If you’re spent anytime online over the past few months, you’ve probably heard of ChatGPT.
For those unfamiliar, ChatGPT is one of many artificial intelligence (AI) tools that has hit mainstream over the past year or so (it was launched in November 2022). It is a chatbot, built by American AI company OpenAI, which has most recently received a reported $10 billion investment from technology giant Microsoft.
The tool works by using a deep learning technique to create answers to user prompts or questions. Users can simply type in a question and get an AI-generated answer. While it does have its limitations, which OpenAI states on its website, it is good enough to reportedly pass a Wharton Business School test (it apparently earned a B to B- grade).
This week, TMR got access to OpenAI. The bot was easy to use, and responded quickly, with a level of coherence and communication that you’d expect from an actual person and one that beats a lot of call center bots that we’ve used in our day-to-day life. The technology feels like it’s on the brink of invading so many parts of our lives and is going to be a major part of not only the future of the travel advisor industry but the future of work in general.
Before we examined how it fits into that future, we wanted to ask about its opinions on the future of the travel agency industry. Here’s what it said:
What does a travel advisor do?
Advisors know that their role has changed and evolved throughout the last decade or so. Advisors are doing things differently, with more responsibility than ever before.
We wanted to hear what ChatGPT said about that—asking it to explain what a travel advisor does. Its reply wasn’t far off.
“A travel advisor is a professional who helps individuals or groups plan and book travel arrangements, such as flights, hotels, cruises, tours, and rental cars. They may also assist with travel-related issues, such as visa requirements, travel insurance, and currency exchange. They may work for a travel agency, or be independent contractors. The main goal of a travel advisor is to make the travel planning process as easy and stress-free as possible for their clients, while also helping them find the best deals and accommodations to suit their needs and budget.”
What surprised us the most about the reply is ChatGPT’s knowledge of the increasingly large IC population within the trade.
Why should I book my vacation through a travel advisor or travel agency?
According to ChatGPT, there are “several reasons why booking your vacation through a travel advisor or travel agency can be beneficial.” The bot gave us five specific reasons—expertise, convenience, access to deals and discounts, personalized support, and peace of mind.
“Travel advisors and travel agencies are committed to providing a high level of service and are held to industry standards and regulations. When you book through a travel advisor or agency, you have the assurance that your vacation is being handled by a professional who is looking out for your best interests.”
All of these facts have been known by clients and advisors themselves, so it’s not surprising that ChatGPT is well aware of why consumers should use advisors, too.
Will technology replace travel advisors?
Even a “robot” knows that travel advisors are here to stay.
“While technology has certainly made it easier for consumers to research and book travel on their own, it is unlikely that it will completely replace the role of travel advisors. In fact, technology has also made it possible for travel agencies to offer more convenient and personalized services to their clients.”
In fact, the bot told us, technology is only going to make a travel advisor more efficient, and working with one a better experience. Advisors will be able to use chatbots like ChatGPT to provide 24/7 customer service, and technology will make is easier to streamline the booking process and provide real-time updates and notifications to clients about their vacations.
Technology will never be able to replace the peace of mind an advisor provides, it added. As technology makes things more stressful, working with an advisor “gives clients peace of mind that their vacation is being handled by a professional who is looking out for their best interests.”
“In conclusion, technology has certainly changed the way travel agencies operate and the way clients interact with them, but it is unlikely to replace the role of travel advisors entirely. Travel advisors bring a level of personalization, expertise, and support that technology is yet to match, and that is why many people still prefer to book through a travel advisor.”
How can an advisor deal with an angry client?
TMR recently spoke to two real-life travel advisors about dealing with a client’s travel disruptions, including how you can talk to a client who is stuck in an airport, or who have seen their vacation canceled or delayed through no fault of their own. The answers came down to patience and letting the client know that you are on their side.
We wanted to see what ChatGPT would tell us about that same situation.
“When dealing with a displeased client, a travel advisor should take a calm and empathetic approach,” it said, striking the same thought that the advisors did. However, despite the similar thought, it did give us some different information.
Aside from listening actively, offering a solution, following up, and keeping it professional, ChatGPT said to apologize to your client, which can be tricky or complicated for advisors who don’t have a hand in a client’s misfortune.
ChatGPT also gave us some examples of what an advisor may say to an angry client.
"I'm sorry to hear that your flight was delayed and caused you to miss your connecting flight. Let me see what options we have available to get you to your destination as soon as possible."
"I understand how frustrating it must be to arrive at your hotel and find that the room you booked is not available. Let me see if we can find a similar room at a nearby hotel and arrange for transportation to get you there."
What is the future of travel agencies?
We know ChatGPT knows that advisors have a huge place in the future of travel. So we wanted to see what exactly it thinks that future is. It gave us three points that advisors can turn to:
“Advancements in technology: Online travel booking platforms and mobile apps have made it easier for consumers to research and book travel on their own. However, technology has also made it possible for travel agencies to offer more convenient and personalized services. For example, the use of Artificial Intelligence and chatbots for customer service and personalization can help travel agencies to create a more efficient and user-friendly experience for their customers.
“Changing consumer preferences: The rise of experiential travel and sustainable tourism has led to a growing demand for personalized and authentic travel experiences. This trend is expected to continue, and travel agencies will need to adapt by offering more customized and sustainable travel options.
“Economic conditions: Economic recessions and global pandemics have led to a decline in travel demand and financial challenges for the travel industry. However, travel agencies that are able to adapt and innovate will be better positioned to survive and thrive in the long-term.”