Expedia wants to use artificial intelligence to take Google out of the trip planning business

Expedia wants to use artificial intelligence to take Google out of the trip planning business

Travel site Expedia wants to get people to start searching for travel on its site using artificial intelligence rather than using an external search engine.

Expedia already uses AI in some customer service features and to help realtors describe their homes and hotels. In the future, the company hopes that artificial intelligence will help it recommend travel destinations to customers based on previous trips and bring more direct traffic to its site. It’s a long-term plan to change the balance of power on the web — albeit one that’s still in its early stages for the company.

The goal is to have users start their journeys in one place, says Rajesh Naidu, chief engineer and chief data officer at Expedia. Expedia hopes to provide recommendations drawn from its library of flight and hotel information, informed by users’ travel preferences. “By being able to train large language models on our data, this rich 70 petabytes of data that we have collected over the years, we can eventually recommend places to go and stay and do and continue to improve and personalize that,” Naidu narrates. the edge In an interview.

According to Naidu, when people plan trips, they often start by going to a search engine to search for a destination. Only then do they visit services like Expedia to start booking travel and accommodation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with going to Google and typing “best vacation that’s not cold and not far from New York,” but Naidu believes there is value in simplifying the travel planning process further.

Travel is one example that AI evangelists use when talking about the power of AI assistants. Imagine you need to book a flight, all you have to do is select your preferred flight time and airline, and the AI ​​will book it for you. Expedia’s proposal seems like a middle ground: AI can’t book everything for customers yet, but the goal is to get people to plan their travel in one place — you know, like travel agents before online booking took their jobs.

Of course, Expedia stands to gain if people choose not to go to Google first

Jeff Hurst, former CFO of Expedia, testified during the hearing United States vs. Google The antitrust trial found that although the travel site increased its payments to Google for advertising space, traffic never increased after the search engine began showing flights and hotels. Vertical search engines — sites that specialize in searching for information about one thing, such as travel or restaurant reviews — have had a long and tumultuous relationship with the search giant. The more Expedia cuts out the middleman with Google, the more revenue it can generate. When I admitted that I started booking my last vacation through a Google search before finding myself on Expedia’s hotel search site, Naidu jokingly pointed out that I had given my money to Google before Expedia. (I did not finalize my reservation through Expedia.)

Although comprehensive personal travel planning isn’t yet available on Expedia, the service has long used machine learning algorithms to track flight prices and find hotels. It launched a Virtual Assistant tool in March 2020 to help customers with post-booking questions like refunds and confirming stay dates, then announced a customer service chatbot plugin powered by ChatGPT in April. The company also runs vacation rental site Vrbo, which uses artificial intelligence to help write property owners’ home descriptions and rate the quality of photos.

Other travel companies have invested in AI as well, with Airbnb buying AI-powered trip planning startup Gameplanner.AI in November.

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