Generative AI is still in the early stages, but major travel companies are investing in tools that many of them say will be an important part of the future.
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For developers, generative artificial intelligence will “allow our devs to kind of be super devs.” For consumers, it “can level the playing field from a service perspective.”
Those comments came from the CEOs of Uber and Airbnb, respectively, last month when discussing the changes that the tech could bring to their companies.
Since ChatGPT was released last November, many travel company CEOs have shared how they are implementing generative AI. Some have already released experimental tools to the public, while others have shared only vague plans.
Many of those companies are speaking about those plans at events or in public shareholder meetings. Here, in alphabetical order by company, are some of the most noteworthy comments from executives in May.
Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, shared details in early May with Skift CEO Rafat Ali about how the short-term rental company could change with AI. Chesky shared some additional comments with shareholders a few days later.
“I think that going forward, Airbnb is going to be pretty different. Instead of asking you questions like where are you going and when are you going, I want us to build a robust profile about you, learn more about you and ask you two bigger and more fundamental questions: Who are you? And what do you want?”
“And ultimately, what I think Airbnb is building is not just a service or a product. But what we are in the largest sense is a global travel community. And the role of Airbnb in that travel community is to be the ultimate host. Think of us with AI as building the ultimate AI concierge that could understand you.”
“I think AI can level the playing field from a service perspective relative to hotels because hotels have front desk, Airbnb doesn’t.”
American Express Global Business Travel
Paul Abbott, CEO of American Express GBT, said to shareholders on May 9 that the corporate travel company is exploring how generative AI can be implemented into the business.
“We do have a team that are focused on using generative AI models and big data to see what can we do to automate our processes more effectively. And yes, I definitely see that as a significant opportunity for us, not just in the months but years ahead.”
Two Booking Holdings subsidiaries, Kayak and OpenTable, have developed plugins for the ChatGPT platform. The company has said it is exploring other ways that generative AI can be implemented into the company.
Glenn Fogel, president and CEO of Booking Holdings, shared some additional comments at an earnings call in early May.
“I believe that we are going to be benefiting greatly from this new type of technology in many different areas, some we haven’t even thought of yet, and some things are going to be simple and easy, perhaps increasing the productivity of our developers — which we believe is hopefully going to achieve some very good results in the not so distant future — to things that perhaps are further away. Ways that people interact with us in that ‘connected trip’ vision, a way … to recreate that human travel agent into something that’s actually an automated player, but that does it so much better than the human being did it in the past.”
Damian Scokin, CEO of Argentina-based online travel agency Despegar, said during an earnings call on May 18 that the company is investing in opportunities for generative AI in the areas of software development, customer service, and revenue generation.
“There’s a lot of things that can be done and a lot of things we’ve been doing with AI and now even more with ChatGPT on the customer service side, but also on the revenue generative. Our ability to offer detailed information in terms of destination, recommendations to customers when you combine this technology with our knowledge and our insights of Latin American consumers is a game changer for us. And we’re investing heavily both in what’s better service in back-office to revenue generation. And obviously, there is also some upset in terms of [engineering] productivity.”
The booking company eDreams Odigeo — which owns eDreams, GO Voyages, Opodo, Travellink, and Liligo — is testing Google’s generative AI technology through a new partnership announced in early May.
Dana Philip Dunne, CEO and executive director of eDreams Odigeo, addressed the project during an earnings call on May 25.
“Starting AI-driven teams — with all development teams using AI for greater productivity and using latest generative AI technologies with one of the largest AI teams in Europe — can give us a competitive advantage in that we know our customer, their history, and that they are logged in.”
“So from the very first moment where they’re looking for inspiration for a specific travel plan, we know the individual customer and thus have the unique ability to individualize our entire experience, from inspiration to booking to post booking, pre-travel, and all the way through to completion of trip.”
Expedia Group has a plugin through ChatGPT and recently released a chatbot accessible through its mobile app. Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia, shared some comments on May 9 about customer interactions with those tools as well as what’s next.
“It’s been interesting to people, not a huge driver yet. And that’s why I say we don’t know how big a driver it’s going to be in behavior, but it’s definitely interesting.”
“We are on the forefront of looking at other ways that large language models can help other parts of our experience, whether it’s with our partners, whether it’s turning descriptions into property descriptions. There’s a lot of ways we think we can look at using AI in this construct.”
“We’ll see when the plug-in is available to a wider audience what it drives, and we’ll see what ChatGPT does to the search environment. We’d love to see more competition in global search, so we’re rooting for a more competitive search environment, and we think we’re staying on the absolute front of what anyone is doing in travel with large language models.”
Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, addressed an analyst question at an earnings call in May about the company’s plans with generative AI. He said the company is looking at how generative AI could be integrated into every part of the company.
“I think that the earliest and most significant effect that AI is going to have on our company is actually going to be as it relates to our developer productivity. Some of the tools that we’re seeing in terms of Copilot are going to allow our devs to kind of be super devs and to be able to innovate more, build more, faster. And that will essentially leverage and accelerate innovation across the platform.
“I think on the cost side, you can see chatbots powering a lot more experiences as opposed to, let’s say, live agents. I think the quality of those chatbot experiences is going to increase with AI.”
“And then we will look to surprise and delight: ‘Pick me up at the airport, I’m arriving in American Flight 260 on Tuesday’ — And we will know who you are, where your home is, what kind of cars you like, etc., and AI can power those kinds of experiences.”
Quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tags: airbnb, american express global business travel, artificial intelligence, booking holdings, chatgpt, corporate travel, despegar, earnings, edreams Odigeo, expedia group, generative ai, google, google bard, online travel, online travel agencies, OpenAi, ridesharing, short-term rentals, travel tech, uber