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TUI Group is one of the first companies to test how it can use a generative AI chatbot to help consumers search through its own portfolio of products.

TUI Group released a ChatGPT-powered chatbot on its UK app, the first of what is expected to be a wave of rollouts that incorporates generative AI into the company’s tech. 

Using the ChatGPT–powered chatbot tool, released earlier this month, users can ask about TUI’s portfolio of tours or other ticketed experiences available at any destination. The chatbot responds with relevant links to access more information and finalize a booking.

This is the company’s first consumer-facing generative AI chatbot, one of several pilots to explore new ways that consumers can search and book TUI products, according to Pieter Jordaan, chief information officer for TUI Group.

AI Is Not Just for Online Travel Agencies

The most notable AI chatbot releases so far have been from large online travel agencies or other third-party aggregators of travel products. Expedia Group, for example, was one of the first to release a chatbot tool and is now planning updates over the next few months. 

Germany-based TUI Group, on the other hand, controls its own supply of flights, hotels, and ticketed experiences. The company owns several European airlines including TUI Airways, as well as multiple hotel brands, the world’s largest tour operator company, and more.

TUI Group’s effort is one of the first examples of a company aiming to use generative AI to help customers search its own stock of products.

Jordaan believes integrating the AI can be a way to ease the experience for users who want to book directly rather than through online travel agencies. 

“It’s clear when you engage with them, they are an intermediary, so when stuff goes wrong, they redirect you,” Jordaan said. 

“For us to build the package and to build the experience based on what customers want is much better and easier because we then end up being able to guarantee that experience rather than an aggregator that is just stringing together data.” 

While some experts believe that the large online travel agencies likely will be the biggest winners after implementing generative AI, some expect other travel companies will aim to take advantage in a similar way as TUI Group is attempting. 

Tata Crocombe, a hotel owner who also helps hospitality companies leverage the latest AI tech, said during a session at HITEC last month that the lower barrier of entry that ChatGPT and Google Bard provides will likely have an effect everywhere. 

“Basically, everyone’s going to have a chatbot pretty soon,” Crocombe said. “A lot of people didn’t take up the chatbots because they just weren’t functional enough; I think ChatGPT is going to change that.” 

Crocombe believes hotel companies that use generative AI will outperform the big online travel agencies because hotels will be able to provide information, like check-out times, that third-party companies likely will not have access to. 

“That’s going to be a big opportunity,” he said.

Company-Wide Generative AI Integrations 

Jordaan said TUI Group wants to be measured in its release of AI to avoid hurting the brand with tools that aren’t ready. Still, he acknowledged, the technology is moving quickly and companies need to react.

“At the pace of which we’re moving, I think you’re going to have to make a decision sooner rather than later, and I think it’s first-mover advantage right now because everyone will be forced into it,” Jordaan said.

“It must enhance the customer experience, not confuse it or detract from what we already have. If we provide something, and it ends up making it more difficult for a customer, or lets the customer feel less secure about what he buys, then I think it’s not adding value.”

TUI Group in April started an internal “AI lab,” where TUI departments can brainstorm how the latest AI technology could be incorporated into what they do.

The purpose was to enable a sort of company-wide brainstorm of how AI could be implemented throughout the company,” Jordaan said.

“Almost every sector of our company now is interested,” Jordaan said. “So because we now have this funnel, we can see all these activities coming in, and we can guide it.”

The company is running a number of pilots using all the available sources of generative AI, he said. 

Like the chief technology officer of Booking.com has said, Jordaan expects that generative AI will change consumer behavior by allowing them to focus on the intent of the trip — maybe a family vacation or a specific event — and then tailor bookings around that. 

“I think that’s the big disruption that’s happening, is the user behavior and the expectation will change quickly. That will also result in how people search and therefore how search engines engage with companies like us.”

Like other companies, TUI Group is using generative AI products like Microsoft Copilot to make internal productivity more efficient. 

“Generative AI is very good at doing a task faster, or improving a task’s output, or making a very complex task very simple and easier. But you still need the humans to do the job and do the oversight,” Jordaan said. 

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Tags: artificial intelligence, chatgpt, generative ai, google bard, online travel agencies, online travel newsletter, OpenAi, tour operators, tui group, tui travel

Photo credit: TUI Group is testing a generative AI chatbot to help travelers search its portfolio of ticketed experiences. Jan Vašek / Pixabay

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