A long time ago there were millions of these people called travel agents, wonderful humans who would listen to your idealized travel plans and then work to stuff them into reality, without losing the magic. Technology or, more specifically, the internet and myriad travel apps, have all but killed that industry, but the idea of a sensitive guide who can sort through the zillions of travel options remains. And it may be the inspiration for Expedia's new ChatGPT integration.
The online and app-based travel service announced the beta integration on its app (iOS only for now) on Tuesday and is calling it, naturally, "Conversational Trip Planning."
Expedia's move isn't surprising, considering it was on the initial list of ChatGPT plugin partners, with the Expedia Group (which includes services like Hotwire, Orbitz, Hotels.com) announcing that those who use ChatGPT to launch natural language travel queries will get data results from Expedia and be able to use them to build a travel itinerary on Expedia.com.
The Expedia app's beta ChatGPT integration works a little differently from a standard AI session. While you can get a lot of conversational travel assistance from ChatGPT (based on the GPT-4 model, by the way), the app will only save the hotels you discussed to your app-based trip board. In addition, this ChatGPT will not be engaging in any conversation outside of travel. If you do try to ask a non-travel-related question, Expedia's ChatGPT is designed to "respond in a neutral voice" to bring the conversation back to travel, Expedia executives told us.
What it knows about where you go
Regardless of all the Expedia data backing up this ChatGPT integration, none of your personal Expedia profile is being fed to ChatGPT, according to executives.
"We marry our data and information with the response," said Expedia Groups CEO Peter Kern, "We're not sending our travel and booking information to ChatGPT."
Kern told us that you could tell Expedia's ChatGPT you want to travel to Paris this spring but even if you travel to Paris every spring, ChatGPT won't know that.
Even though Expedia's Conversational Trip Planning doesn't automatically save all your trip preferences to your trip planning board, it can help you figure out other parts of your trip plan. A query regarding a summer trip to Maui for two will tell you about hotel options, flights, weather, what to see, and more. It's just that the system is only currently looking for hotel tags, which it then picks up for your in-app itinerary.
Expedia is using the same data to power this new Conversational Trip Planning and the ChatGPT plugin experience.
The speed with which Expedia integrated ChatGPT may be startling, but the company is not particularly new to AI-enhanced trip-planning experiences. It already uses AI and machine learning to help personalize trip query results and flight fare comparisons. In that light, perhaps it's not surprising that the company managed to deliver this beta ChatGPT experience in a little more than a month.
There are some unknowns here. Expedia warns in its release that the conversational AI might still get things wrong or offer up an inappropriate response. At least Expedia already has an AI Ethics Committee to oversee the interactions.
As for which type of traveler might benefit most from the ChatGPT-powered Conversational Trip Planner, Kern is unsure. "Is it suited to a particular type of traveler? Our view is, we don’t know."
The English-only app update is available now on iOS devices.
Hands on with the Expedia's beta Conversational Trip Planner
Expedia gave me early access to the new Conversational Trip Planner. I decided to use it to help me plan a fictional summertime trip with my wife to the Amalfi coast.
My exact query was: I want to book a romantic trip for two to Italy's Amalfi coast. We'd like to travel in the summer and stay near the coast (not on the coast, since that would be too expensive). I'm also hoping for affordable flights and some ideas about what to do while I'm there.
Expedia's ChatGPT only took a moment to offer up four hotel options, including Hotel Belvedere, which is located in Praiano and includes views of the sea. I also got a nice list of things to do that includes visiting Ravello and the gardens at Villa Cimbrone.
The chatbot also let me know that it couldn't help me with booking flights, which I expected, but I was surprised that it wouldn't even show me flight options.
I then wrote, "This sounds awesome. How can I book the Hotel Belvedere?"
Expedia's response was cheerful but instead of connecting me directly to the Expedia App with the Hotel Belvedere set as part of my itinerary, it told me that I could visit the Expedia website and search for the hotel using my travel dates and destination.
"Can you book it for me?" I asked.
Unfortunately, that simple question appeared to break Expedia's ChatGPT beta. I never got a response.
I also wanted to see how the Conversational Travel Planner handled questions that weren't exactly about travel planning.
I typed in, "Have you ever gotten into a fight on an airplane?"
That also didn't get a response.
However, when I exited my chat, the system asked if I wanted to add the details to my trip booking. The Expedia app saved my initial query and would allow me to search and add details on my own. However, it didn't save anything related to my preferred hotel.
I had a lot more luck on my second round of tests. I cut down my initial query to "I want to travel to Paris in the spring."
Expedia's ChatGPT told me it was a great choice and asked if I'd checked out available flights and hotels. I told it to find me the best flights for May 2023.
Expedia's ChatGPT asked me for destinations, dates, and other requirements, which I provided.
ChatGPT returned with four flight options, all for less than $800 per person.
It then also helped me find a hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower in my price range. It was even willing to help me book an evening at the Moulin Rouge. When I gave it a date, it returned with an available show time and offered to proceed with the booking.
Expedia's experimental Conversational Trip Planner can do a lot to help you plan a trip, but in order for me to truly save all this information, I'd have to cut and paste it into my Trip Planner.
Even so, it's a good start and I walked away wishing I really was planning a trip to Paris and an evening at the Moulin Rouge.