Less than two weeks after it became one of the first travel brands to provide a plugin for ChatGPT, Expedia Group has added a new travel planning tool to the brand Expedia mobile app that uses the artificial intelligence-powered large language model.
The beta version of the new tool is rolling out this week globally in Expedia’s iOS app in English, with plans to launch in other languages in the future.
In an industry that is often criticized for moving slowly on new technologies, to say Expedia Group’s integration has been fast-tracked seems like an understatement. ChatGPT itself only launched November 30.
In January, Expedia Group senior vice president and chief architect Rajesh Naidu seemed to allude to the in-app integration when PhocusWire asked him about the potential for ChatGPT to be used in travel, saying, “Imagine if travelers could use it to create a trip itinerary or identify top hotels for their trip and have AI automatically add these recommendations to their Expedia trip board.” Naidu also participated in PhocusWire’s LinkedIn audio event about ChatGPT in February, and it seems the company began developing this integration shortly after that.
In announcing the new in-app tool, Expedia Group CTO Rathi Murthy says it has been built in “just over the last month,” with the speed in part attributed to work the company has been doing for years to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning into its systems.
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“Our maturity we’ve had in AI has been for a very long time … and we have been a platform, so we have APIs across the board. So really leveraging our APIs … in close partnership with OpenAI to bring those two APIs together, it was just a matter of a few weeks,” she said.
“And [then] we spent a few weeks training our models to make sure that our responses continue to be in Expedia’s voice, culture and ethics so that’s where we spent most of our time - writing our models to make sure we continue to give the right responses.”
Now in the Expedia iOS app in English, users that are logged in have the option to select “Explore trip ideas with ChatGPT.” In the chat interface, users can have an open-ended conversation to get recommendations for a trip itinerary including hotels, rentals, flights, experiences and ground transportation, with results pulled from Expedia Group’s travel data.
For hotel results, the system automatically saves properties suggested in the conversation to a “trip board” in the app, where users can click through to look at pricing, reviews, photos and to complete the booking. For other recommendations, such as things to do, the trip board links through to the traditional in-app search function.
The chat is set up to show three to five hotel results. Murthy says the sort order is similar to Expedia’s regular search function, with results “based on our knowledge of your question, your criteria, what you are looking for, our smart-shopping algorithms as well as availability, pricing and how we render the best hotel for you.”
In the traditional hotel search on the Expedia app, the company includes a note on how it recommends properties, saying, “… a booking from which we earn more compensation will feature higher in our search results listing compared to other properties with similar offers where we are paid less compensation on the booking.”
When asked if this same policy of factoring in commissions is used for the results provided by ChatGPT in the Expedia app, an Expedia Group spokesperson said, “No. The ChatGPT Expedia app integration is not using the same policy as the traditional Expedia search.”
Will travelers use ChatGPT to plan, book trips?
Now the question for Expedia and the industry more broadly is – will travelers want to use ChatGPT to plan, shop and book travel through an online travel agency?
“We don’t know if travelers will really embrace it,” said Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern.
“Obviously there’s tons of excitement around ChatGPT and people are experimenting with it … but whether it enhances the discovery process or really gets you there faster depends on the person. We for sure have lots of customers that are used to our apps, they know how to come in, they know how to get to what they want, they don’t need to type in a bunch of long paragraphs.”
But Kern says the integration of ChatGPT is a natural next step in Expedia Group’s use of AI and machine learning that has been progressing over the last several years.
“We didn’t see around the corner to know ChatGPT would be this - although large language models are a thing that’s been coming for a while - but we’ve been rebuilding our whole platform to deploy AI and machine learning much more simply across everything. And now we’re in a position where it’s much easier for us to do it with speed,” he said.
“We are trying to solve for as many customers and as many ways as they want to shop as they can. … We want to serve all those needs, and basically this one looks pretty interesting, but whether it will become in any way the dominant way, we are not suggesting we believe that necessarily. We just want to be there for any way any of our customers want to engage.”
Murthy says AI is “pretty mature in our ecosystem, across everything we do,” and the Expedia Group platform generates more than 600 billion AI predictions per year.
Since its launch in 2021, she says the company’s existing virtual agent chat tool – which is primarily for customer service on existing bookings – has powered nearly 30 million conversations and saved more than eight million hours of agent time.
AI ethics and controls
While the integration of ChatGPT into the Expedia app has been relatively fast, Kern says it has been done “in a very thoughtful way.”
“We want to make sure we control the experience, and it’s not just open it and see what happens,” he said.
“We have an AI ethics committee where we are always working to take bias out of AI. … We want to make sure no strange experiences happen, that there’s no engagement that’s not to do with travel. … And then of course that everybody feels like they are treated the same, and there’s nothing inherent in any of the models that creates any bias. So that’s an important part of the work.”
Watch how ChatGPT functions in Expedia's mobile app in the video below.
Expedia ChatGPT app demo