AI is often touted as a gamechanger when it comes to business travel. With the release of ChatGPT, this reality is now seemingly closer than ever.
The internet has been ablaze with discussion on the potential of this new AI model, both in positive and negative ways. There is plenty of ethical talking points to be made, but also plenty of excitement and intrigue.
We are naturally also keeping an eye on new advancements like these, and so we thought we would give it a try. Our question today is: How well does AI know the dynamic and ever-changing business travel market?
ChatGPT is a chatbot – an AI language model developed and trained by OpenAI to interact with users in a conversational way. What sets it apart from its peers is its ability to understand human intent when asked a question.
It launched as a prototype in late November 2022 and, as mentioned, quickly gained notoriety online due to its almost human-sounding responses.
How it works
For some background, it is worth knowing about how it was trained.
The model was trained using ‘Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback’ (RLHF), which essentially involved initial supervised training with a human AI trainer, followed by the introduction of a reward model where outputs are ranked best to worst. Finally, with its deployment to the public, end users are able to rate and provide feedback on responses. 
Notably, the AI does not source its answers from the internet, instead drawing from information it was fed during the training phase. This means there are likely errors and outdated data in its output.
With these and the other limitations, just how useful can the bot be in understanding and predicting trends in, say, the business travel industry?
That brings us to our topic today. What does ChatGPT have to say about business travel, and does this align with our outlook?
1. What are the most important reasons for business travel?
“There are many reasons why business travel might be necessary for a company. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Attending meetings and conferences: Business travel is often necessary to attend meetings or conferences that are relevant to the company's industry or goals.
- Building relationships: Traveling to meet with clients, partners, or other stakeholders in person can help to strengthen relationships and build trust.
- Closing deals: In some cases, it may be necessary to travel to meet with potential clients or partners in order to close a deal.
- Training: Business travel may be necessary to attend training programs or workshops that are relevant to the company's operations.
- Networking: Traveling to attend industry events or conferences can be an excellent opportunity to network with other professionals and learn about new trends and developments in the field.
- Expanding the business: Traveling to explore new markets or to meet with potential partners in other countries can be an important part of growing a business.”
We’ve started with an easy one – the reasons why businesses travel is well known by this point. However, the pandemic did change things up.
We have recently looked into this question ourselves when asking about how virtual meetings and business travel coexist. In our survey, we found that:
- 84% traveled to build trust and relationships
- 76% for negotiating
- 70% for customer acquisition and retention, trade show visits, etc.
- 56% for strategic internal meetings
Between these, ChatGPT seems to be right on the money with the common reasonings for business travel.
2. How will AI change the corporate travel industry?
“AI is already beginning to transform the corporate travel industry in several ways. Here are a few examples:
Personalized travel recommendations: AI can analyze a traveler's past trip history and preferences to recommend personalized travel options.
Streamlined expense reporting: AI can automate expense report creation by extracting data from receipts and categorizing them automatically.
Improved risk management: AI can analyze real-time data to identify potential travel disruptions and alert travelers and travel managers of potential issues.
Chatbots: AI-powered chatbots can assist travelers with a range of tasks, including booking flights and hotels, answering frequently asked questions, and providing destination recommendations.
Overall, AI is helping to make the corporate travel experience more efficient, personalized, and seamless for both travelers and travel managers.”
While you would think that ChatGPT would have some sort of bias with this question, remember that it is just a model – it is not affected by emotion or personal experiences. It’s for this reason that it has potential in some of the areas mentioned here.
Personalized travel recommendations are a big one that we have discussed before. Have a big meeting coming up? An AI could help suggest which hotel to stay at based on your preference for staying in the quieter area of a city.
Expense reporting is another tedious process that will likely welcome the use of automation. We are already seeing this in action thanks to centralized payment methods and virtual cards. Less manual processes means more time focusing on what they do best.
Following the pandemic, there has been a renewed focus on risk management and safety in travel.  ChatGPT is right that AI can help reduce this and provide better notice and protections to travelers while they are out and about.
Then there is of course chatbots. We can all agree that speaking to a human is much better than talking at an AI. But as ChatGPT itself shows, the line is becoming ever thinner. Watch this space as the technology becomes more accessible and smarter to the point it can provide highly personalized services.
3. How can businesses improve the experience for business travelers?
“There are many ways that businesses can improve the experience for business travelers, including the following:
Make travel arrangements in advance: By taking care of travel arrangements ahead of time, businesses can reduce the stress and hassle for their employees.
