The economy’s ongoing digital transformation has completely reshaped the travel sector.
Gone are the days of sifting through countless travel websites and agonizing over the plethora of options available; and the years of calling up a real, living travel agent on the phone are fast approaching ancient history.
One of the tech platforms at the heart of the travel sector’s digital evolution, Airbnb, on Tuesday (Nov. 14) announced its first acquisition as a public company — an artificial intelligence (AI) startup called Gameplanner.ai.
The news comes on the heels of Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky saying that AI will help turn Airbnb into the “ultimate travel agent” and “unlock opportunities we’ve never seen” during his company’s most recent earnings call.
And Chesky echoed that sentiment in a Tuesday blog post announcing the purchase of Gameplanner.ai.
“AI will rapidly alter our world more than any other technology in our lifetime. … I believe that, together with Adam and his team, we can develop some of the best interfaces and practical applications for AI,” the CEO said.
The “Adam” that Chesky is referring to is Gameplanner.ai’s founder Adam Cheyer, who co-founded the voice assistant Siri, which was acquired by Apple, and later co-founded Viv Labs, which was acquired by Samsung and is now known as the company’s voice assistant Bixby.
Cheyer’s engineering talents, and his 12-person team, will be put to good use as Airbnb looks to build out generative AI powered “travel concierges” that learn about users’ preferences over time. Integrating AI agents into its platform can provide Airbnb with new, value-added services that drive further stickiness and lifetime value, like matching customers with the right room or home rentals in real time.
Gameplanner.ai, which was founded in 2020, had yet to emerge from stealth before being acquired by Airbnb for an amount that a CNBC report pegged at “just under $200 million.”
Imagine having a personalized travel assistant at your fingertips, capable of understanding your preferences and curating the perfect itinerary — this is the promise of AI as a travel agent, and it is the future that Airbnb, as well as many other businesses, wants to build.
“Hyper-personalized, really immersive experiences are going to be so important going forward,” Ed Chandler, senior vice president and head of Commercial and Money Movement Solutions for Europe at Visa, told PYMNTS. “… [O]ne of the buzzwords we hear is the idea of a ‘connected trip.’”
The use of AI copilots to enhance travel gives platforms a built-in agent equipped with the ability to sift through vast amounts of data at lightning speed and extract relevant information to tailor a travel experience unique to each individual.
These intelligent systems leverage machine learning algorithms to understand user behavior, preferences, and past travel patterns, ensuring that every recommendation aligns with the traveler’s desires.
Travelers can interact with AI travel agents through voice commands or text messages, making the process more conversational and user-friendly. This not only enhances accessibility but also eliminates the need for users to navigate complex interfaces, streamlining the entire planning and booking process.
As revealed in the PYMNTS Intelligence report “Consumer Interest in Artificial Intelligence,” consumers interact with about five AI-enabled technologies every week on average, including browsing the web, using navigation apps and reviewing online product recommendations.
After all, trusting an AI assistant to help you plan your next vacation is likely a safer bet than trusting an AI assistant to create something like a legal brief.
That’s why consumer-facing AI technology is seeing a rush of recent investment. Google is reportedly looking bolster its partnership with Character.AI via a significant investment, noting that Character.AI’s character-based chatbots have struck a chord with younger users who make up 60% of its web traffic.
Younger consumers have shown the greatest interest in AI. Data showed that 56% of Generation Z consumers are interested in AI-enhanced communication, 62% are interested in AI-enhanced entertainment, and 60% have shown interest in AI-enhanced shopping.
Meta has also moved fast to plant a flag in the AI companion space, introducing 28 AI personas at the end of September, as well as a product that lets celebrities and public figures create their own AI chatbots to interact with fans.
“You can imagine a world where over time every business has an AI agent that basically people can message and interact with them,” said Meta Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the company’s second-quarter 2023 earnings call in July. “… It’s quite human labor intensive for a person to be on the other side of that interaction.”
That’s why amalgamation of machine learning, natural language processing, and predictive analysis all under the hood of an AI assistant represents a transformative shift that Airbnb, Gameplanner.ai, and others are all betting on being on the right side of.