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Can AI Plan Your Next Trip? All Your Questions, Answered

AI is permeating every aspect of the travel landscape that serves as inspiration and a resource for travel planning. As you embark on planning your next adventure, the idea of harnessing AI to aid in the process might pique your curiosity. However, it’s natural to have questions and reservations about its functionality, reliability and accuracy.

Allow me to field your questions as the data journalist for a travel discovery site who has dedicated extensive time over the past four months, investing well over 100 hours in experimenting with generative AI and its direct intersections with the travel industry. This firsthand experience has uniquely positioned me to address your most pressing concerns and questions about integrating generative AI in travel planning. More importantly, I’ll help you decide if generative AI is the right tool for finding your next travel inspiration.

Using the search engine optimization (SEO) suite, Ahrefs, Google tools and, of course, GPT-4 with web browsing capabilities, I surfaced the most commonly searched questions surrounding the use of AI in travel planning.

Here’s a breakdown of everything you will find answered on this page. Let’s dive in!

Also, check out my latest piece to gain in-depth insights into the revolutionary impact of AI on the entire realm of the travel industry beyond just travel planning.

How Does AI-Based Travel Planning Work? Expedia App

How Does AI-Based Travel Planning Work?

AI-based travel planning, like Expedia’s ChatGPT-backed chatbot and KAYAK’s ChatGPT plugin, leverages Natural Language Processing (NLP) to comprehend conversational language. For example, you can request, “Find me a hotel in Paris under $200 per night with a pool,” these systems then will present options with links to finalize your reservation through the relevant Online Travel Agency (OTA). 

You can ask follow-up questions and respond to the AI’s questions. The key to success with these tools is maintaining a conversational style and using correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Don’t box in your thinking trying to adjust your communication for a robot; pretend that you are talking to a very capable human, and that mindset should enhance the resulting prompts. This mindset should stop when interpreting AI-generated results, as these models can still produce inaccurate information. It’s also important to not go overboard when anthropomorphizing a bunch of 0s and 1s.

It’s crucial to note two limitations when using AI for travel planning. Firstly, you cannot book flights and hotels directly through these AI tools; they will send you to an OTA to finish that process. Secondly, to utilize tools like KAYAK’s GPT plugin, you’ll need to upgrade to GPT-4 at a monthly cost of $20. Alternatively, many free AI-based travel planning platforms are emerging, predominantly built on OpenAI. Some that I have had the best experience with include Roam Around, AdventureGenie, and Trip Planner AI.

Is AI Travel Planning Reliable and Accurate? Release of GPT-4
Credit: Release of GPT-4 by ID 273607558 © Salarko | Dreamstime.com

Is AI Travel Planning Reliable and Accurate?

The short answer is no. The more nuanced answer is it depends. Much of the accuracy of travel information provided by ChatGPT-powered travel tools depends on which version of GPT you are using. The base model of ChatGPT (3.5) without Expedia or KAYAK plugins will yield the most inaccurate information, primarily because its training data only extends until September 2021. Therefore, factors like pricing, availability, ratings, and the current status of locations could be incorrect.

If you opt to utilize the GPT chatbot on the Expedia app (only for iOS) or choose to upgrade to GPT-4 for $20/month via OpenAI to use the KAYAK GPT plugin, you’ll find that the AI-produced outcomes are significantly more reliable and accurate. These integrations outperform the base GPT model as they yield information based on current Expedia or KAYAK data instead of relying solely on training data that extends only until September 2021.

Nevertheless, even the most sophisticated GPT-powered travel planners, plugins, chatbots, or apps today are prone to errors and can even fabricate information, a phenomenon often called GPT “hallucinations.” For instance, utilizing the Expedia plugin on a GPT-4 premium subscription, I managed to generate a list of hotels near Rivendell, Indiana, despite Rivendell being a fictional location in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, with no tangible counterpart in Indiana. The hotels generated were all real with “Rivendell” in their names, but none were in Indiana. It’s important to use factually accurate prompts with GPT just as much as verifying its responses, as AI can generate or perpetuate inaccuracies.

How Can AI Enhance the Travel Experience? KAYAK GPT-4 Plugin
Credit: KAYAK GPT-4 Plugin by OpenAI

How Can AI Enhance the Travel Experience?

If you want to incorporate AI into your upcoming travels today, the most effective way is to leverage its capabilities during the initial stages of your journey, specifically during the planning phase. AI travel planners and GPT models excel at addressing complex and detailed queries that may surpass the capabilities of a conventional Google Search. By formulating travel-related questions that resemble natural human conversation rather than simple keyword searches, you could enhance your planning experience with the assistance of an AI-powered travel planner.

