A.I. – Artificial Intelligence. It’s almost the only thing anyone is talking about in some circles. AI seems to be everywhere nowadays: from Hollywood actors to content writers, creative industry workers are terrified of being replaced by A.I.; on the other end of the spectrum, those already using it to produce grant proposals or file TPS reports rave about AI’s efficiency and accuracy, saving them countless hours on otherwise tedious chores. But what about travel? Are AI travel agents, AI-generated travel guidebooks, and AI trip planners about to revolutionize travel? Or is this technology as far from replacing travel professionals as it from replacing movie stars: eventually, perhaps, but not quite yet. Today we’ll discuss AI and the travel industry.
Scott and Trevor Recap from Ep. 178: Scott & Trevor’s Excellent Travel Dreaming Adventure
- What technology is likely in 25 years?
- Global visas, facial passports and visas.
- Babelfish: tiny ear-piece real-time translation.
- Putting full travel itineraries together will become a snap and you’ll be able to ask it to design a trip based on certain wants and it will then also just be able to book the rooms on voice command, flight ticket, etc.
Trevor’s predictions How will AI change travel in the next 10 years:
Tiny ear-piece A.I. OS that operates like Jarvis from Ironman, providing you with real-time navigation, search, opening hours, time to flight departure, etc. You could be having a farewell pint with a friend and your AI assistant will inform you, “If you leave for the airport now, you’ll arrive 15 minutes before scheduled departure at your typical walking rate to the train, which has a 10% chance of being 5 minutes late at this time of day,” and then direct you along the way. And Babel Fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide: real-time translation. AI will be awesome… eventually.
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How the episode came about: Scott found an article about AI-generated travel guidebooks, how they’re dominating the charts but are pretty much just crap slapped together and marketed by tech-savvy opportunists. Beyond that, there seems there’s a few specific things to discuss:
- AI guidebooks and travel books
- AI-powered travel apps and websites.
- Travel Itinerary builders
1. AI guidebooks and travel books
Trevor: First, what surprises me is that people still buy guidebooks. Lonely Planet was losing money on all but one of their books a few years back. But then, Nick just updated the Cambodia book, so it seems there’s a new demand for professional content.
According to an article I found on the Telegraph an author named Steve Insight has recently published 17 travel guides that are available on Amazon. He even has an avatar, it seems but he’s not real and his books, according to the article, are rife with obvious inaccuracies, such as the line: “Alaska is a true haven for out-of-door suckers and comers thanks to its vast, wild geography of glaciers, mountains, timbers, and gutters.” According to the article, AI travel guidebooks appear to be created by ‘passive income gurus’ who understand both AI content generation and Amazon listing optimization.
Scott: NYT article: I believe this article the telegraph one had famous Europe guide book writer Rick Steves talk about AI writers vs his guidebooks. The real value of course was him actually being on the ground with recency, having a taste, style and standards that readers buy in to and knowing that when he shares it’s of a certain style and accuracy. I think if you just want an aggregated itinerary or suggestions, AI likely will pull it together decently, but maybe not up your alley, to your style, etc, as it’s just everyone. A brand is big. Eg if you like Tom Cruise movies / as an actor, or know you like cajun steaks vs steak tar tar.
Trevor: What I find interesting is that the travel guidebook was basically destroyed by TripAdvisor etc, where amateur human crowdsourcing made Patong in Phuket the best beach on earth. Even today’s facebook forums where people ask travel advice are horrible: entirely contradictory information. Maybe it was this shitty online information that made guidebooks popular again? I feel that people stopped using books because their smartphones were more convenient and books got out of date more quickly so it seemed, throughout the early 21st century that the internet and crowdsourcing was better, but the pendulum started to swing back just as COVID shook everything up.
SCOTT: Whether it’s Trip Advisor, your favorite travel magazine or travel site, you’re going to see AI written – driven articles and itineraries show up more and more but it won’t be noted that that’s what they are. I think this will be disingenuous and a point where knowing you have a real, knowledgable human will be worth paying for. A true trusted advisor and consultant.
2. AI-powered travel apps.
Trevor: These seem horrible to me. AI is culling information that doesn’t’ account for COVID. AI recommends so many closed restaurants and businesses. There’s just too much inaccurate data because of COVID that AI doesn’t know what’s true or not and just uses whatever, without knowing the truth. Apparently ChatGPT, for example, still has limited knowledge of data after 2021.