Provide travel insurance: Travel insurance can provide peace of mind for employees who are traveling for work, as it can cover unexpected expenses such as trip cancellations or medical emergencies.
Offer support for finding accommodations: Assist employees in finding suitable accommodations that meet their needs and preferences, such as hotels with fitness centers or work-friendly amenities.
Provide information about the destination: Give employees information about the destination they will be traveling to, including local customs, culture, and recommended places to visit or eat.
Make it easy to stay connected: Provide employees with the tools and resources they need to stay connected while on the road, such as laptops, mobile phones, and access to wifi.
Offer perks: Consider offering perks to employees who travel frequently for work, such as access to airport lounges or travel rewards programs.
Stay in touch: Keep in touch with employees while they are traveling and make sure they have the support and resources they need to be successful.”
How does ChatGPT hold up when asked for some practical tips about business travel? Pretty good, actually.
A good travel policy should balance the interests of both the company and the traveler. But going beyond the basics can help business travelers perform their best.
In the last couple of years, we actually saw a shift towards shorter notice for trips due to the ever-changing rules. Thankfully, more recent data shows that this is now changing – something ChatGPT seems to have identified. 
The AI also rightly points out that this makes things less stressful for the employee as they can have an itinerary ready and plan accordingly. Offering support for finding accommodation is also beneficial, though can require significant resources at scale.
The other tips here like making it easier to be connected and travel insurance is more a question of properly equipping travelers – coming back to the importance of having a good travel policy and preparations in place.
Ultimately, travel is becoming more traveler-centric. This answer has done well in identifying ways businesses can respond to this dynamic.
4. How will business travel change in 2023?
“It is difficult for me to predict exactly how business travel will change in 2023, as there are many variables that could impact its evolution. Some potential factors that could shape the future of business travel include:
- Changes in technology, such as the adoption of virtual meetings or the increased use of telecommuting, which could reduce the need for in-person business travel.
- Economic conditions and the overall health of the business sector, which could affect companies' budgets for travel and their willingness to send employees on business trips.
- Environmental concerns and the push for sustainability, which could lead to a shift towards more sustainable forms of transportation for business travel.
Without more information, it is difficult to say with certainty how these or any other factors will influence the future of business travel.”
While ChatGPT has limited knowledge of world and events after 2021, it is right that making predictions is difficult. Thankfully, our payment predictions for 2022 seem to have played out. But how likely are these to take shape? Let’s break it down:
“Changes in technology, such as the adoption of virtual meetings or the increased use of telecommuting, which could reduce the need for in-person business travel.”
We have looked at this extensively recently by asking how virtual meetings and business travel coexist. As mentioned before, the reasons for choosing to travel vs holding a virtual meeting are shifting but, in the end, both have their role to play.
And with 81% stating that they see the lack of face-to-face meetings as the greatest risk, we have no expectations for this to change. 
“Economic conditions and the overall health of the business sector, which could affect companies' budgets for travel and their willingness to send employees on business trips.”
Naturally, the economy is a driver for business decisions. Business travel is becoming more expensive due to external factors such as inflation and the drive to sustainability. But data suggests that many are still hitting the road despite this. Take Oktoberfest 2022, for example: We witnessed the share of business class tickets (9.3%) rising above the annual average (8.5%).
“Environmental concerns and the push for sustainability, which could lead to a shift towards more sustainable forms of transportation for business travel.”
While earlier this year we found that sustainability was not the highest priority for businesses  , that now seems to be changing. ESG finance and the ease of access to the likes of carbon offsets mean that sustainable travel has become more desirable and easier than ever to achieve.
Does ChatGPT have a future in the travel industry?
This is all just a bit of fun – a glimpse at a new and exciting release that is currently making headlines. But it is worth setting expectations: ChatGPT and the technology behind it is still in its infancy, after all. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman admitted as much himself. 
But, as seen by the answers here, it is showing promise.
There are plenty of potential use cases in business travel, but it still has some way to go before it can be used for these purposes. However, there are plenty of other digital innovations in travel to explore in the meantime.
Ultimately, through machine learning and other processes, chatbots and other AI implementations are becoming more accessible and, with the release of ChatGPT, are already reaching the mainstream. This will have implications in the business travel industry and travel management as a whole down the line.
Technologies like ChatGPT are impressive, but there is likely many more to come. If they are applicable to corporate finance and travel, we'll likely be covering them here, so make sure to subscribe today to our newsletter so you don't miss out.
Banner photo by Rock'n Roll Monkey on Unsplash