Can AI transform travel in 2024? From deepfake invites to Insta-generated itineraries

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash (Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash)
Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash (Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash)

It’s official, we are living in a never-ending episode of dystopian TV show Black Mirror. With the debut of “generative AI” platform ChatGPT at the end of 2022, we can get artificial intelligence to write emails, give parenting advice and even craft heartfelt wedding vows. You might not want to believe its capabilities match humans yet but at the recent AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park in November, King Charles addressed a room full of tech titans and world leaders by saying that artificial intelligence was "no less important than the discovery of electricity, the splitting of the atom, the creation of the world wide web or even the harnessing of fire”.

As a travel journalist and trend forecaster I have been experimenting with how “Gen AI” tools such as ChatGPT and Google’s Bard can be used in my work, and reporting on interesting applications of the technology to make trip planning and booking easier. I even challenged it to have a go at writing this article: “Ever felt overwhelmed by the countless options while planning a trip? AI is here to simplify that. By analysing your past travels, preferences, and even your social media activity, AI-powered platforms can suggest destinations, hotels, and activities that suit your personal taste. Imagine logging into an app and immediately finding a list of destinations you're bound to love, complete with boutique hotels, quaint cafes, and hidden gems,” writes ChatGPT in a matter of seconds.

It adds: “The rise of AI-powered chatbots means you have a travel assistant in your pocket, ready to answer your queries at any time. These virtual assistants are becoming increasingly sophisticated, providing real-time assistance with booking flights, suggesting local experiences, and even offering language help. No more waiting on hold for customer service; instant support is just a chat away. AI is also revolutionising how we find the best travel deals. With dynamic pricing, AI algorithms analyse market trends to offer competitive prices on flights and accommodation. This means you could snag a great deal on that luxury resort or find a bargain flight to your dream destination – all thanks to the smart pricing strategies enabled by AI.”

 (Intrepid Travel)
(Intrepid Travel)

So what do us humans think about all this? Will robots be taking over? According to an Oliver Wyman survey of 1,100 leisure travellers in the US and Canada who had used Gen AI for travel planning, inspiration or booking, 84% were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the quality of the recommendations. Another recent survey by Expedia of 20,000 respondents revealed that almost 40% of people would be likely to use Gen AI for tasks such as researching hotels, comparing flights, and getting ideas for things to do. Maybe we are in the first flush of a new relationship, though, and things will go downhill once we become jaded…

Rafat Ali, co-founder of US travel media and intelligence company Skift, says that after the initial hype, from a consumer perspective, Gen AI “hasn’t set the world on fire”, but there's “a lot of possibilities coming”. Ali says that it could “spell the end of the ‘tyranny of the search box’ that's been there since the first internet booking sites came along in the mid nineties”. He says: “Generative AI is already changing how you search – whether it's a text chatbot or voice commands or a photo or video upload whereby you say, ‘What’s this place?’ or ‘Find me a place that is like this’. All of that is possible now so how we search for travel is going to become a lot more informal and you could argue inspirational because it's not so structured.”

Henry Coutinho-Mason, trend forecaster and author of The Future Normal, agrees: “Gen AI will mean that planning a trip will become more like a conversation, rather than the current drop down search filters, especially as voice inputs become common. But it will also transform the travel experience in more subtle, but equally welcome, ways. During the trip, real-time translation will make communication seamless; AI will step in and automatically navigate bureaucracy in the case of cancelled flights or lost luggage; after the trip, it will automatically create movies, similar to Apple's Memories or Google's Photo Stack today, but far more intelligently - adding animations, soundtracks, voice overs and cinematic effects.”

AI will step in and automatically navigate bureaucracy in the case of cancelled flights or lost luggage; after the trip, it will automatically create movies, similar to Apple's Memories or Google's Photo Stack today, but far more intelligently - adding animations, soundtracks, voice overs and cinematic effects.

Henry Coutinho-Mason

Travel search engine Kayak has been an “early adopter” of ChatGPT, plugging it into it into its "Best Time to Travel” tool – a service that provides recommendations on the best month to travel, prioritising a blend of predictive flight price, weather, and crowd considerations, based on internal and external data. Matthias Keller, chief scientist and senior vice-president of technology at travel search engine Kayak, says: “We train and use AI to help predict price trends, to surface the most relevant content out of millions of reviews from actual travellers, to help make travellers personalised recommendations, and to help identify and present the best hotel images.”

