Finding the Balance: Where ChatGPT Meets Human Connection in Travel

May 18, 2023
Kathryn Foley (she/her)
2 min read

Leveraging generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT - without losing the human connection that travelers still seek - may be the key to getting ahead of your competitors. 

It’s often observed that travel is an industry that’s slow to embrace change - and even slower to adopt new technology. But since Open AI released ChatGPT, a generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool in November 2022, travel businesses have been unusually quick to respond to the buzz. 

ChatGPT has been used to create entire trip itineraries, book flights, communicate with guests and provide travel advice in multiple languages. Additionally, tools built using ChatGPT have been designed to create marketing content for travel businesses and automate email communications between travelers and suppliers such as hotels. 

Even before travelers make a booking, ChatGPT may have been used behind the scenes as part of the marketing strategy. Hubspot’s CMO, Kipp Bodnar, broadly describes the two ways that businesses are utilizing AI in their marketing strategy as inside-out, and outside-in. Inside-out refers to “solving core business challenges such as how to improve conversion rate” while outside-in speaks to “what can create the most value for my customers”. 

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Framed in this way, ChatGPT can be thought of as an ‘assistant’ who can help with your business’s tasks. From drafting content, writing social media ads, brainstorming ideas, undertaking market research, and automating processes such as email communications, the possibilities of what AI can achieve are no longer even simply limited by our imaginations - the chatbot is able to think creatively and develop ideas that we may never have thought of. 

In March, Expedia and Kayak became the first travel companies to create integrated ChatGPT plugins and since then, dozens more travel companies have joined the ranks of travel companies using artificial intelligence (AI) to address a broad spectrum of business challenges and improve the customer experience. At every conceivable stage of the buyer’s journey as well as while a traveler is actually on their trip, ChatGPT is being leveraged. 

So, what does this mean for the industry? While ChatGPT is undoubtedly evolving exponentially - and at an alarming rate - we musn’t forget that travel is an industry built on the very concept of human connection. An Exodus Travels study recently revealed the extent to which travel and connectivity are intertwined: 71% of respondents met someone on a trip who gave them a new perspective or has since changed their lives and 77% agreed that meeting the local people makes the journey more rewarding and immersive. 

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When asked what makes a trip unforgettable, marketing director Robin Brooks responded that it’s “the unexpected appreciation from locals that you traveled because you want to know them and their culture… So often it's these moments that conjure lasting memories, whether we are building a 'just for now' or new forever-relationship or sowing the seeds of cross-cultural understanding that will impact our personal worldview for years to come."

This attitude doesn’t only begin once the traveler arrives at a destination; it begins during the booking and payment process. WeTravel’s 2023 Travel Trends Report highlighted that while some travelers are looking for digitization of the process, many still seek a personal connection with a brand before they make a booking. 

Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui, co-founder of Experience Morocco observed that “a lot of businesses operate with the assumption that the more we digitize and systematize client communications, the happier the clients will be. But getting to speak with clients on the phone (or better yet, a video chat) enables you to put a human face on your business and to develop a real rapport, which can pay out in spades as you can uncover particular insights that can enable you to offer a service that will be significantly more valued for its personalization.”

ChatGPT may be here to stay, but fostering the real-world connection that travelers seek can’t be replaced. Those who will reap the greatest rewards leveraging generative AI will strike a balance between prioritizing human touch and implementing AI processes in order to boost productivity and reduce error - freeing up even more time to focus on client-facing connections, solidifying relationships with suppliers and growing on-the-ground knowledge of destinations.