Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Tourism

Six Flags Partners With Google on AI Tools

9 months ago

Six Flags said Tuesday that it plans to release generative AI tools in partnership with Google Cloud.

The project includes tools meant to enhance visitor experiences and optimize business operations.

The plan is to release AI chatbots on updated versions of the Six Flags mobile app and park websites later this year. Powered by Google Cloud’s Vertex AI Conversation, the company said the virtual assistants will provide personalized recommendations and answer questions as visitors plan their trips, meant to reduce the need for interaction with live agents. 

“This partnership signifies a monumental leap in our strategic direction, ushering in a new era of technological empowerment for Six Flags,” said Omar Jacques Omran, chief digital officer of Six Flags, in a statement. “With Google Cloud’s technology, we are committed to not only enhancing park operations, but also creating unparalleled, personalized guest experiences. We will bring an increased level of agility and responsiveness to our operations, redefining the way we serve our guests and setting new benchmarks in the amusement park industry.”

Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud, added in a statement: “By ingesting and synthesizing information across Six Flags’ extensive park portfolio, generative AI will enable the theme park operator to redefine guest experiences, providing more personalized information about rides, entertainment, dining and more.”

The majority of generative AI partnerships in the travel industry have been with OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. 

Priceline released a tool in partnership with Google Cloud in July. And eDreams Odigeo said in May that it would be partnering with Google Cloud to integrate generative AI into its own technology.

Though generative AI technology is still in early stages, executives of many large travel companies have said they see the potential for disruption and are working on implementing it into their businesses.

Travel Technology

Ryanair and Lonely Planet Involved in New $100 Million AI Program by Amazon Web Services

11 months ago

The airline Ryanair and travel guide publisher Lonely Planet are taking part in a new $100 million program by Amazon Web Services to explore innovations in generative AI.

AWS announced the Generative AI Innovation Center on Thursday with four partners, which also include sales tech company Highspot and communications platform Twilio.

AWS said it is starting the program to connect its own AI and machine learning experts with client business to help them develop new generative AI products, services, and processes.

Chris Whyde, senior vice president of engineering and data science at Lonely Planet, said in a statement that — a common goal among companies looking to use generative AI for travel planning. 

“We are always looking for ways to tap into new technology and meet the demands of today’s travelers,” Whyde stated. “The AWS Generative AI Innovation Center, paired with expert-driven advice and Lonely Planet’s award-winning content, will enable us to provide more personalized travel recommendations, making travel more accessible for those around the world.”

The program will operate through workshops and other engagements to help AWS customers throughout the process of designing the best generative AI models for their businesses and implementing them at scale, the company said.

“The Generative AI Innovation Center is part of our goal to help every organization leverage AI by providing flexible and cost-effective generative AI services for the enterprise, alongside our team of generative AI experts to take advantage of all this new technology has to offer,” Matt Garman, senior vice president of sales, marketing, and global services at AWS, state in a statement. “Together with our global community of partners, we’re working with business leaders across every industry to help them maximize the impact of generative AI in their organizations, creating value for their customers, employees, and bottom line.”

Hotels

Choice Hotels Tech Chief Sketches Path to Tapping Generative AI

12 months ago

Choice Hotels sees a potential in generative AI (artificial intelligence) to reshape the hotel sector, according to an interview chief information officer Brian Kirkland did on Bloomberg TV right before the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend.

“To be commercially viable, and to be something that really transforms how we do business, … we need to make sure that we can securely use it. So how do we get private data sets in there? How do we curate the answers to make sure that … the right answer is coming back that’s curated and accurate, and not based on old data? That’s something we’re talking about with some of our partners. When [that’s available], it will be transformative.”

—Brian Kirkland of Choice Hotels

Kirkland speculated that generative AI could help guests find answers faster about properties and help Choice Hotels franchisees to figure out the right type of business strategy or even the policies around how they run their business.

Full interview here:

UPDATE: The original post misspelled Brian Kirkland’s name. Apologies.

