Is Generative AI the Future of Travel Planning? These Experts Hope Not.

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Jake Cain is an entrepreneur and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. He spends his free time driving around the country in his late 90’s conversion van, affectionately known as the “Monster Van” with his wife and 3 boys.

61% of people are willing to use generative AI to plan a trip in the future, up from just 6% who used it for this purpose in 2023. 

Expedia names this as one of the biggest travel trends for 2024, dubbing it the rise of “Generation Generative AI.” In anticipation of this trend, the company announced a partnership with ChatGPT in April, bringing the chatbot on board as part of Expedia’s app. Expedia’s AI tool can recommend stays and excursions based on variables like budget, dates, and other preferences, such as looking for a family-friendly location.

AI and Large Language Models Promise Convenience, Ease

Trip-planning sites have long relied on AI and machine learning to provide recommendations. The Hotels.com web app, for example, offers Smart Shopping, an AI-powered experience that recommends hotel rooms based on 40 variables.

However, with large language models (LLMs) on the scene, the way travelers can use AI to search for travel experiences is shifting. 

Tools like Matador Network’s GuideGeek and trip.com’s TripGenie harness the power of LLMs to make finding the perfect trip more straightforward than ever. “GuideGeek helps its users stay on budget, avoid crowds (an increasingly important part of trip planning these days), and shape their travel to their unique preferences, all while saving time,” says Matador CEO Ross Borden.

The AI’s ability to understand and interpret conversational text partly drives this streamlined planning process. The chat-style interface eliminates the need to filter searches by clicking through available variables. Instead, these tools simplify travel planning and booking into a chat conversation.

“Many GuideGeek users are planning family travel by asking things like, ‘What hotels would you recommend for us since my kids are 4 and 7 years old?'” Borden explains. 

Travelers Who Use AI Travel Planning Are Likely to Do So Again

User satisfaction is high. McKinsey research reports that users who engage with trip.com’s TripGenie exhibit an order conversion rate twice that of the average user and a retention rate 30-40% higher than the average user. 

GuideGeek’s research indicates similar success, stating that 79% of survey respondents who previously used travel AI said they would likely use it to plan their holiday travel this year. 

Travel Experts Disagree That AI Is the Answer

However, despite user popularity, travel experts are skeptical. 

“We tried using ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas for things we could do on our way to Mackinac Island,” says Karee Blunt, an experienced traveler and travel blogger at Our Woven Journey. “At first, we were excited about the options but were quickly disappointed to learn [ChatGPT] completely made up a waterpark that had never existed! We quit using it to help plan our vacation after that.”

Other travelers have had similarly disappointing experiences with AI’s accuracy. Emese Maczko, a travel writer for Eco Lodges Anywhere, used ChatGPT to help her find waterfalls to visit in Hawaii. She discovered that the chatbot delivered inaccurate results, recommending waterfalls on different islands that had been closed even before ChatGPT’s information cutoff date. “Users who are novices to how AI works will use very simple prompts and may believe the results without fact-checking,” she worries. 

Accuracy isn’t the only concern when it comes to relying on AI for travel planning. Jen Barnett, co-founder of Expatsi.com, points out that while AI can provide recommendations or even lay out an itinerary, there is no replacement for the nuance a human travel expert can bring to the planning process.

“When you’re researching a trip yourself, the first 80% is going through the generic info that you get from every blog and guidebook that’s also the same info ChatGPT pulls,” she explains. 

“But the last 20% is magic- when you get familiar with the destination and start to find out-of-the-way places and special activities that AI never could. I’m planning a group trip to Spain & Portugal, and the last things I found were a little studio in Porto where we will paint our own mosaic tiles and a spot in Spain with the best sunsets in the country. I think it’s worthwhile to use AI to get started, but I’d only stick with it if I wanted the most boring and crowded trip imaginable.” 

Travelers’ growing willingness to embrace AI for travel planning marks a significant shift for the industry. While initial user satisfaction is high, travel experts still harbor concerns over accuracy and remain skeptical that LLM-powered planning tools can replicate the human touch in trip planning. 

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