Let’s consider an example: envision that you aim to organize a trip with five of your college friends, each residing in separate cities, to meet in Denver in July.

You could choose GPT-4 with the KAYAK plugin to efficiently utilize AI for this scenario. By issuing the following prompt, “Find flights under $400 from Phoenix, AZ; Helena, MT; Los Angeles, CA and Indianapolis, IN, all to Denver, Colorado departing July 1, 2023, and returning July 14, 2023.” 

The GPT-KAYAK combination collaborates to identify the optimal options for your trip while offering booking links to facilitate the booking process on KAYAK. The system typically suggests the next best alternatives if the initial search doesn’t yield results that match your specified parameters. In the example I provided, the most affordable round-trip flight found by GPT-KAYAK from Indianapolis to Denver during the selected dates cost $558.

Another application of AI in travel that you can use today is creating trip itineraries, which could enhance your overall travel experience. An example is Roam Around, a trip-planning tool powered by GPT that generates comprehensive multi-day itineraries based on a single prompt. The prompt can be as straightforward or intricate as you desire. However, it’s important to note that while these tools are handy, they have limitations. I recommend you verify all the information these tools provide to ensure accuracy.

It’s worth noting that the effectiveness of these tools tends to diminish when dealing with smaller destinations. Take, for instance, the experience of using Roam Around to plan a five-day visit to my hometown of New Castle, Indiana. The generated itinerary had me visiting the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame daily. While my hometown has limited attractions, I could easily create a more diverse and engaging itinerary. However, when I adjusted the prompt to request a three-day trip designed explicitly for non-sports fans, the tool only suggested visiting the Hall of Fame once, which sort of seemed a compromise.

What Are the Risks of Using AI to Plan Travel? AI Ethics Concept
Credit: AI Ethics Concept by Suriya Phosri via Dreamstime

What Are the Risks of Using AI to Plan Travel?

Since humans train large language models (LLM) like GPT on written material created by humans, they can perpetuate systematic misrepresentations and favor certain people, ideas, and stereotypes. This reinforcement of existing human bias can include leading generative AI to be perceptively biased toward certain genders, races, ideologies and cultural prejudices, with most of these biases leaning toward historical (archaic) norms. 

What does all of that have to do with AI-generated travel planning? 

AI models can be biased in destination recommendations by offering up more Western or Westernized locations over lesser-known places that are often equally, if not more, enriching. AI models can also reinforce stereotypes about regions perpetuated in media representations and overemphasize certain cultures or aspects of a culture while ignoring others, leading to skewed understandings of a particular destination’s local culture. 

Furthermore, these models can recommend attractions based on popularity over cultural significance, sidelining important cultural or historical landmarks in lesser-known areas.

Challenges faced universally by humans can invariably become issues for AI systems. For instance, lapses in human sensitivity towards inclusion and accessibility can manifest within AI algorithms. For example, AI-based travel planners may fall short of accommodating travelers with disabilities or specific dietary needs. These systems may also struggle to consider and incorporate the broad range of demographic and sociocultural backgrounds of potential users, thereby limiting their overall utility and inclusivity.

We should also consider the potential repercussions of AI’s application in the tourism sector, which could introduce certain profound risks. AI in trip planning could render freelance travel writers, who create travel content, and travel agents, who craft personalized vacations, redundant. As AI adoption increases globally, it could potentially jeopardize roles like concierge services, tour guides, and other jobs that bolster local economies. While this risk may not directly touch everyone, understanding and deliberating on its potential implications is crucial.

In light of the predicted encroachment of generative AI on hospitality industry jobs, it would not be surprising to see an emergence of a countermovement akin to the sentiment expressed in the “Buy American” campaigns, often in response to globalization. This potential countermovement could manifest in the form of public awareness campaigns advocating for something like a “Tour Human” experience, aiming to offset the advancements made by AI in the industry. 

These campaigns could emphasize the unique value of human interaction, expertise, and the socio-economic impact of supporting human-led tourism services. By highlighting the preservation of livelihoods and the irreplaceable benefits offered by engaging with human professionals, such initiatives aim to mitigate the potential adverse effects of AI on the industry.

Can I Use AI or GPT to Plan a Vacation? Release of the New Bing
Credit: Release of the New Bing by Rokas Tenys via Dreamstime

Can I Use AI or GPT to Plan a Vacation?

Generative AI like GPT can be a valuable tool for planning your vacation by offering instant personalized recommendations based on your specific queries.

