GUEST: Fox World Travel's Hilgendorf On The Promise And Pitfalls Of ChatGPT

Fox World Travel chief information officer Sam Hilgendorf has been playing around with the buzzed-about artificial-intelligence chatbot ChatGPT. He even asked it to write some of his guest column. In it, below, he assesses the promise, and potential pitfalls, of the technology for the business travel industry.

"Pay attention!" I've heard these words a lot over the years. My first memory of this was walking through a Kmart parking lot as a kid with cars all around. I was busy trying to touch my nose with my tongue.

I remember hearing those words from my high school chemistry teacher as he was explaining the "rainbow experiment" to us, which included lighting volatile materials on fire to see what vivid colors would be created. I was busy playing with the Bunsen burner.

Most recently, I was subtly reminded of this by my wife, after I forgot to add a work dinner to the home calendar. While the words weren't spoken, her stare communicated the sentiment.

Every day there are things "buzzing" around us demanding our attention. Some are important today but won't matter tomorrow; others will impact decisions we make for years to come and are worth attention.

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around a new platform called ChatGPT, which stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. This is the latest generation of an artificial-intelligence chatbot from OpenAI, a research laboratory.

ChatGPT has gained a lot of media attention. From college students using it to write term papers to achieving a 1020 on the SAT, people worldwide are finding interesting ways to use this new platform. It shows just how powerful AI is today and where it's heading.

It will also change how business travel is managed and supported. How, exactly?

Well, I decided to ask it the question: "How will ChatGPT impact business travel?"

Pay attention to the automatically generated response from ChatGPT:

"ChatGPT and other language models can have a significant impact on business travel by automating various tasks and providing helpful information. Some potential ways ChatGPT can impact business travel include:

  1. Automating travel bookings and coordination: ChatGPT can be used to automate tasks such as scheduling and booking flights, hotels, rental cars, and other travel-related services, which can save time and reduce errors.
  2. Providing virtual travel assistance: ChatGPT can be used to create virtual travel assistants that can provide information on flight times, itineraries, and other important details to business travelers, which can help them plan their trips more efficiently.
  3. Improving customer service: ChatGPT can be used to generate automated responses to frequently asked questions from business travelers, reducing the workload on customer service teams and improving the customer experience.
  4. Personalizing travel recommendations: ChatGPT can be used to provide personalized recommendations for business travelers, such as suggested places to eat, stay, or visit based on their preferences and past experiences, and can help them navigate unfamiliar places with ease.
  5. Language translation: ChatGPT can also be used to translate languages, which can help in communicating with people from different countries and cultures during business travel.
  6. Meeting and itinerary planning: ChatGPT can be trained to help schedule and plan business meetings and itineraries, which can help improve the efficiency of business travel.

It's important to note that while ChatGPT and other language models can automate certain tasks and provide helpful information, they are unlikely to completely replace human travel agents as they can't provide emotional support or empathy and might have some limitations."

There you have it. An AI chatbot telling us exactly how it can disrupt our industry.

I have a couple of observations on how it responded.

I was incredibly surprised to see the recognition of empathy and emotional support as part of the business traveler experience. Ironically enough, that statement seemed to generate a sense of compassion from the chatbot, but there is a little bit of an "I come in peace" vibe there.

If you run a Google search for "artificial intelligence and business travel," it will not present as holistic of a list as what was generated by ChatGPT. Google presented a list of blogs and thought-leadership articles, but nothing consolidated, summarized or presented in a simple conversational message.

Both Google and ChatGPT access enormous amounts of information, but how they parse it and present it are uniquely different. One of ChatGPT's greatest strengths is to understand the intent of a question and then formulate a credible response within the context of the question.

The breadth of the response was impressive, as it encompassed many different aspects of the business traveler experience, including meeting planning.

I gave it one more question to respond to, based on the fourth use case it provided: personalized travel recommendations.

I asked, "Is it safe to travel to Kyiv? What should I plan for?"

Pay attention to the response:

"Kyiv is generally considered safe for tourists to visit, but as with any major city, it's always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Some areas to avoid are the neighborhoods located near the Eastern border of Ukraine and the areas that are known for high crime rates.

When planning a trip to Kyiv, it's important to keep in mind:

  1. Accommodation: It's best to book your hotel or accommodation in advance, as the city can be busy during that time of year.
  2. Weather: The weather in Kyiv in March is usually cool with temperatures ranging between -3 to 5 degree Celsius, so make sure to pack warm clothing and a good coat.
  3. Transportation: Kyiv has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses, metro, and trams. Taxis are also available but it's best to book them in advance or use ride-hailing apps.
  4. Tourist Attractions: Some must-see tourist attractions in Kyiv include St. Sophia's Cathedral, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra Monastery, and the Independence Square. Additionally, you can also visit museums such as the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War and the Kiev Museum of the History of Ukraine.
  5. Food: Kyiv offers a variety of cuisines to choose from, including traditional Ukrainian dishes and international cuisine. It's a good idea to plan for some restaurants in advance.
  6. COVID-19 Measures: Make sure to check the official website of the government of Ukraine for the most up-to-date information on entry restrictions, quarantine measures, and other important information for travelers related to the pandemic. Follow any guidelines and restrictions put in place by the local authorities, such as wearing face mask, social distancing and follow the instructions of the health department.
  7. Emergency Contact: It is recommended to register your trip with your country's embassy, so that they can contact you in case of any emergency. Also, it's important to have travel insurance and familiarize yourself with what it covers and what not, in case of any emergency."

Once again, we see just how well it interpreted the request and understood the purpose of my question, recognizing that lodging, weather and food are important aspects to planning travel. It recognized this without my having to specify each one.

However, with the current context of what is happening in Kyiv, these answers are not accurate.

This brings up the biggest problem with ChatGPT and others that follow suit. It sometimes provides answers that are both credible and precise, yet completely wrong.

In this case, it is because ChatGPT doesn't have access to real-time information. It isn't directly connected to the Internet. It uses data it was trained with from 2021 and earlier, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

All AI platforms will be limited by the data they have access to and have been trained on. ChatGPT is no different. As this platform matures, there will be a point where it will have access to real-time, up-to-date information. Based on its usage today, I would not be surprised if that happens within the year.

Also, the more usage it sees, the more it learns and the faster it improves. ChatGPT had over a million registered users in its first week of launch. This is the first time an AI platform has seen engagement and adoption at this scale.

ChatGPT has achieved a significant milestone in the realization of beneficial AI. We, as with so many others, already are discussing specific use cases where we can use it to improve our associate and customer experiences.

It's time to pay attention.