Although it may be easy to get caught up in the story of all-powerful AI, the reality is much less close to a “war with the machines.” The main value of artificial intelligence at this time is in its use as a massive database, capable of synthesizing enormous amounts of information into digestible responses. Bots such as ChatGPT are “generative,” meaning they’ve been trained to interpret wide swathes of data and provide users with answers to questions in a fraction of a second, whereas it would otherwise take hours to research.
This power might seem daunting, but this purpose also reflects its shortcomings. Due to its structure, AI is unable to provide the same level of nuance to its subject matter as a human would and can only work off already-existing content. ChatGPT itself admits that it lacks many of the qualities that make human-generated work unique, such as creativity, emotional depth, and personal touch.
The Inevitable Shift Towards Technology
Regardless of AI improvements, the movement towards the use of technology in the travel and tourism industry has been inevitable for some time. More and more, travelers are seeking the path of most convenience in their planning, with over 36% willing to pay more if there’s an easy and interactive booking process and 63% relying on technology to reduce travel anxiety and control health risks during trips. The use of technology at every step of the travel process also continues to rise, with 79% saying they plan their trips on the internet.
Whether or not AI exists, users are already drawn to online platforms to organize future trips. With this inevitable growth in the digital travel space, the most effective strategy is to accept these changes and grow alongside them. By understanding how AI and technology are altering the industry, the better prepared we will be as professionals for this certain digital future.
What Does This Mean for the Travel and Tourism Industry?
With the dawn of the age of AI, the inner workings of the industry are sure to change, but not inherently to its detriment. In a study conducted by the Journal of Tourism Futures, officials concluded, “AI certainly enhances tourism experiential services however cannot surpass the human touch[,] which is an essential determinant of experiential tourism. AI acts as an effective complementary dimension to the future of tourism.” Given the limitations of what artificial intelligence can do, its work will not replace that of travel professionals but rather supplement their efforts.
In fact, the rise in popularity of AI might very well lead to more efficient and successful operations. Chad Burt, a co-president of OutsideAgents, a Jacksonville, Fla., company with 8,000 advisers in its network, spoke with the New York Times about his experiences using AI in his work. He had used ChatGPT to plan more than 100 itineraries, asking for help to find activities and hotels across a wide variety of travel schedules. The results “can save some basic legwork,” he said, “but a good agent still needs to fact-check and enhance it.” Only a human touch can understand what travelers say they want versus what they really want, he says.
AI-generated itineraries are flawed on a technical level as well, as it lacks an understanding of the personal desires of each client. Search engines often provide misleading hotel recommendations as well as create itineraries that are logistical nightmares, leading to results that are well below the quality of industry professionals. According to Fox World Travel chief information officer Sam Hilgendorf, “[AI] sometimes provides answers that are both credible and precise, yet completely wrong.”
While AI can’t answer every question or plan every trip, it can undertake some of the industry’s most basic and time-consuming work, granting professionals the ability to spend more time directly with clients. “While AI can’t handle every customer question, it often frees up travel agents to spend more time on more complicated problems,” says Imaginovation Insider, a leading consultant for businesses in the digital space. “If AI can handle the basic GDS skills that once required the time of travel agents, agents could devote their energy to ensuring that customers are investing their time and money into a trip they genuinely want to experience.”
No Need for Fear
When professionals within the tourism industry understand the unique skill sets both they and artificial intelligence bring to the table, the more successful they will be in our new digital age. Although this new territory might seem tricky, human excellence is still irreplaceable—and with the help of systems such as ChatGPT, we might get an even bigger chance to shine.