Simone Marini knew his sailing cruise marketplace was missing out on some commissions when customers went off his platform to negotiate directly with the boats’ skippers. He just wasn’t sure what he could do about it.
Italy-based Sailsquare, the company he’d launched in 2014, was too small to monitor all the communications on the platform, and he couldn’t find a tool or software he believed would prove effective.
Then he started hearing about the things that could be done with ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot launched last fall by OpenAI.
In what seemed like a ridiculously short amount of time, Marini and his team developed an algorithm using ChatGPT to detect patterns and identify messages on his site when users attempted to exchange contact information with the sailing hosts.
“It took us less than one day of work to get it integrated into our platforms,” he said. “The most complex work was to determine the right prompt to give to ChatGPT to get the desired answers.”
Asked if he thought about trying to sell his innovation to larger companies, Marini laughed. “I thought of it. But it’s so easy to put in place such a feature that I don’t think [trying to sell it] would be very successful.”
Subscribe to our newsletter below
While ChatGPT’s relative simplicity doomed any hopes Marini had of becoming a programming tycoon, it’s been a boon to travel companies ranging in size from Expedia and Trip.com to, well, Sailsquare or Hospitable, a software service with barely 30 employees that helps short-term rental hosts manage properties. That wasn’t too small for Hospitable to add a ChatGPT integration that generates draft responses to guest messages.
“This is a great equalizer,” Hospitable CEO Pierre-Camille Hamana said, adding that he doesn’t see a reason any property manager would invest in communications software to handle tasks so easily performed by ChatGPT. “It wouldn’t make any sense.”
Speaking during a webinar about ChatGPT hosted by PhocusWire and Miles Partnership, travel consultant Tim Peter compared ChatGPT to the introduction of the internet and mobile phones.
“We are looking at another transformative technology, another generational technology that I think is going to impact all kinds of areas,” Peter said.
His fellow panelists agreed. But what stood out to Microsoft’s Shane O’Flaherty was how accessible the technology is. “We’ve democratized AI, and everyone has an equal playing field,” said O’Flaherty, the company’s global director of travel, transportation and hospitality. “It’s a super exciting time.”
Christian Watts, the CEO of Magpie, called ChatGPT “a brilliant product.” His content and distribution system for tour and activity providers released a tool built with ChatGPT that’s intended to create better quality marketing content.
“Everyone has access to this technology,” he said during the roundtable discussion. “I have the same access as a small company … as Expedia. Anybody on this call today can build a chatbot, today, in a few hours, that’s as good as Expedia’s chatbot.”
Everyone has access to this technology. I have the same access as a small company ... as Expedia. Anybody ... can build a chatbot, today, in a few hours, that’s as good as Expedia’s chatbot.
Christian Watts - Magpie
Yet while the access may be even, Watts added, bigger companies are likely in a better position to overcome ChatGPT’s shortcomings. After all, the technology is only as good as the data it can access.
“It doesn’t always tell the truth, and it doesn’t know it’s not telling the truth, so it can’t alert us to the fact,” Watts pointed out. “That’s a problem, and that introduces the need for [an extra] data layer. I think that’s where the bigger companies come in.”
Combining ChatGPT’s abilities with the data sets collected by an Expedia or a Tripadvisor could be key in seeing the technology achieve its full potential. Said Watts, “The bigger companies have the advantage on this data layer, and they’ll move quicker on that.”
While that could prove true, it may not matter to small companies that have different objectives than big online travel agencies and other giants of the sector.
At Sailsquare, for example, Marini believes he would have been fine without the ChatGPT tool his company installed. They’d built a network of around 4,000 providers and forged a trust, especially with the most active thousand. In mainly targeting inexperienced users, the service Sailsquare provides in vetting the boats’ captains becomes even more important.
“We have a very strict onboarding process,” Marini said. “We verify their credentials and experience.” Even after the skippers join the fleet, so to speak, Sailsquare monitors them to ensure they live up to expectations. “After that, the customer reviews speak for themselves. We rarely have any problems with them, really.”
Because of that, Marini doesn’t view it as a success when he catches a customer trying to cheat his company out of its commission.
“It’s a failure,” he said. “It means we put a little effort [in catching them by developing thee ChatGPT tool], but it means we should put much more effort into trying to improve our service and let both customers and providers know that we are working for them and providing some value to them.
“You have to provide value. If you provide value, this is the better answer you can provide to your customers and providers.”
And that, he concluded, is a level of service — a human touch, if you will — that no one has written an algorithm for just yet.
Phocuswright Europe 2023
Generative AI is set to revolutionize travel. Leaders from Trip.com, Microsoft and Kayak tell us how the technology will change everything from the back of the house to the front.