TORONTO — Like with any new trend, it may seem like you’re the last person to jump on the AI bandwagon.
Though we’re still (light) years away from full-blown ‘Jetsons’ mode, it certainly feels like we’ve entered a new era in artificial intelligence (AI), thanks in large part to the massive popularity of ChatGPT.
Since exploding onto the scene in November 2022, the AI chatbot by OpenAI has seen a rapid rise in popularity, across people of all ages, cultures and professions. Students are using it to help with their homework, business professionals are using it to write cover letters and finesse their resumes, and – hitting closer to home – travel agents are using it to research travel recommendations and craft entire trip itineraries.
It may surprise you that your colleagues and peers have embraced AI and ChatGPT with open arms. “Robots are stealing our jobs and taking over the world!” you may be thinking. But from what travel agents are telling us, large language models (LLM) like ChatGPT and rival Claude 2 by Anthropic AI can be used to make your job more efficient, not obsolete.
In this third article in our ChatGPT editorial series, we asked travel agents how they’re implementing AI in their day-to-day operations, and to provide tips for those who are looking to jump on the bandwagon, too.
Laurie Keith, President, Romantic Planet Vacations
How are you using AI? “I implemented ChatGPT in my day-to-day about a month ago and I haven’t looked back. I have the app on my phone and desktop and use it to respond to emails, create blogs and short social media text, and help with itinerary building. I just learned that you can also have it create photos for you as I often insert photos into my quotes. The feature that I’m most looking forward to is when it can take over sorting and answering all of my emails automatically. Imagine a world without this labour-intensive task!”
Any tips for beginners? “ChatGPT is not difficult at all. It’s quick and easy to set up in minutes. Then you start typing in your prompts (questions) into a chat box and the conversation begins. You can be as specific or as vague as you want. The first step is just to try. I treat ‘my’ AI like my personal assistant, have given ‘her’ a name (Amanda) and speak to ‘her’ with pleasantries like ‘Good morning, Amanda’ and ‘Amanda, can you help me create a blog about…’ and she immediately goes to work.”
Do you think AI will replace travel agents? “I am absolutely thrilled about this new tool. I’ve been in the industry too long to worry about anything ‘taking over our job’ as it hasn’t happened yet. Change is scary for most but I can’t even imagine life as a travel agent without the Internet now, as an example. I view AI as an incredible tool to further help us be more efficient and creative in serving the travel needs of consumers, and increasing our overall productivity and sales. We won’t be competing against AI, we’ll be competing against travel agents who are using AI to their benefit.”
Brenda Slater, Travel Concierge, Beyond The Beach, Tiny, ON
How are you using AI? “So far, the AI I have encountered has been interesting. We have an AI add-on to our Zoom account, which takes meticulous notes for our ACITA (The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors) Zoom meetings, complete with a synopsis.”
Any tips for beginners? The learning curve is actually minimal but you do need to check everything carefully and do some edits before sending information along.”
Do you think AI will replace travel agents? “No, most of my clients are in the 50+ age range, and the reason they have me as their advisor is because they don’t want to do all the work to find what they’re hoping for. Also, they like to have the ability to access me while travelling in case of any issues. For those online bookers out there, AI may be helpful in guiding them but must like Google Maps, it doesn’t always get you on the right path.”
Elaine Simpson, Owner/Travel Manager and Cruise Counsellor, Algonquin Travel & Cruise Centre, Ottawa, ON
How are you using AI? “We have used it for Facebook posts and our weekly newsletter. But we’ve found its main benefit to be for helping eliminate ‘writer’s block’ and help get us started, especially on a difficult task.”
Any tips for beginners? “It’s not difficult, but we find that you still have to edit and often shorten the response to remove the fluff that often comes with the response.”
Do you think AI will replace travel agents? “No, I’m not worried at this point. When the Internet became more common and we worried it would replace us, we soon learned to co-exist well with it and now consider it just another tool in the toolbox to help in our ongoing communication with clients and staff. It feels like AI is in its infancy right now, so we will take a wait-and-see attitude and decide if that answer still holds water or not!”
Kim Paquette, CEO, Travel By Kim, the Travel Queen (part of Trevello Group), Ottawa, ON
How are you using AI? “I’ve utilized AI mainly for translation services, destination research and crafting sensitive messages. My experiments have yielded a couple of unusual discoveries. For instance, I used it to search activities and hidden gems during a group trip to Spain. While I did come across a few excellent recommendations, one restaurant that met all my criteria turned out to be closed for over a year.”
Any tips for beginners? “While my personal experiments have not provided encouraging results, I’d suggest beginning with online training and staying informed. For fellow agents, it’s important to remember that this is just a trial phase, so start small and gradually integrate it into your business. This way, you can continue offering the efficient, personalized service that your clients value.”
Do you think AI will replace travel agents? “Absolutely 100% no. People undoubtedly appreciate pampering and personalized service. Time-consuming tasks like searching and comparing are complicated and can be frustrating. AI falls short in addressing the complexities of travel today. For years, everyone thought that OTAs would dominate, yet the advisor/agent business is thriving. While people might employ AI as a research tool, a computer could never replace a trusted advisor, in my view.”
To sign up for ChatGPT go to https://chat.openai.com/ or download the app.
Got a story idea? Reach out to Deputy Editor Cindy Sosroutomo at email@example.com.