• Sun. Mar 12th, 2023

Can ChatGPT help plan a vacation? Here’s what it can and can’t do


Some people love travel planning.

But I am not one of those people.

So the idea that artificial intelligence chatbots, such as ChatGPT and Bing, can research travel destinations and create itineraries is intriguing.

But I’m skeptical too.

Do recommendations just scratch the surface — for example, suggesting that I see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Or can they recommend lesser-known restaurants and handle specific hotel requests too?

The answer is: yes and no — at least for ChatGPT.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t test Bing. When I tried to access it, I was put on a waiting list. The website said I could “get ahead in the line” if I set Microsoft defaults on my computer and scanned a QR code to install the Bing app. I did both. I’m still waiting.

ChatGPT was easier. I went to the developer’s website, clicked on the word “ChatGPT,” registered for an account — and started chatting.

‘Can you help me plan a beach trip?’

“Of course!” replied ChatGPT. But first, I needed to tell it about my interests, budget and how long I planned to be away.

I’m looking for a week-long beach trip in mid-March to spend time with my family, with no set budget, I typed.

“Sounds like a wonderful idea!” it replied, before recommending Hawaii, the Caribbean — specifically the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — Florida and Costa Rica, along with details about the weather and popular attractions for each.

Nice. But I live in Singapore, I said.

“I see!” it exclaimed. (ChatGPT loves exclamation points.) In that case, Bali, Indonesia; Langkawi, Malaysia; and Phuket and Krabi in Thailand were better choices.

ChatGPT is nothing if not apologetic.

Cost estimates for each hotel were more accurate. But ChatGPT couldn’t show photographs of the hotels or help book them — although it did provide ample instructions on how to do both.

By road or by rail?

For a road trip across the United States, ChatGPT recommended Route 66, Pacific Coast Highway and the Great River Road, the latter of which traces the Mississippi River through 10 states.

What about train trips in Europe? “Certainly!” it said, recommending:

  1. The Orient Express — from Paris to Istanbul
  2. The Glacier Express — from St. Moritz to Zermatt, Switzerland
  3. The Bernina Express — from Chur, Switzerland, to Tirano, Italy
  4. The Golden Pass Line — from Lucerne to Montreux, Switzerland
  5. The Trans-Siberian Railway — “one of the world’s most famous train journeys” from Moscow to Vladivostok, Russia

One issue: The “Orient Express” is no longer in service. Does ChapGPT know this?

It does, but it seems to confuse every departure of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express — which uses restored carriages from the original train service — with the once-annual Paris to Istanbul route, which will run in August this year, and has already sold out.  

Flights

“Where should I eat?”

Specific questions

I had many more questions for ChatGPT, such as:

“How should I spend five days in South Africa?”
“Which chateaux accept visitors in Bordeaux?”
“If I only have one day in London, what should I do?”
“Which rides have the longest lines at Disney World?”

But before I could, my screen said “Access denied” alongside an “error code 1020” message.

This error may be caused by overloaded servers or by exceeding the daily limit, according to the tech website Stealth Optional. Either way, all of my previous chats were inaccessible, a huge negative for travelers in the middle of the planning process.

A new window didn’t fix the problem, but opening one in “incognito mode” did. Once in, I clicked on “Upgrade to Plus,” which showed that the free plan is available when demand is low, but for $20 per month, the “Plus plan” gives access to ChatGPT all the time, faster responses and priority to use new features.

With access again, I quickly asked about wait times on Disney World rides, a subject which I had spoken to luxury travel advisor Jonathan Alder of Jonathan’s Travels about last week. Alder lives close to the park and has lost count of how many times he’s visited, he said. Yet, only one of their answers — Epcot’s “Frozen Ever After” — overlapped.

ChatGPT mentioned that FastPass and Genie+ can reduce wait times at Disney World, which is partly right. The company phased out its “skip the line” virtual queue FastPass program when it introduced Genie+ in the fall of 2021.

The takeaway

ChatGPT is fast, chatty and feels like you’re interacting with a human. I found myself responding with unnecessary pleasantries — “Ok, sure” and “Thank you” — out of habit.

I could see how it could save travelers’ time, especially if they are looking for an overview or are at the early stages of planning.

But information will need to be current, of course — and bugs and error messages, which I faced several times in addition to the “1020” message mentioned above — will need to be fixed.

OpenAI states that the current ChatGPT version “is a free research preview.” It also says the system may “occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information” and that it’s “not intended to give advice.”

When I asked it about its travel planning abilities, it said it “can assist with many aspects of travel planning” but that it may not be able to “provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances.”

My verdict: Travel agents’ jobs are secure for the time being.

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