If Meta wants its new AI chatbot to be used for travel, it has some catching up to do.
Since ChatGPT was released last November, several other well-funded companies have released their own versions in an effort to compete.
The latest was Meta, which late last month released the beta version of a generative AI chatbot, called Meta AI, on mobile versions of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. The chatbot is powered by Meta’s proprietary large language model, similar to how OpenAI’s model powers ChatGPT and Google’s model powers Bard.
As with ChatGPT and the others, Meta AI can respond to questions about planning trips, booking flights, and more.
I tested the chatbot on WhatsApp to see how it performs for trip planning, and a few issues jumped out right away.
First, there were quite a few errors in its responses. For example, it “forgot” what was being discussed and had to be given the same prompt twice within one conversation. It also provided links to articles with its answers, but some were years old with outdated information.
Itinerary creation was another issue. It’s one thing that ChatGPT did fairly well from the start: an easily digestible list that often includes context, produced immediately with a single prompt. Google released Bard shortly after, and it had a similar structure. But with Meta AI, it took several steps for the chatbot to produce a barebones itinerary, and it was presented in a clunky format.
ChatGPT and Bard later upped their travel planning capabilities: ChatGPT Plus has many third-party plugins, and Bard recently released a capability to connect with Google travel products. Meta AI doesn’t have that — at least not yet.
Below is an overview of how Meta AI performed in three travel-related areas: itinerary creation, activities and ticketed events recommendations, and flights and hotels bookings.
To access the chatbot, go to the chats tab on WhatsApp. Click the symbol in the top right corner to start a new chat. Tap the fourth option, “New AI Chat,” and then tap the “Meta AI” option to start a conversation.
The first message comes automatically: “My name is Meta AI. Think of me like an assistant who’s here to help you learn, plan, and connect. What can I help you with today?”
Double tapping (or tapping and holding) on the response, as if to copy the text, gives options to report it as a good response or a bad response.
There are many early examples of itinerary creation with ChatGPT. While ChatGPT still has plenty of its own issues, it’s generally a good place to start for trip planning because of the detailed suggestions it provides without much effort.
Below is a refresher of the typical itinerary format on the free version of ChatGPT, using this prompt: “Can you make me an itinerary for Saturday and Sunday in New York City that focuses on fusion restaurants and unique museums?”
The experience with Meta AI was not so easy.
First, Meta AI was given the exact same prompt as the one on ChatGPT.
Instead of providing an itinerary right away, Meta AI replied with a few follow-up questions, including asking for details about the types of fusion restaurants and museum exhibits I wanted to see.
That would be helpful if done properly, but in this case, it derailed the conversation.
My response to those two questions: “Asian and Latin fusion; Contemporary art.”
The chatbot then gave its recommendation for “Asian and Latin fusion contemporary art” — not Asian-Latin fusion restaurants and contemporary art museums. Still no itinerary.
I corrected the chatbot, and then it gave a list of restaurants (see the next section). Still no itinerary.
When asking again for an itinerary, it wanted to start over until being reminded of the conversation above. Then, it finally gave an itinerary that was written in two sentences and skipped breakfast plans.
Things to Do
Meta AI seems to pull answers directly from articles it finds through Bing, but the content is sometimes outdated.
When I re-asked the question about Asian-Latin fusion restaurants, the response was for five restaurants throughout the city that the chatbot claimed were Asian-Latin fusion, though not all of them were. There were no links provided to the restaurants, so it wasn’t clear exactly which ones it was referring to, but one of the listed restaurants appears to be permanently closed. The first three spots on that list seemed to be pulled directly from an article by HipLatina written in 2017 that the chatbot referenced.
In response to a question about new public art displays in New York City, the chatbot gave four suggestions and referenced four list articles by Untapped New York written in 2021 and 2022. All four of the specific suggestions closed over a year ago.
A question about activities in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, led to a very general answer. When asked for specifics, it still did not provide much more information but shared links to Viator and GetYourGuide for booking ticketed activities. The free version of ChatGPT, in comparison, does not provide links but does share names of sites that list events.
Flights and Hotels
In response to a prompt about flight and hotel availability, Meta AI gives some specific information but does not include relevant links. In comparison, the free version of ChatGPT doesn’t give any specific booking information.
Meta AI does provide links to search and booking sites, like Google Flights and Expedia. But tapping on those links leads to landing pages with no or incorrect inputs, forcing the user to start from scratch.
At that point, why not just start on Google Flights?
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Photo credit: Meta recently released its own AI chatbot. Andrew Neel, Unsplash / Unsplash