Expedia Group is the biggest player in travel to have publicly released a chatbot tool powered by ChatGPT. This is just the beginning, and if any anyone has the resources to really see what this tech can do in travel, it would be companies like Expedia.
Expedia has released the first version of a travel planning chatbot powered by ChatGPT on its mobile app.
This is the first major online travel agency in the West that has released this type of tool. Trip.com, based in Singapore, released a chatbot earlier this year.
Expedia users can now use the tool — a separate chatbot from the virtual agent that the app has already had — to help during travel planning by asking general questions about a destination or trip ideas. (See a demo.)
The tool automatically saves hotels that the chatbot recommends. The user can then go to the “Trips” tab within the app and click on the saved items to check availability for booking. The tool does not yet offer specific real-time information about details like pricing and events.
This tool is in addition to the Expedia plugin for ChatGPT that OpenAI announced last month. The plugin is accessible to some users through the ChatGPT website, while the new chatbot is available on the Expedia mobile app homepage.
This app tool is in the beta testing phase, and Expedia said it is gathering data as users experiment.
While the new capability doesn’t exactly deliver the next-generation planning and booking experience that experts envision — a place where users can fully plan and book all parts of a trip on one platform — the tool does bring that vision a step closer.
The latest version of Bing, powered by ChatGPT, is probably the closest thing resembling that vision that’s been released to the public so far. The Bing platform includes a fuller picture of suggestions and links to accompany its results, although the links are often not helpful and there’s no booking capability.
The new Expedia tool offers fewer links, but they go directly to a booking page. However, the user does have to input all details from there.
This is the first major online travel agency in the West that has released this type of tool. Trip.com, the Singpore-based online travel agency whose parent is based in China, released a chatbot earlier this year.
So far, Trip.com’s TripGen does not offer any links at all. And unlike TripGen, the Expedia tool will only answer travel-related questions.
For an industry with so much legacy technology, it’s difficult to adopt and push new innovations. It’ll be the big companies like Expedia that are able to do anything of significance first, as Rathi Murthy, chief technology officer for Expedia Group, highlighted during a call in March.
“Honestly, the travel industry as a whole has a lot of legacy technology, and it’s not super easy to move in and adopt some of this. But I do see players like us — players that have core technology in the background, large OTAs — start jumping in to experiment and try things out,” Murthy said in March.
Booking.com has yet to release anything powered by OpenAI the company behind ChatGPT, or Google’s Bard, a rival. However, sister companies Kayak and OpenTable were among the handful of companies, along with Expedia, that have partnered recently on plugins for ChatGPT.
Booking.com Chief Technology Officer Rob Francis has said, it likely will not be soon — but he believes travel planning is sure to change. He sees a big opportunity in “adaptive content,” in which the tech could generate a unique page based on the deeper intent of a user when making a search query.
Rafat adds his analysis: “So Expedia is the first one out of the gate to launch a travel planning chatbot in its app, and it is…ok. Marks for iterating with speed, first with the plugin inside ChatGPT couple of weeks ago, and now with the reverse, integrating that same tech into its own app.
BUT, but, the results are very generic, at least the travel planning part, and even as I write this travel planning through ChatGPT is already commoditized, UNLESS, and this is a big IF these large companies like Expedia, Booking, Airbnb, Trip and others have to solve soon, they can train the LLMs on a unique and proprietary corpus of content that neither ChatGPT/Google Bard or any of the other travel players have. Which as far as I know at least on the trip planning/content side, none of them have. Give me two developers and I can build this on top of GPT-4 in a week.
So then the big battle — beyond the race to be first — becomes:
1) who innovates on the UX/UI side that is so unique that people are drawn to using it at top of the funnel and then lead to higher conversion to booking?
2) can any of these players find the proprietary content they can train these LLMs on?
3) what unique personalization they can come up with through AI to match the query to the actual air/hotel/cruise etc results the prospective traveler is looking for? This is the hardest but the best part to solve.
4) Will any of the big travel players create their own LLMs? That requires a lot of work but could be worth it, I would think Airbnb type companies could build in a travel-focused LLM, though to what end vs OpenAI/Cohere/Google/HuggingFace etc.”
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Photo credit: Expedia has released a chatbot powered by generative AI. kitzcorner / Getty Images