Human-sounding AI can plan, help book your travel. But can you trust it?

Human-sounding AI can plan, help book your travel. But can you trust it?


It wasn’t so long ago that travelers planned trips without the internet.

“Back in the day, our parents used to go to these travel agents and really kind of express what they were looking for and what kind of vacation they wanted,” said Saad Saeed, co-founder and CEO of Layla, an AI travel planner whose website launched this year. “Slowly, we kind of acclimatized ourselves to start using these search boxes, clicks, these forms and filters.”

Artificial intelligence-driven tools like Layla can now turn back the clock on that experience, engaging with users almost like humans to customize travel plans with lightning speed plus all the resources of the web. But does AI actually make travel planning easier and can it compare to human expertise? 

Yes and no. Here’s why.

Can AI actually understand us?

It can try. 

“What are you personally looking for in this trip and what do you want out of it?” asked Saeed. “Do you want to reconnect with your partner, for example, or do you want to just feel some adventure and thrill?” 

A human travel agent may ask a series of questions to understand a client’s needs. So can generative AI, which picks up on keywords. Mindtrip, an AI planner launched publicly on May 1, has an actual travel quiz that asks users to rank priorities like “Is your ideal vacation day an exhilarating adventure or a relaxing break?” using sliding scales.

“What we get at the end of that quiz, using the AI, is a really customized description,” explained  Mindtrip Founder and CEO Andy Moss. That then informs what the AI suggests to the traveler. 

Informed suggestions can save users time in narrowing down destinations and experiences, as well as  introduce places users may never have discovered on their own.

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Can AI fully replace humans?

No. Layla may sound human, using conversational phrases like “I’ve got three cozy nests that won’t make your wallet cry.”

“She has a personality. We try to make her funny and so on, where it’s really that friend that can get to know you and then recommend you the perfect stuff,” Saeed said.

But part of Layla’s expertise comes from the real-life experiences of some 1,600 travel content creators  the Berlin-based platform has partnered with. Their videos and insights can give users a richer picture of what to expect.

Mindtrip also leans on human expertise, having tapped a limited group of travel influencers for curated content with plans to eventually open it up so anyone can share their travel itineraries and experiences with the public.

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Is AI a threat to privacy?

With all the rapid advancements in AI in just the past year, some users are wary of its safety.

“Data privacy is definitely one of our biggest concerns, and we ensure that none of the personal identifiable information ever reaches basically the model providers. That will all stay with us,” Layla’s Saeed said. “None of their personally identifiable data can ever be basically used to profile them or basically go into any of these systems, which are training these different models.”

Booz Allen Hamilton, the nation’s largest provider of AI to the federal government, focuses heavily on ethical and  secure AI, as well as adhering to the government’s policies on data collection. 

“We collect as little information as we can in order to provide a secure transaction,” said Booz Allen Hamilton Senior Vice President Will Healy, who heads up their recreation work, including, the government’s central travel planning site for public lands like national parks. “We don’t save your searches. We don’t save your credit card data. We’re very careful about the data that we store.”

Yoon Kim, an assistant professor in MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, isn’t too worried about security in the initial brainstorming stages of travel planning with AI.

“I don’t see, at this point, how AI-generated advice is spiritually different from travel guide articles that you might read on certain websites,” he said. “Travel planning is one really nice use case of these models, as narrow as it is, because it’s a scenario in which you want to be given ideas but you don’t actually need to commit to them.” 

What’s next for AI? 

Things could be different, though, if AI is used beyond trip planning. Deloitte sees AI being woven into all parts of travel.

“There is an opportunity for a real engine – I’m going to just use a generic term, engine – that allows you to search and pull it all together and to sort based off of your personal reasons for prioritization and then not stopping at ‘hey give me a list’ or ‘here’s what to do,’ but ‘OK, now go create my itinerary, help me book it, track it all the way through that travel process,” said Matt Soderberg, principal, U.S. airlines leader for Deloitte. 

Deloitte’s Facing travel’s future report, released in early April, identifies seven stages where AI can intersect with a trip, from personalized recommendations based on past travel, online purchases and tendencies to day-of issues to a post-travel pulse, where travelers may be asked about their experience and start thinking about future trips. 

“When you solve across all of those, that’s going to be the Holy Grail,” Soderberg said. “The difficulty is that doesn’t all sit in one place. And so how do you get the right information and the right data to bring all of that together for a single experience for the consumer? And who’s going to own that?”

Layla and Mindtrip, among others, already offer booking through partners like “It’s all about making things actionable,” Moss said.

But for now, if issues come up mid-trip, AI tools can’t fix them like humans can. Humans still have to get involved.

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