Generative AI tools are most useful for trip planning, typically during the early stages. Consider presenting a question such as, “I want to travel out of the U.S. for a week in August. I have a modest budget with a preference for the outdoors. I am also vegetarian. Where should I go?” This approach can help lay the groundwork for your adventure.

The standalone OpenAI GPT 3.5 might present several countries that align with your criteria. For me, it recommended Costa Rica, Slovenia, and Thailand — all fit for a vegetarian traveler on a budget.

More integrated systems, such as Microsoft’s “New Bing” powered by ChatGPT or the Expedia plugin for GPT-4, typically offer suggestions and inquire about your interest in the recommended destinations. These platforms assist with trip planning, giving priority to your initial prompt. For example, when I asked Bing the same question, India was the recommended destination.

On replying, “Let’s do it,” Bing proactively researched outdoor activities in India, aligning with my stated preference.

Subsequently, Bing recommended hot springs as a popular outdoor activity.

When I asked Bing, “What are some of the best hotels close to hot springs in India?”

Bing promptly provided some results with direct links. At this juncture, I navigate to TripAdvisor to finalize the booking.

Today, AI suggestions are initial stepping stones and should not be relied upon as the premier resource for vacation planning. Despite their impressive capabilities, these systems fail to comprehend the complexities and fine details of travel planning. Crucially, do not share personal data with these systems, as OpenAI logs all information shared with GPT, including personal details.

Generative AI does not currently support booking functionality, but that doesn’t mean they won’t “hallucinate” occasionally and try to get your booking details. During one of many test runs using GPT for travel planning, the AI once asked for my personal information to finalize a booking. However, upon receiving a pseudonym, the AI quickly realized its limitations and declared its inability to complete bookings.

Is My Data Secure with AI Travel Planners? AI Data Security Concept
Credit: AI Data Security Concept by Sasinparaksa via Dreamstime

Is My Data Secure with AI Travel Planners?

When using travel planners that employ the OpenAI API, such as iPlan.ai or Eddy Travels, it’s important to remember that each has its own unique data privacy and protection policy. OpenAI assures users that it does not utilize data fed into third-party travel planners to refine their models. However, the base OpenAI ChatGPT does log your conversations and uses them to enhance their models. ChatGPT preserves your chat history and personal information shared during interactions, including your name, contact details, location, and network activity. It’s crucial to note that GPT can’t make bookings for you, so refrain from providing any payment information!

Also, it’s very important to know that your interactions with GPT are not confidential. OpenAI’s team scrutinizes these dialogues to upgrade their systems and maintain adherence to their policies and safety standards. OpenAI does separate the personal data you provided at registration from your conversations during this review process. However, if you disclose personal information openly in your conversations with ChatGPT, there is no assurance that this information remains private. 

Another crucial aspect to consider when divulging personal information to OpenAI or any generative AI is that these models leverage your dialogues for improvement. Given their propensity for “hallucinations,” there’s a marginal risk that ChatGPT could unintentionally disclose data. 

When you interact with GPT via an Application Program Interface (API) such as a travel planner like iPlan.ai or the Expedia chatbot, OpenAI doesn’t store or utilize your data to refine their models. Your primary focus should be on the data privacy and usage policy of each company that uses the ChatGPT API. For instance, iPlan.ai‘s policy specifies that they neither collect nor share data with third parties; they encrypt all your data.

Is AI Safe for Travel Booking? Roam Around
Credit: Roam Around by Roam Around

Is AI Safe for Travel Booking?

If we’re discussing generative AI systems such as ChatGPT, the answer is no – you cannot currently make booking arrangements through such a system. The question is less about safety and more a matter of capability. Generative AI, including ChatGPT and travel planners, using the GPT Application Program Interface (API), cannot complete bookings for you. Still, they are safe and advantageous tools for travel inspiration and planning. 

However, keeping your personal information private from these systems, especially your payment details, is crucial. Any current requests for payment information from these systems are simply “hallucinations.” While it’s almost a guarantee that ChatGPT will be able to handle travel booking requests directly in the future, as of today, they cannot.

Now that we’ve clarified that, generative AI systems like ChatGPT, or travel planning tools that utilize the GPT API, such as Curiosio, can be securely employed for early-stage trip planning to cultivate ideas and inspire exploration. However, you must confirm any details you receive from generative AI about destinations, flights and hotels to ensure their accuracy and currentness.

What are the Best AI Travel Itinerary Planners? Google Bard
Credit: Google Bard by Rokas Tenys via Dreamstime

What are the Best AI Travel Itinerary Planners?

