A guide to understanding the benefits — and implications — of generative AI for destination marketing.
By Tina Kelly
For the past two decades, technology has been transforming travel and destination marketing, from the ubiquity of online travel agencies to the advent of the word “Instagrammable.” Now, as AI (artificial intelligence) tools like ChatGPT go mainstream, the landscape has begun to shift again. Nearly a third of U.S. travelers (32%) are likely to use ChatGPT to plan a trip and 14% have already used it for travel planning, according to research from Longwoods International, so what does this mean for the future of the industry?
What Is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is an AI model that can have text-based conversations with users, providing human-like responses based on its training on a wide range of text data. While most consumers may already be familiar with AI in the form of website chatbots, ChatGPT is more sophisticated and conversational. That’s because this form of artificial intelligence is generative, which means it can analyze and summarize content from any writing available on the internet and use it to create new content.
The Pros and Cons of ChatGPT in Travel Marketing
Think of generative AI as an assistant rather than a replacement — it’s at its best when it is supporting the work of marketers rather than duplicating it. Like any new technology, however, ChatGPT isn’t without its drawbacks, especially during this early adoption phase. Here’s what to consider:
Pro: ChatGPT can engage with potential customers on your website or social media platforms, provide personalized recommendations, answer FAQs (frequently asked questions) and assist with trip planning.
Con: The tool isn’t always able to evaluate source reliability, so it may sometimes offer information that’s untrue or overly generic.
What the experts say: “Travel is fundamentally about connecting people and communities, and that human connection will always play a crucial role in the travel experience,” said Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, parent company to Booking.com, in an interview with CNBC. “The innovation happening in travel should be all about making the human interaction between travelers and supplier partners even richer, while creating efficiencies at scale.”
Only a human can tease out what travelers say they want versus what they really want.
Pro: AI can help travelers create customized itineraries based on their preferences, budget and travel dates. By providing suggestions for activities, attractions, accommodations and transportation options, ChatGPT can assist in creating tailored travel plans that meet the specific needs of your customers.
Con: One of the biggest buzz words in travel is “authenticity.” Today’s traveler seeks lesser-known experiences and hidden gems — generic recommendations from AI could be perceived as not just inauthentic, but bland — or worse, lazy marketing.
What the experts say: Travel agent Chad Burt, a co-president of OutsideAgents, has used ChatGPT to create more than 100 itineraries, he told The New York Times. The result is a great starting point and “can save some basic legwork,” he said, “but a good agent still needs to fact-check and enhance it.” For example, he explained, only a human can tease out what travelers say they want versus what they really want.
Sharing Destination Information
Pro: AI can provide useful information like the best times to visit, weather conditions, visa requirements and safety tips, so that potential travelers can make informed decisions.
Con: ChatGPT’s information base does not extend beyond September 2021, and it does not have access to important travel-related data that can change from moment to moment, like airline schedules and weather forecasts.
What the experts say: “By simply typing in natural language queries, like ‘Where can I fly to from New York City for under $500 in April,’ users will receive personalized recommendations based on their search criteria and Kayak’s historical travel data,” according to a blog post from megasearch engine Kayak.com, which recently integrated ChatGPT.
Providing Language Assistance
Pro: For travel brands targeting a global audience, ChatGPT’s multilingual capabilities allow it to communicate with customers in different languages.
Con: Generative AI has the potential to create biased content and may fail to create an inclusive, well-rounded representation of a destination and its visitors.
What the experts say: “It’s the benefit of having what I see as an assistant. It’s not someone who I would ask to do a task and think it’s a finished product,” said Neil Woodliffe, global travel and expense program manager at Clarivate. “If I have a communication that needs to be put out (and remember, being a global organization, it’s not necessarily one communication for one market; sometimes a communication needs to be customized for different markets), I can put that task into the AI and have it generate each communication I need for each market whilst I continue with other projects.”