Expedia introduces ChatGPT pilot in ‘super early’ days for AI

BERLIN — ChatGPT offers a “lot of promising value” for the travel industry but it is “super-early, so exactly what that looks like is going to continue to emerge,” according to Expedia Group SVP, product & technology, Karen Bolda.

Speaking at the International Hospitality Investment Forum in Berlin yesterday, she said: “We want to change the industry as we continue to improve our platform and ensure that the whole eco-system benefits from that.

“We’re always looking at new technology. We have generative AI running on Beta on our app and any Expedia members can use ChatGPT and ask questions and we’ve been able to pull that data, and we have a lot of really good data,” she said.

Test and Learn

Bolda pointed out that Expedia had been using AI for a long time and said that the key would be to better understand the opportunities and capabilities of the technology and how that would adapt.

“For example, as soon as ChatGPT tells someone about something unique, it’s not unique any longer,” she said.

Where Bolda did see immediate possibilities was around efficiency, whereby ChatGPT responses could save a user “scouring seven different websites,” and instead provide good and comprehensive information on, for instance, a travel itinerary.

Expedia has OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on its board and Bolda said that the online travel agency had been working with OpenAi to consider how to bring the best of Expedia and of ChatGPT together and connect users and partners seamlessly.

Rapid Development

AI is developing rapidly, with rival platforms and new iterations reaching the market almost constantly, and Bolda acknowledged that each evolution created different opportunities.

“Every version introduces a whole bunch of new possibilities. On ChatGPT4 you can train the AI on a lot more of your data, but again it’s super early as it’s just come out,” she said.

Expedia continues to constantly trial new technologies by running beta launches. Generative AI is likely to be a major area of investment for the company, especially as it has amassed a huge amount of travel data, which it will use to provide optimized experiences and insights so the company is “correctly matching a user with the right travel product.”

While many in the industry wondered whether post-pandemic travel growth was sustainable, Expedia continues to see strong demand across travel categories.

“There is clearly a very strong desire to travel,” Bolda said. “Whenever we look at searches across all our Expedia sites, searches globally are up 25 percent quarter over quarter. And direct research with consumers has shown that 79 percent are planning a leisure trip within the next 12 months.”

This is common across markets, although APAC has been slightly behind because of the delay in opening up markets and travel in the region.

“For business travel we also see a strong intent, with 40 percent who say they will take a business travel trip in the next 12 months,” she added.

Growing Confidence

Bolda also insisted that travelers are becoming more confident about planning trips further into the future, with searches over 180 days quarter over quarter up 30 percent, and for 90-180 days up 60 percent.

“So those are really big increases,” she said, while conceding that pricing is also a factor, as people are keen to lock in prices as early as possible.

“But is also a really strong signal that they feel comfortable about booking earlier out,” she said.

In order to encourage bookings, Expedia has also launched price alerts for flights, and Bolda said that the company has seen a high number of subscribers to these alerts, while it has also achieved strong demand for its B2B services, with revenue up 55 percent over 2022.

Looking to the future, she said that Expedia is working on optimized distribution, which simplifies the wholesale distribution model. Instead of having a connection with lots of distributors, it means companies have one connection.

“We’re working with four hotel chains [on this] and now opening it up, and can do more targeting,” she said.

Expedia is also trying to build out better solutions for revenue performance and optimization and is piloting a new API that will offer hoteliers and airlines quicker and real-time information.

A version of this story ran on Hotel Management's sister site Hospitality Investor.