Online Travel

Yelp Taps Turbocharged AI to Improve Online Search

1 year ago

Yelp has for months been testing how it could use the latest generation of artificial intelligence (AI) without undermining the trust of the consumers who use it to find business listings. On Wednesday, the U.S.-based user-generated reviews company released an updated search interface based on these advances.

For instance, a search for places serving “breakfast” will no longer merely return listings with the specific word “breakfast” tagged or mentioned. It will now also highlight listings that mention relevant words, such as eggs and pancakes, said Craig Saldanha, chief product officer.

Yelp’s search does tricks like this by taking advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and so-called large language models to help match consumers with the most relevant local businesses when they have a specific or nuanced need. It’s tapping technology similar to chatbot ChatGBT and other generative artificial intelligence programs.

“By leveraging these technologies to analyze the vast amounts of our user-generated content, in the future, we’ll be able to quickly, precisely, and succinctly summarize insights and provide personalized recommendations based on your search intent,” the company said.

The changes were among several others announced by Yelp on Wednesday.

Skift readers can get context by reading this month’s roundup on generative AI’s impact on the travel industry. Skift Research subscribers can learn more with the just-released report: Generative AI’s Impact on Travel.

Travel Technology

Google Releases Bard, the Generative AI Rival to ChatGPT

1 year ago

Google is starting to release the chatbot Bard, its rival to ChatGPT.

Google made the announcement Tuesday morning in a blog post. Users in the U.S. and the U.K. can join a waitlist for access. The platform will be expanded to other countries and languages later. 

Both platforms are powered by generative AI, a model that enables the technology to provide new, original answers in response to a prompt. The technology has big implications for the travel industry, starting with travel planning and marketing. Booking platforms, like Booking.com and Expedia, are among other travel companies exploring how the technology can be used to power the future of travel planning and booking. 

The blog described Bard as “an experiment,” and the next step in the process is to gather user feedback. 

According to the post, the chatbot appears to operate similarly to ChatGPT, except that it responds to prompts with more than one answer. Bard is connected to Google search, so users can search for items suggested by Bard if they choose. Google also said that Bard gathers current data from the internet to power its answers, while ChatGPT is limited to data from 2021. 

The post said the company will be integrating the tech into the search platform in a deeper way in the future. 

Google last week said that it was opening access to its generative AI tech to developers so they may integrate it into their own platforms. 

The underlying technology of ChatGPT has been open to developers since the chatbot was released in November.

Online Travel

Booking CEO Glenn Fogel Cites Generative AI’s Promise and Hurdles

1 year ago

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel cited the “explosion of interest” in generative AI (artificial intelligence), but counseled that it would be prudent to be patient about delivering on its promises.

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel
Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, pictured here speaking at Skift Global Forum in September 2022 in New York, is keen on more tech investment. Source: Skift

“But it’s important to remember that disruption has never been built in a day, and lasting innovation is iterative,” Fogel wrote on LinkedIn. “At Booking Holdings we have been using various types of AI across our brands for over a decade to remove friction from the travel process and our teams continue to explore what the best uses of this new transformative technology might be.”

Fogel cited the challenges, including reliable data sources, in turning artificial intelligence and related technologies into a better travel experience.

“I believe that generative AI and other technologies will play a key role in this new travel world, and many of us in the travel industry are investing right now to build the foundations,” he said. “However, there are going to be significant challenges. The problems of how to obtain real-time data from countless sources, process it all to result in optimal solutions, and then act rapidly to benefit consumers will not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, this is just one area, among many, where we are going, and travel will be better when we arrive.”

Fogel’s LinkedIn post was a tad more diplomatic than his comments last month when he discussed generative AI during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.

“Obviously, a lot of hype about AI right now, about generative AI,” Fogel said February 23.

Citing a “hype cycle,” and Booking’s long-time work in artificial intelligence, he said: “I’m not sure — I don’t think we’re into that froth of dissolution yet.”

Business Travel

Companies Boost Spending on Flex Offices and AI, Cut Back on Travel

1 year ago

Company spending on co-working spaces is on the up, while business travel is declining, according to corporate card and expense firm Ramp.

The clear winner is WeWork, but the report also pinpoints OpenAI, the maker of popular generative artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT, as another fast-growing budget winner.

