Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

ChatGPT and Beyond: How AI is transforming vacation planning for Indian travellers

Travellers are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence to plan trips and discover destinations and activities

When Noida-based homemaker Meera Singh began planning for a family vacation in May, she had a few criteria in mind: pleasant weather, minimal crowds, and a destination within India. But this time, instead of calling a travel agent or spending hours researching online, she turned to ChatGPT.

The AI chatbot recommended several locations, including Shoja in Himachal Pradesh and Kanatal in Uttarakhand. “I had been to a few of the destinations listed before, and knew they fit the bill. So, I knew this thing is definitely working,” she says. Convinced, she chose Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh, one of the suggested destinations, and even used the chatbot to create a detailed seven-day itinerary.

Artificial intelligence is increasingly influencing daily life, and the travel industry is no exception. A 2023 survey by the Statista Research Department found that over 60 per cent of respondents in the US and 40 per cent in India already use AI on mobile devices for travel planning.

Major companies have begun integrating AI to enhance customer experience and streamline the booking process. For instance, Expedia Group launched an AI travel assistant app called Romie, which crafts tailored itineraries and troubleshoots travel disruptions. Earlier this year, Booking Holdings released Ask Kayak and Kayak PriceCheck to help travellers find vacation ideas and compare flight prices across 100 different websites. Booking.com, Tripadvisor, and Guide.com have their own AI-powered bots accessible via apps and microsites, pulling data on pricing and reviews to assist in planning trips.

“Personalisation is the main expectation for travellers today, and AI can analyse vast data to provide customised recommendations. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants handle customer service inquiries and complaints with quick, accurate, and personalised responses. Additionally, AI advancements streamline the planning and booking process by understanding customer needs and offering tailored travel options, considering user preferences, real-time travel restrictions, and optimal itineraries,” says Ganesh Ramaswamy, chief product and technology officer at Cleartrip, which too has signalled its interest in embracing AI.

Mumbai-based Vinay Mahale experienced this firsthand. The 23-year-old marketing executive planned a trip to Ooty in February with his extended family to celebrate his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Using AI chatbots, he found the best flights and deals, selected hotels, and created personalised itineraries, including activities for kids and top-rated restaurants for the older members. “They were essentially personal assistants, saving a lot of time and effort. The only challenge I faced was actually booking the tickets and hotels,” he says.

According to Raj K Gopalakrishnan, CEO & co-founder of KOGO AI, touted as India’s first AI travel expert, common planning challenges in the country include creating detailed itineraries, making timely reservations, and discovering the right places. Budget accommodations are also in high demand. But while travellers often use online platforms to build itineraries, they ultimately book hotels and flights on their own. It prompted him to launch KOGO, an AI-powered concierge, to perform these real-world actions unlike most conversational AI platforms. “While typical chatbots operate on an ‘if-then-else’ workflow, KOGO’s AI agents can book tickets, make online payments, and set reminders, eliminating many frustrating tasks travellers face,” he says.

Yet, challenges remain. Many travellers still value human connection and enjoy the planning process with a travel agent. Additionally, while AI can provide lists of recommended activities or accommodations, it cannot yet assess the authenticity of experiences.

It’s also important to double-check automated suggestions, which might use outdated information, risking recommendations for closed restaurants or attractions. Also, specificity and the correct prompt are key to getting unique ideas from AI. Asking for “tourist destinations in India” might yield common suggestions, but requesting “off the beaten path or hidden gems” will likely provide more unique insights.

And, with users sharing so much information, privacy concerns remain. To encourage adoption, clear communication on collecting, storing, and using user data is essential. “Providing detailed privacy policies and easy-to-understand explanations help build trust. Invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect user data from breaches and unauthorised access. Empower them by giving them control over their data, allowing them to easily access, modify, or delete their information,” says Ramaswamy.

Ultimately, AI is redefining travel and is here to stay. How travellers choose to leverage its potential is up to them.

Leverage AI

  • Ask all your travel questions, saving time on research

  • Get destination suggestions based on your preferences, such as climate and activities

  • Create detailed day-by-day plans tailored to your interests

  • Discover new sites or hidden gems, even in familiar destinations

  • Find the best deals and budget-friendly alternatives

  • Determine the optimal and most cost-effective time to visit a location

  • Summarise hotel and restaurant reviews

Checks & Balances

  • Always double-check AI-generated information with verified sources

  • Avoid relying on AI for current events, opening hours, or future updates

  • Verify visa, flight, safety and security information through reliable, up-to-date source

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The New Indian Express
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