A ‘significant new step’
Some in the industry worry that as systems like ChatGPT improve, they might put travel advisers out of business, said Chad Burt, a co-president of OutsideAgents, a Jacksonville, Fla., company with 8,000 advisers in its network. But, he said, “the imminent demise of travel agents has always been predicted, and each new technology is a tool to be used.” He recently gave a tech tips seminar to his advisers and is compiling a list of prompts his advisers can use to make the most of the software.
Mr. Burt, who has been experimenting with ChatGPT, has used it to create more than 100 itineraries. The result is a great starting point and “can save some basic legwork,” he said, “but a good agent still needs to fact-check and enhance it.” For example, he explained, only a human can tease out what travelers say they want versus what they really want. The software gets “70 or 80 percent — but we’re not aiming for a C grade,” he said.
Expedia, one of the world’s largest online travel companies, has been using A.I. for years to personalize recommendations and program its online virtual adviser, but ChatGPT is a “significant new step,” said Peter Kern, Expedia’s chief executive.
His company is looking at the new technology as a possible way to give customers a more conversational way to interact with Expedia, Mr. Kern said, for example, by speaking or typing questions instead of pointing and clicking. Expedia could also work with ChatGPT to personalize recommendations better by combining its data with the two types of data his company tracks: customers’ purchase history and the most current pricing and availability of airline tickets, hotel rooms and rental cars.
Aylin Caliskan, a University of Washington professor of computer science who studies machine learning and how society affects artificial intelligence, predicts that other travel companies will go the same route, adding their own data and programming to generative A.I. systems like those being created by Google, Amazon and OpenAI, to accomplish specific tasks.
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