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Could the Future of Travel Agents Be Artificial Intelligence?

Even the most controlling travelers have to admit that there are some benefits to working with travel agents when planning certain vacations. While many elements of travel have gotten easier over time, some Americans report that booking travel these days feels “more complex” than ever before. Travel advisors’ expertise allows them to not just understand, but simplify these complexities in order to streamline what can be a fraught undertaking.

Can artificial intelligence do the same? As AI is applied in more sectors, it’s no wonder there are those looking to use it to reduce the headache of travel planning. The jury is still out, however, on whether AI can plan as well as—or better than—a human travel agent.

Virtual travel agents are fantastic at tedious tasks

AI’s greatest strength is its ability to automate time-consuming and tedious tasks, and this is definitely a valuable asset when planning travel. While it would take any human weeks to scour the internet for the best prices on flights, hotels, restaurant reservations, and other experiences, AI can have that kind of exhaustive research done for you in mere moments. What’s more, AI algorithms can analyze that data, comparing prices and using historical data around factors like weather trends and peak travel times as well as real-time data like flight cancellations and airport delays. This can help even the most cautious traveler feel more confident making informed decisions around things like timing and pricing.

On the subject of pricing—AI can be especially valuable when traveling for business or in other situations where it’s important to track and manage expenses. With artificial intelligence, travelers can generate real-time, detailed expense reports and track how much budget is left for a particular trip (or how far over budget they have gone).

…but the human touch is irreplaceable

While using AI for the above tasks can save time and frustration, there are elements of travel planning that can’t be done by machine learning. A talented (human) travel agent is able to take into account your personal preferences—even when those preferences are better described as a “vibe,” or when they’re outside the mainstream. What if you have to plan a family getaway for nine people, two of whom are foodies, two of whom are adrenaline-junkies, four of whom are museum fans, and two of whom just want to lay on the beach? It takes humanity and a degree of emotional intelligence to figure out how to ideally weigh competing interests against each other.

What’s more, only human travel agents are able to form relationships with human representatives at hotels or airlines. In some instances, what you’re paying for when you hire a travel advisor is that person’s connections. While a bot may be able to find the best advertised price for a resort stay, it can’t call up an old friend who works at that resort and find out about the secret, unlisted price through friendly conversation. Add to that expertise on things like the most beautiful and least crowded place to catch the sunset, and you start to see how irreplaceable the human element is. AI is programmed to do what makes the most sense, which means you’re likely to end up on the same vacation as everyone else who utilizes its services. This lack of uniqueness can take some of the fun out of things, as can the increased congestion of areas everyone is visiting at once.

Ultimately—and is the case with using a travel agent and arranging a trip yourself—using AI to help plan your vacation has its pros and its cons. Moreover, there are going to be some kinds of travel that AI is better suited to planning than other kinds: If you’re looking to scour the internet for the best possible deals, AI’s algorithmic analysis capabilities can be invaluable. If you’re looking for a more human touch and a personalized understanding of your needs, a human travel agent is going to be a much better bet. Click here to find a reputable travel agent near you.