Travel embraces generative AI | PhocusWire

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“I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’’’

So begins British mathematician Alan Turing’s 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” a seminal piece in the world of artificial intelligence.

Turing himself dismisses the question in the paper (“I believe it to be too meaningless to deserve discussion”) but goes on to ask whether a machine could imitate human behavior well enough to trick one human into believing they are speaking with another. The Turing test is still used today to determine a machine’s ability to replicate intelligence.

At the time, Turing could not know how technology would evolve, and in the 73 years since that paper was authored, AI has come a long way. But recent iterations of one particular form of AI — generative — can already replicate human tasks and do them more efficiently than we can, freeing up time and energy for other work.

Leisure-focused travel agencies are already jumping on board with generative AI, which uses other aspects of AI to create content that can include text and images. For some advisors, it’s become a go-to way to search the internet. For others, it’s jump-starting marketing efforts and itinerary creation.

No matter how it’s being employed, generative AI is already proving helpful, and its potential is enormous.

“We’re only at the tip of the iceberg with where AI is going,” said Scott Largay, director of marketing at Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn. “And with some of the enhancements that are happening as we speak, we’ll be able to implement it fully into our business going forward, not only from a marketing and content standpoint but in how we run our business and overall strategy.”

A timesaving curator

Among the most popular consumer-facing generative AI platforms that have launched in the past year are OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Bing Chat.

For all their potential, there remains a fundamental problem: They all can generate incorrect or biased information. And beyond that, many future use cases depend on integration with third-party systems and data. Additionally, there are ethical, legal and safety considerations; its use in, for instance, an agency’s customer relationship management software can raise privacy and security concerns.

But despite these challenges, generative AI is already proving to be useful to advisors.

Liz Tippit, a Global Travel Collection affiliate based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, uses ChatGPT, Bard and Bing Chat to create sample itineraries and curate attractions and activities. She particularly appreciates the fact that search results seem largely uninfluenced by paid advertising — at least for now.

And it’s a timesaver. Creating a detailed itinerary for a weeklong trip would have previously taken Tippit days. Now she can get input from generative AI in moments, then spend 30 minutes to an hour curating it and supplementing it with her own knowledge and client needs.

“A lot of people feel like the internet is a competitor,” Tippit said, “but it’s only replaced those who don’t grow with the technology. Embrace it. Give it a shot.”

Anne Densk, owner of Daybreak Destinations Travel in Danbury, Connecticut, has turned to generative AI for marketing. Like Tippit, she reviews and reworks any content the technology creates for her.

It “helps get the creative juices flowing,” Densk said.

Generative AI is also helping advisors with client interactions. San Diego-based Connie Majors, also a Global Travel Collection affiliate, uses it to bring up information quickly, especially when she doesn’t know a destination very well.

And even when she does, an AI tool can fill in some blanks. For instance, although she considers herself knowledgeable about France, a film producer was asking about a particular location with which she wasn’t familiar. She asked generative AI about it while on a call with the client, and it gave her enough information to satisfy the client.

A way to streamline

Largay sees potential AI use cases in every part of his business, from streamlining processes and procedures to education, events and beyond.

Like others, he warned that content created by generative AI needs a human hand to be finalized. “It gives you 75%, and then adjust from there,” he said.

Most recently, Largay Travel partnered with Approach Guides, which gives its advisors access to a content portal filled with experiences showcasing destinations. They can brand the content with one click to either Largay Travel or to their own agency. Then, generative AI can be used to generate and hone social media posts, again with one click.

It’s part of the agency’s overall strategy to be more proactive when it comes to marketing. In a time when opting out from mass marketing is at an all-time high, Largay said, he wants his advisors to have access to branded, personalized content they can easily send to individual clients.

“A lot of people have had the worries about AI replacing jobs, but I saw it very differently,” Largay said. “I saw it as a way to streamline a lot of manual processes that take time away from my team.”

Travel42, owned by Travel Weekly parent company Northstar Travel Group, is currently experimenting with generative AI for social media post creation, best-of lists and training documents.