The latest Spending Benchmarks report from Ramp, which has tracked patterns over the last quarter of 2022, covers $10 billion of aggregate annual spend across 13,000 of its customers.

Company travel and expense spend as a percentage of total transaction volume declined from October to December. The report also said in December that as a category, travel and expense, as well as lodging, both declined on the previous month — the first time they’ve done so in six months.

T and E spending
Ramp 2022 Q4 Spending Benchmarks

This could be due to companies tightening their belts due to economic uncertainty, but also because of mass layoffs in the tech sector.

Office spending jumped 5.7 percent in the last three months of the year, making it the fifth-fastest growing bucket of spend among top categories.

“The post-pandemic office is increasingly a co-working space,” said the report.

Spending with WeWork increased 90.7 percent in 2022, and consistently ranked as the second-largest office vendor throughout the year, behind Microsoft Store, it added.

Ramp Office spending
Ramp 2022 Q4 Spending Benchmarks

“Businesses aren’t hiring, but offices are still making a comeback as organizations look for ways to drive employee productivity,” the report said.

Artificial intelligence also rears its head. “We predict hiring will remain muted in tech-oriented industries that are focused on enhancing profitability metrics,” said the report. “It will pick up in labor-intensive industries that are addressing supply chain issues and demand. Spending with AI research companies like OpenAI will grow as companies invest in tools that can help lean teams achieve more.”

Spending on OpenAI rocketed in December, and it’s likely that steep trajectory will continue as more sectors begin experimenting in the technology.

Spending on AI
Ramp 2022 Q4 Spending Benchmarks

WeWork reports its fourth-quarter results on Thursday. 

Online Travel

AI Wars Comes For Travel Planning, As Bing Relaunches Around ChatGPT

1 year ago

The Microsoft-owned also-ran search engine Bing has relaunched around conversational chatbot technology powered by ChatGPT, the new sensation owned by OpenAI. In an event today, the CEOs of Microsoft and OpenAI gave a demo of the new Bing, and it will be open to all in coming days. The refreshed Bing provides a chatbox with annotated AI answers — powered by ChatGPT– to the right side of traditional search results. 

The conversational chatbot will, among other types of queries, great simplify how people could search for travel planning on search engines, as this example on the right shows, where the question was: “I am planning a trip for our anniversary in September. What are some places we can go that are within a 3 hour flight from London Heathrow?”

The difference between current version of ChatGPT and this Bing version of it is annotations to the sources, and suggestions on further queries to add to the original one.

These type of instant answers to queries has tons of implications for the travel sector, as we have been exploring on Skift in detail in the last couple of months.

Another fascinating battle to watch: will this conversational chatbot query come to the traditional online booking players (OTAs and even brands’ own digital channels) and what will it to do the travel booking process?

Travel Technology

Software Developer Makes AI Travel Itinerary Tool

1 year ago

During her Christmas holiday, a software developer created a tool to generate and map travel itineraries using generative artificial intelligence (AI). 

The Australia-based developer, Katrin Schmid, posted on Linkedin about the tool she made, called Journeai. It is powered by the generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, released last year by OpenAi, a San Francisco-based AI research lab that has gotten at least $2 billion in investment.  

This new subset of AI can generate a new, unique product based on specific rules it’s given, a big leap ahead of the limited way AI has historically used existing datasets to draw conclusions and make predictions. 

OpenAi’s ChatGPT can already create a personalized travel itinerary within seconds. The Journeai tool uses that capability and adds the interactive mapping component through Google Maps — showing how easy it can be to solve a notable issue with generative AI, which is the lack of details like time, date, and geolocation. 

Despite the bugs with generative AI that users continue to point out, this is an early example of how the technology is expected to shake up the travel industry, starting with travel marketing, travel agents, and tour operators. 

There is more to come. 

“By the end of the year, you won’t be able to tell the difference between human production and AI production,” said travel industry consultant Peter Syme in a recent interview with Skift

“Every single tourism business, from a hotel to a tour operator to the most prominent companies, has access to the same power from a content production point of view. Therefore, tour operators should adopt quickly and not lag to ensure the biggest advantage.”