Questions about whether or not some new technology will make travel advisors obsolete is nothing new. From the introduction of the World Wide Web and Google to online travel agencies and book-it-yourself websites, advisors have faced – and overcome – many technological-based threats to their existence.
Yet the lightning speed at which artificial intelligence and tools like ChapGPT are hitting the media and gaining traction throughout the travel industry certainly seems unprecedented.
Travel Market Report spoke to several travel franchise, host agency and consortia executives to get their thoughts on artificial intelligence.
To Fear or Not to Fear
"I think it's a threat," said Kathryn Mazza-Burney, chief sales officer for TRAVELSAVERS. "But I can't tell you what that threat looks like because I don't know… it's such the unknown still."
Despite feeling there is a threat inherent in the technology, Mazza-Burney was clear A.I. doesn't spell the end for travel advisors.
"I know there potentially could be segments that will be hurt because of it… We're also in a service-based industry where they're still going to need that personal touch. They're still going to want to talk to somebody… so, do I think it will ever completely overtake our industry? Never."
David Kolner, executive vice president at Virtuoso, agreed.
"A.I. is great at providing recommendations, but the human connection will never be replaced. If anything, it creates greater emphasis on the human benefits that an advisor has," he said.
"I don't think you'd be afraid of it," said Michelle Fee, founder and CEO of Cruise Planners. "Just embrace what we can."
Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group echoed Fee.
"Learn how to embrace it. Don't fear it," she said.
"We're not afraid of A.I. and actually have incredible hope and promise for what it can automate," said Kolner.
He wasn't the only executive expressing high hopes for how A.I. can help advisors.
"I think it will be like Google… helping us be more effective and efficient," said Alex Sharpe, president and CEO of Signature Travel Network. "The very best advisors will embrace it and be better for it."
"Look at some of the more administrative tasks that you don't necessarily love to do but have to. Is there a way to leverage ChatGPT to help you get some of those things done faster," asked Friedman.
"It certainly can be helpful," added Debbie Fiorino, COO of World Travel Holdings, the parent company of Dream Vacation. "They can use it to help them be more efficient."
"Artificial intelligence can certainly be used to help with some of your research, to help with starting off ideas for blogs and profiles and maybe some stuff on your website," Friedman added.
"Some advisors will start with an itinerary from ChapGPT to get started or use that to help write marketing copy or to get started composing a letter," said Kolner.
Fiorino and Friedman had a few words of caution for advisors playing around with A.I., particularly for those using it for things like blogs.
"They've got to make sure they don't rely on it so much that it doesn't sound like them… they have to be unique and be who they are because that's why people do business with them," Fiorino said.
"Do not plagiarize," added Friedman. "Don't take it [the results] exactly."
With so much still unknown, TMR asked executives who is responsible for figuring out how A.I. fits into the travel advisor's business.
Answers were mixed.
"I think that's more or less the host franchise responsibility," said Fee. "Some home-based agent isn't going to be able to figure out how they can take this new tool and bring it to fruition for their customer base."
"I think we're all looking at, as in all industries, where does it fit in for us? Where is it good? Where is it not going to be good? I still think there's a ton of learning. I'm not worried about A.I., but we're definitely making sure that we're looking at it in terms of how we can advise our agents to use it themselves and how we as a franchisor can use it to help them in the future."
"Our job is to demystify it for them and find real tangible examples where they can put it into play," Sharpe said.
Friedman told TMR, she believes the responsibility belongs to both agency groups and advisors.
"At Travel Leaders Group, we have folks that are very focused on figuring out how they can work with it. Our job is to make sure that they're aware of how it can be used, to give them ideas, to encourage them not to be afraid of it... My advice is to figure out how you can make it work for you. Don't be afraid of it, dabble with it and see where you could use it."
Virtuoso's Kolner agreed.
"We're definitely in that very early adoption curve… but I think everybody should be experimenting. We are and I know many host agencies are as well. And I know many advisors are trying out the tools too… Just experiment with it now. Don't be afraid of it and stay tuned. There's going to be a lot of evolution in the space. Depend on your colleagues, depend on your host agency, depend on your consortium networks, and depend on the industry like ASTA to help pave the way."