it be nice if AI could take that all away?
Driving the news: Booking.com, Expedia, Tripadvisor and others —including Kayak and Priceline, both owned by the same parent company as Booking.com — have recently added AI trip planning capabilities that largely rely on ChatGPT.
- "Play with them; enjoy using them," advises Fogel. But "make sure in these early stages to not consider information coming through a large language model as being gospel."
- He compared it to the early days of consumer access to GPS systems, when — occasionally — people died after being led into danger.
We tried it: I asked AI trip planners on three different sites: "Give me an itinerary for a road trip from New York to California."
- Expedia's app delivered an (over)ambitious 13-day trip that included stops in Pittsburgh, Chicago, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon and all along the California coast.
- Booking.com's app served up a similar 10-day trip that covered less territory and took a more northerly route — through Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone.
- A site called Roam Around that bills itself as "your personal AI travel guide" could not handle the request at all — it coughed out a 5-day itinerary of sightseeing in New York City.
Yes, and: The first suggestion on Roam Around's itinerary was: "Begin your day with a classic New York slice at Joe's Pizza in Manhattan" — but it did not specify which of the several places by that name it meant.
Where it stands: Human travel agents are still very much with us, of course, even in an era of online DIY travel planning. But their roles have shifted, as the travel news website Skift explains, to "part-crisis manager, part-shrink."
- "A 2021 poll by the American Society of Travel Advisors found 76% of advisors saw an increase in customers compared to prior to the pandemic, while 81% said they were hearing from consumers who had never used an advisor," Skift reports.
What's next: Eventually, AI could make travel planning as personalized and easy as it can be with a human travel agent, who — for a price — can suggest trips, deals and packages, make all the arrangements for you, and help when something goes awry.
- "That's the ultimate goal, and that's what we're driving to," Fogel said.
Details: Among the pain points that AI could solve, Fogel suggested, is the ability to pick flights based on desired seating arrangements.
- For a family of four, "right now there's no way to search for a flight that will enable me to have the four of us sit together," he said.
- Another example Fogel gave involved selecting a hotel in London: His priority is that it have a good gym, while his wife likes a nice afternoon tea.
- "Generative AI will be able to come back to me and show us unique content that is emphasizing, 'Here's the quality of the gym at these hotels that we know you like; here's the quality of the afternoon tea,'" he said. "So it'll say, 'These are the ones that we — meaning AI — think would be best for you and your wife.'"
Yes, but: For now, travel sites' AI helpers are somewhat limited or balky — a lot depends on what question you ask and whether you're looking for just some cool on-the-ground recommendations (no problem) or actual booking help (sorry!).
- "If you want a top 10 list of things to do or places to stay, it can spit out those answers for you," Erika Richter, spokeswoman for the American Society of Travel Advisors, told TIME. "But can it tell you which of those experiences are actually authentic?"
The big picture: Post-pandemic, the itch to travel has gotten so intense that some destinations have been overrun with tourists — think of the crowding that some European hotspots experienced last summer — and that problem could potentially be amplified by AI, which logically suggests the most popular attractions.
The bottom line: Until improvements arrive, AI travel chatbots are better suited to inspiration and fantasy armchair travel — that tantalizing sport of envisioning the perfect vacation experience without having to endure the crowds, wait times, and an airplane full of other people's pungent foods, fussy toddlers and emotional support French bulldogs.