SCOTT: Yes – this will be good for the equivalent of the tour bus trip. Aggregating where people post the most selfies, check-in the most, pulling the Googlemaps ratings, etc, but those ratings and the people writing them will probably become more and more gamed. So if you have no to little real travel curating experience and just want to see the main, trodden stuff, then it will probably suffice.
Trevor: beyond recommending closed things, AI doesn’t seem to understand the logistics of travel. It just says, do this most popular thing and then this second most popular thing and then the third most. The first and third could be right next door to each other and it recommends a lot of excess driving, for example.
SCOTT: And how about the people that will be paying travel services/companies for itineraires and trips, that will actually be 90% AI – not real caring experts. It’s bound to happen. I think there is reason for caution in the coming years with new/unknown travel itinerary planners.
Also if you want a secondary or tertiary site – they AI won’t have much to pull from and certainly not as current and that will really reduce what you get back as well as the creativity and quality of the experience.
Trevor: Another article I came across had the audacity to say, “By considering factors such as your interests, travel dates, and budget, JourneyGenie creates optimized itineraries, suggests the best routes, and provides real-time travel information, making your journey seamless and stress-free.”
I prompted JourneyGenie for a three day family holiday in Siem Reap that gave no consideration that children might not want to eat dinner at 830pm on arrival day (let alone any day). Day 2 gave a vague suggestion that was essentially useless (Tonle Sap lake), gave a time-wasting suggesting to do the Angkor zip line today instead of yesterday when we were at Angkor Wat in the morning, and then suggested a closed restaurant for dinner.
SCOTT: There are a host of these out there that recommend, give maps, manage your money, etc. A Travel Massif piece recently had a bunch of apps that can help you plan and decide via videos/photos, put you in touch with travel planners, map out the tripo, etc, but I think this stuff will get you started and dreaming but that’s where it will top out for a bit. There’s going to have to be a massive breakthrough in this and it’s likely going to be a Google or Microsoft that can do it but it will take time. Again boring travelers to the main stuff to make an instagram – yes.
Trevor: All that said, I’d argue AI could be better than humans. Take Patong, not in the top 50 of Thailand IMO. An AI travel app could refine your perfect beach search. “An isolated beach with pristine white sand on an island with no cars. A resort within walking distance to a variety of bars and restaurants that has a private beach where the water offshore is deep, clean, and offers excellent snorkeling.” Maybe that would steer you to Phayam instead of Patong. AI has a lot of data at it’s disposal, so I bet it could get real good at this really quickly. Most likely as A TOOL FOR PROFESSIONALS more so than a replacement of them –not that a lot of travel “professionals” know that much about the destinations they’re selling either.
3. AI as A TOOL FOR PROFESSIONALS
Could AI Replace Travel Agents? Erika Richter, VP of Communications & Marketing at the American Society of Travel Advisors says in another article we discovered (LINK).
“If you want a top 10 list of things to do or places to stay, it can spit out those answers for you. But can it tell you which of those experiences are actually authentic?” Richter says.
Trevor: this one shocked me. According to a Forbes article, “More and more client transactions are taking place via chatbot. According to a TIDIO study… “Sixty-two percent admitted that they prefer to use an online chatbot service because it quickly can help them instead of waiting for an actual customer service representative to take their call.”
Now I hate waiting and I hate talking on the phone, but i have NEVER had a bot ever come close to any answer I’ve ever needed. Granted maybe ChatGPT is better (it’s unavailable in Cambodia), but I doubt it. I HATE chat bots. They just run you in circles.
SCOTT: As mentioned for the standard stuff – I think this is going to get a lot of people with standard charges for bookings, etc. But then again, people can google and book 90% on their own so an app or AI is going to have to have something compelling well beyond this to draw revenue. Let’s remember revenue will ultimately be needed to improve apps, their capability and AI’s.
Trevor: Maybe it’s good for people who want a standard, I’m going to Singapore for a long weekend and I’ve never been there: what are the things to do: I mean, most people are happy to do what everyone else does, no matter what they say. People ask me advice all the time but, ultimately, they just line up with the other sheep 99 times out of 100 when they tell me what they did afterwards. Maybe AI is great for herding the masses.
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