Artificial intelligence (AI) tools like the recently unveiled ChatGPT can be powerful assets for researching travel, but when it comes to their potential to replace travel advisors, Global Travel Collection (GTC) president Angie Licea’s take can be summed up as, “Been there, done that.”
“When you look back on when online booking first arrived, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced the concept that technology is going to put travel advisors out of business,” notes Licea, who leads Global Travel Collection, an alliance of more than 1,500 luxury travel experts and a division of Internova Travel Group.
Licea is hardly dismissive of the capabilities and potential of AI in the travel space. “It can help consumers and advisors,” she says. “People who don’t use travel advisors will probably find it useful for doing research before they decide to go to a destination. And advisors can use it to validate their work or research emerging markets.”
In a recent experiment, Licea compared the planning output from an AI tool for a trip to Portugal to the work of travel advisors who are experts in the destination. The AI tool delivered accurate information only about half the time.
“AI only knows what it can pull from the Internet; it’s only as good as what’s put into it,” says Licea, while acknowledging, “These are knowledge databases, so they will get better over time.”
AI Lacks Deeper Insight
Much like online hotel and airline booking engines, AI is a useful tool for simple tasks. “It’s cool and sexy and evolutionary, but when you’re booking a complex trip you need some level of insight,” Licea says. “AI can recommend a restaurant, but not where to sit or what waiter to ask for. It lacks deeper insight.”
Travel advisors who were able to shift their business model from earning commissions on booking air travel to charging fees for their support subject-matter expertise should be well positioned to take on any challenges posed by AI.
“One thing AI is never going to be able to do is resolve an issue, and that’s why the pandemic drove so many people back to travel advisors,” Licea says. “There will always be consumers who want a human being to book their trips.”