Ali concludes: “The promise of AI is, if you are a logged-in user on a platform that knows your history, how you travel and what you've previously booked, then the matching of the right type of results seems to be a lot more promising. Airbnb has said that its search functionality will be completely different next year. I'm looking forward to that because it’s the type of company that has the resources and the creativity to be able to come out with something like that.”

Here are six ways Gen AI will change the way we plan, book and experience travel in 2024…

Conversational ideation

Usually, holiday planning starts with typing something like “Best winter sun destinations” into Google, and then clicking various links to articles that are often behind a paywall. Gen AI is changing that with the emergence of conversational ideation. Companies such as Expedia and Kayak have already embedded ChatGPT windows into their websites so you can chat with the bot as you would a friend on WhatsApp. You can type in a full paragraph for your brief and go from there - you don’t have to worry about key words and you can keep asking follow up questions. On Expedia it will then automatically save hotels that have been suggested to a dedicated “trip” in the app ready for you to compare and book if you so choose.

Custom itineraries

Putting together an itinerary can take hours of cross-referencing and planning but Tripadvisor’s new ChatGPT integration can do it in seconds. You can input your destination, dates, people you are travelling with and interests, and it will come up with a stream of hour-by-hour suggestions for each day you are there, complete with photos. What’s really clever is that makes these recommendations based on a database of more than a billion user reviews. The itinerary can then easily be modified, saved and shared.

Curated inspiration

Many people get an initial idea of where they might want to go on holiday from social media or a friend, but when it comes to deciding on where to stay it canbecome trickier, unless you have a specific hotel in mind. Closing the gap between inspiration and reservations,'s new ChatGPT-powered AI Trip Planner generates a visual list properties and prices based on whatever parameters you want to provide (such as near the sea or in a place that’s not too touristy), with deep-links to view the hotels in more detail. Users can go back and forth between their chatbot conversation and the app interface until they make up their mind. When they are ready, a single tap will complete the reservation.

Deepfake invitations

Most people associate “deepfakes” with nefarious practises such as disrupting geo-politics with fake videos of presidential speeches (this happened in 2023 when hackers used AI to create a convincing simulacrum of President Putin that aired on Russian TV). But what about deepfake Tom Cruise? He’s hilarious. Taking inspiration from this widely shared TikTok meme is Virgin Voyages, which has turned its official brand ambassador Jennifer Lopez into a benevolent deepfake called “Jen AI” who will appear in a customisable video travel invitation that you can send to friends or family. Just input your names, the occasion, how you like to celebrate and where you want to cruise to. How can you say no to J-Lo?

Social bookings

Bridging the gap between short-form video content on social media and holiday bookings, Layla is an gen-AI powered start-up that features an Instagram Travel Planner that is activated by direct messaging. Co-founder Saad Saeed said in a statement: “Visual search is the future of travel for younger consumers. Our product gives users exactly what they want, in a medium they like to consume and on platforms where they spend most of their time. With a few simple swipes of your finger, you can ask Layla to find Maldives-like beaches in a destination that is more affordable and is not inundated with tourists. From a few simple Instagram DM exchanges, Layla will suggest the best flights, accommodation and activities in line with your budget and interests, alongside accompanying video content.”

Virtual guides

Another innovator is Tailbox, which wants to bring together interactive maps, custom experiences, social meet-ups, and local knowledge in one “user-friendlyapplication”. Co-founder Bayazid Maliko said in a statement: “Imagine walking through Rome and receiving a real-time, AI-generated narrative about the Colosseum tailored specifically to your interest in ancient history, while someone else might get a story focusing on the architectural marvels of the same monument. AI holds the key to unlocking them.” One could even imagine listening to the voices of long-dead heroes come to life as you walk around say, Paris, with the late French singer Edith Piaf as your guide (after all, Warner Music Group is using AI to recreate her voice to narrate its forthcoming movie Piaf).