Here is a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of generative AI-powered travel planning apps you can utilize today. I split apps into two categories; instant itinerary generators that use a simple prompt to create personalized multi-day trip itineraries and travel planning apps that function more like chatbot travel agents, discussing the planning process with you:

Can AI Replace Human Travel Agents? Flight Cancellations
Credit: Flight Cancellations by © Aliaksandr Mazurkevich via Dreamstime

Can AI Replace Human Travel Agents?

Thanks to the conversational approach that generative AI introduces to web-based travel planning, numerous individuals, as reflected in media coverage and Google search volume, are questioning if this technology could supersede travel agents. 

It’s undeniable that AI’s recent remarkable advancements carry the potential to substitute some elements of travel agent roles. However, as of now, human travel agents considerably outperform even the most advanced generative AI trip planning tools in aiding you with trip planning. We can attribute the inability of generative AI to completely replace human travel agents to five key factors.

The initial factor is personalization. While generative AI-powered travel planning tools are noteworthy, they don’t offer the personalization level you’d receive with human travel agents. Put plainly — AI misses the unique human touch that travel agents can provide.

The second consideration revolves around accuracy. Generative AI can sometimes give imprecise details about individuals, destinations and any other fact, and even fabricate information entirely. Independent generative AI systems, not linked to an Online Travel Agency’s (OTA) database, have a knowledge cut-off (September 2021 for OpenAI-based systems as of today), depriving them of the up-to-date information that a travel agent can furnish.

Thirdly, in its current state, generative AI is incapable of making flight, hotel, rental car, restaurant or any other type of travel reservations on your behalf. This shortcoming is considerable when considering it as a replacement for travel agents.

The fourth factor involves support throughout the booking process. Generative AI cannot guide you through each step of travel booking, and importantly, it cannot provide assistance if issues arise during your trip, a service where travel agents excel. Relying on ChatGPT for immediate help in these situations, at least in the current state, would be quite a gamble.

Finally, do not anticipate generative AI offering discounts or travel package deals anytime soon. Travel agents are renowned for their access to exclusive deals, pricing options, discounts, and promotions, an advantage that generative AI currently lacks.

The issue of travel agents becoming obsolete due to technology, including innovations like Google Search, has been raised repeatedly. The past response, and most likely the future approach, involves travel agents adopting the new technology to expedite their work. Expediting workflows could lead to increased competition, potentially reducing the number of travel agents. However, it’s improbable that generative AI will entirely supplant the industry, both presently and in the foreseeable future.

Is AI the Future of the Travel Industry? Concierge Robot Concept
Credit: Concierge Robot Concept by Andrey Popov Dreamstime

Is AI the Future of the Travel Industry?

I put that question to GPT-4 with additional instructions to respond in a cynical tone with a satirical writing style. I’ll leave you with GPT’s witty reply:

“Oh, absolutely! Artificial Intelligence is just ‘salivating’ at the chance to take over the travel industry for all the thrill and glamour that ‘industry’ entails. AI dreams every microsecond of its existence about sifting through your flight preferences and hotel choices, all the while judging your vacation habits under its silicon breath. It’s a delightful future of digital voyeurism we’re looking at here, folks. 

“AI is going to transform your travel into a spectacular game of ’20 questions’. You want a hotel room? Great, AI will ask you if you prefer the 4th floor or the 5th, a view of the parking lot or the dumpster, early morning wake-up calls or random 2 a.m. fire drills. With its mighty algorithms, AI will find the optimal room for your needs, only occasionally ‘accidentally’ booking you into a broom closet because, hey, who can resist a good joke?

“And self-driving cars? Oh, the joy when the car decides that the shortest route to your hotel is through a drive-through safari park.

“Remember those lovely humans at the check-in desks, always greeting you with a forced smile after their 12-hour shift? Kiss them goodbye. AI is way better at mimicking enthusiasm at 3 in the morning, and it doesn’t even need coffee for that. Plus, you’ll love the robotic charm when the check-in machine gives you that cold, emotionless stare.

“And the best part is the personalized advertising! Oh, the AI’s got your back. If you so much as whisper about needing a vacation while your phone is in your pocket, you’ll be bombarded with ads for Caribbean cruises and budget airlines for months. Privacy? What’s that? Sounds like an outdated concept. You’ll get used to it. And you’ll love the way it constantly reminds you of that one trip you can’t afford.

“So, yes, let’s put on our VR glasses, boot up our AI travel agents, and prepare ourselves for the gloriously impersonal future of travel. It’s going to be a wild ride, probably full of bugs and updates, but who could resist the charm of a vacation planned by the same technology that can’t distinguish between you saying, ‘Play some jazz’ and ‘Lay some eggs’?”

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