With the energy going into some of these travel planning assistants, how long before travel agents are out of jobs? Probably not tomorrow, but what about in a few years?
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There are so many startups and other companies developing products powered by generative AI that it’s hard to keep track.
It is getting to be the same in travel as more big and small companies announce their chatbots for consumers, and others share news about business-to-business products for internal use.
Some seem to be more serious ventures while others seem to be a bit gimmicky. Regardless, there is no way all of the ventures can survive, and it may take a miracle for any of the consumer travel assistants to compete in the long term with the ones being spearheaded by the online travel agencies. One, because the big companies have more resources, and two, because they own huge amounts of data.
Still, some other companies may carve a space for themselves if they do it right. Many are trying.
Below are highlights of a few companies working on technologies for travel planning and booking that integrate ChatGPT.
One of the seemingly more promising ventures in this area is an early version of a travel planning assistant called GuideGeek, a chatbot powered by ChatGPT that operates through WhatsApp. It was released recently by Matador Network, an independent travel media publisher.
Through the text conversation format, the user can ask the GuideGeek chatbot for planning suggestions. And through an early partnership with Skyscanner, the chatbot can deliver specific information about flights and their cost, as well as links to book on the Skyscanner website.
GuideGeek’s long-term goal is that travelers would use it as a go-to tool for trip planning and booking, according to Ross Borden, CEO of Matador Network. The aim is that the chatbot will be able to offer detailed, personalized trip suggestions based on the user’s history, complete with information about booking costs and more.
The company plans to integrate its own data into the platform to help inform users as they plan trips. The thousands of short-form videos the company owns — which have garnered a combined nearly 10 million followers on TikTok through a few growing brands — could be used to provide a video roundup and help a user make a planning decision, for example.
GuideGeek will remain free for consumers, Borden said. Matador has a plan to monetize through business-to-business relationships. The company works with more than 200 destination marketing organizations worldwide and plans to launch the tech on their platforms this summer, for example, he said.
“This represents an unbelievable opportunity for each [destination marketing organization] to have 1:1 relationships with each and every traveler who expresses interest in visiting their destination,” Borden stated in an email.
The company has big plans for the role of this program within its company. Six of Matador’s 72 team members are dedicated to GuideGeek, and there will likely be more than 20 by the end of the year, said Ross Borden, the company’s CEO.
“All of our teams are contributing to GuideGeek’s success in some way and a lot of their work will eventually converge with this product or be integrated into it,” Borden said.
Same as everything powered by generative AI right now — developers are still working out the kinks. The chatbot told me that it had booked a hotel and that a confirmation email would be arriving shortly when that, in fact, is not possible at the moment.
Affordable Balaton Accommodations and Adventures
On a much smaller scale, the Affordable Balaton Accommodations and Adventures (Balatoni Szállások és Kalandok) platform launched several weeks ago as a way for travelers to plan and book trips to the popular Balaton region of Hungary.
The platform is using AI from ChatGPT to power a generative AI chatbot to help users plan a trip to the region with suggestions for things to do and places to see. Users can access “Anna,” the AI chatbot assistant, on the contact page.
Like many of the travel planning chatbots right now, it seems pretty unhelpful except with the early planning stages. But the company is working on strengthening the capability as it gathers more data from users, said Péter Márkus, the founder of the platform.
“Our goal is to popularize the spirit of Balaton, making it accessible and enjoyable for everyone while leveraging the latest technology,” Márkus stated in an email.
He said the AI from ChatGPT is being integrated into other areas of the website, as well, including to automate various background processes and to help registered travel suppliers answer technical questions on the back end of the platform.
Roam Around is another travel planning chatbot assistant in development.
Currently a one-man show by founder Shie Gabbai, the plan is to create a platform meant to do essentially do what a travel agent does, remembering and factoring in details such as dietary requirements and transportation preferences. The plan, similar to others, is that the platform will be connected to travel suppliers, so the bookings can be completed within the app rather than through links.
He is also working on adding a group chat element for easier group travel planning.
“Where I really see opportunity for Roam Around is for the long tail, for the cities that I’ve never heard of or like cities that big publications won’t cover,” Gabbai said.
“I think that there are other competitors in the space that have more and more features. But what I really tried to laser focus on is the user experience, how to make this as simple as possible, as seamless as possible,” he said.
Gabbai has spent his career working in business-to-business customer service, including for Google and Disney. He had started building a chatbot for customer support utilizing ChatGPT, but he decided that the technology is too new to adequately power what he wanted to create. That’s when he realized there could be a bigger opportunity with travel planning and booking. He has worked with contractors to write the code for Roam Around, and he now is considering bringing on a technical co-founder.
The travel planning assistant can be used now, though its functionality is limited. It can make recommendations and provide links for bookings, but it can be more difficult to get to that stage than with some of the other platforms. He said the platform has generated more than 4 million itineraries so far.
Despite a growing number of competitors, he is optimistic about the future.
“As a burgeoning industry, we’re still in the positive-sum phase where every new entrant only adds value to the whole,” Gabbai said.
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