Breakthrough in AI promises ‘tonnes of applications’ in travel

Recent developments in generative artificial intelligence (AI) mark “a breakthrough” in technology and promise “tonnes of applications” in travel, according to Joao Gonzaga, chief digital officer at Kuoni Travel-owner DER Touristik Group.

He argues the AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT launched last November “changed the narrative”, telling Travel Weekly: “Generative AI is going to disrupt a lot of industries, including travel.”

Gonzaga will speak at Abta’s Travel Convention in October on digital innovation in travel. He said: “People think AI is new, [but] it’s a field of computer science that comes from the 1950s.

“There was evolution at the end of the 1990s using data to improve decision making, and further evolution in 2015-17 with the first companies creating neural networks to develop ‘deep learning’.

“Generative AI is an evolution of deep learning. What changed was due to a breakthrough in 2017 by Google. The T in GPT is for the ‘transformer’ model which came from Google moving from ‘supervised learning’ to ‘self-learning’.”

He noted: “ChatGPT uses statistical probabilities to predict text on the simple probability of the next word.”

But he insists: “It’s much more than that. We’re in a breakthrough moment in technology. Even Microsoft and Google got caught by surprise [by ChatGPT].

“Anyone with a computer and browser has access to this technology. ChatGPT puts this tech in the hands of everyone. You don’t have to be an expert to use it.”

Gonzaga warned: “There are concerns about security. I’m passionate about the technology, but it brings risks.

“These models trawl all the data out there and don’t consider data protection. You have to consider the risks and limitations.”

He dismisses fears of a ‘Terminator’ style AI robot evolving, saying: “We’re far, far from that. The threat is from humans using the technology in a bad way. Everyone dealing with AI has to have concerns.”

Yet he insists “there are tonnes of applications for travel” and suggests three to begin – personalising offers, transforming dynamic pricing using real-time data, and developing sustainability through more efficient use of energy and resources, planning lay overs and transfer, and so on.

He describes DER Touristik as taking “baby steps” in the use of generative AI as it seeks “to experiment and figure out what can be done” and foresees its use initially “as an extension to the app, an extension to the online bot, and in other communication channels with customers”.

Gonzaga notes: “We just launched a new app in the Nordics that gives us the ability to experiment with ChatGPT.

“It will help us personalise experiences and we’ll be able to communicate better using new types of bots.”

The Travel Convention, Bodrum, Turkey

October 30 to November 1


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