“We’re still very much in the exploratory stages, balancing its potential for future uses with maintaining our product’s standards for unbiased, firsthand content,” said Karen Jordan, managing editor of Travel42.

The all-important prompt

Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, started working with ChatGPT when it was first publicly released last year. Her early experiments included asking it to edit copy that she wrote and point out grammatical errors. She quickly learned that, even with that simple ask, it could make mistakes.

Doncsecz moved on to Google’s Bard, which she prefers. She uses it to generate copy and asks it for trip-routing advice.

The most important thing she’s learned is that prompting is all-important with generative AI.

“It’s all in the way you frame the question,” Doncsecz said.

She’s come up with a format for all but her most simple requests: “Act as a (role) to perform a (task) in this (format).” The role could be, for instance, an expert travel advisor, a social media marketer, an editor, a CEO or a website designer. The task: an essay, ad copy, summary or blog post. The format? A list, PDF, presentation slides or code.

So a prompt could look like this, she said: “As a social media expert, please create five unique and innovative content ideas that will attract the attention of couples interested in finding a destination wedding travel advisor.”

She ends by asking Bard to be sure to ask her if it has any questions “so that you can produce with confidence what is being asked of you.” And, she’ll often end the prompt with, “Explain like I’m a beginner.”

Excitement about AI

At Global Travel Collection, Internova’s luxury division, a task force was created to examine generative AI, headed by chief development officer Cindy Schlansky. Two dozen advisors were tasked with using generative AI in their businesses and sharing what they learned and best practices.

Participants included advisors who had never used generative AI and some already using pay versions.

Examples of use cases included generating client communications, helping those for whom English isn’t their first language and creating marketing pieces.

Schlansky said she’s seeing an excitement about the possibilities of generative AI that is uncommon in retail travel sales; there have been conversations, for instance, about creating a database using in-house and partner data to quickly deliver answers to agents or clients. And there have been larger conversations within Internova about potential consumer-facing tools to match consumers to the agents most appropriate to their travel-planning needs, Schlansky said.

The working group is on pause for the summer as Internova works to establish best practices to, among other things, guide advisors in regard to potential legal issues.

“There are a lot of caveats in using it,” she said.

“It’s not going anywhere”

A lot of use cases for generative AI involve integrating the technology into proprietary data sets.

Expedia is experimenting with a ChatGPT-powered chatbot. On a recent call with investors, CEO Peter Kern said, “I think the future lies much more in a better integration, which will come as more large language models come out and we figure out how to embrace them with our own data. Right now, they kind of live separately.”

Virtuoso is watching the space closely. During Virtuoso Travel Week in August, CEO Matthew Upchurch said it’s likely the consortium will build its own generative AI technology.

“I actually think AI’s going to do a tremendous job of helping people do their job faster, and I think there are going to be many creative ways that our people will be using it,” Upchurch said.

Most advisors view it as another potential weapon in their arsenal.

“I think it’s going to be a tool, just like the internet became a tool,” Densk said. “Everybody thought that travel advisors were just going to be wiped out because the internet was there and everybody could just book their own trips. And while it did have some impact, travel advisors are very resilient and have learned how to pull things together and use technology to their own advantage.”

Advisors should start using generative AI now, Densk said. “That way, they can be pros with it down the line.”

Casto Travel Philippines focuses on business process outsourcing for leisure and corporate agencies. Right now, the company uses generative AI for training modules and to assist agents located outside the United States with contextual information. The agency is also testing chat features that generate questions for travelers to engage with.

“The more interesting applications are how we would be able to integrate it through our application programing interface stack,” said CEO Marc Casto, adding that the company would need to work in consultation with clients to go in that direction.

As far as what the future of generative AI may hold, he said it could be applied to everything from fraud prevention to quality control, fare validation and even avoiding dreaded debit memos.

Even itinerary management is fair game, a use case that Casto himself has tested on recent trips. “Oftentimes, it’s like, yeah, this actually is better routing,” he said.

“I just encourage people to not run away from this. It’s not going anywhere,” he continued. “It’s going to be a part of every industry and every business moving forward.”

*This story originally appeared in Travel Weekly.

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