Artificial Intelligence and the Travel Industry

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Anna Ye

Alivia Chen ’21 believes artificial intelligence technology can be used by travel corporations to disadvantage travelers.

Everyone is interested in cheaper travel. But often the cost of plane tickets, hotel bookings, and tourist attractions can add up, and with the introduction of artificial intelligence, it seems that travelers will be put at an even greater disadvantage. 

Many companies are now using artificial intelligence software to find out which travel spots are the most in demand at what time, through the “hyperdynamic pricing model” that allows travel providers to determine how global events, Google search trends, entertainment events, and more can affect travel. Then, they use this data to raise prices at the hottest travel locations. 

Why is this harmful? Well, let’s say your favorite artist is having a concert at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. You live in Virginia, which is a good six or seven hour drive away from the concert venue. The concert ends at 9 p.m., so it wouldn’t make sense for you to drive home in the dark afterwards, getting home at 3 or 4 a.m. It’s much easier to stay at a hotel nearby, right? So you look up the price of an overnight stay on the day of the concert. However, Hopper, Kayak, and Expedia all realized that this concert was going to attract a lot of people, based on trending Google searches and Twitter hashtags. By the time you take out your credit card, the price of an overnight stay has jumped from just over a hundred dollars to close to three hundred. 

But you really want to go to this concert, so you don’t give up. How about flights back home after the concert? The companies can use their algorithms to do the exact same thing as they did with the hotel stays, and one roundabout ticket can end up costing much more than it should. 

Another scenario is if there was just an earthquake in California, less people would want to visit right afterwards. But the travel providers have also heard about this news and decide to lower the prices of flights and hotel stays there. Now, more people would be attracted to the cheaper prices and decide, why not take the opportunity of a low-cost vacation? Although companies wouldn’t make as much money as they would have if the earthquake never happened, they would still be making some cash back rather than nothing at all. It’s obvious how this artificial intelligence system lets companies maximize profit in any situation, whether from increased demand or unfavorability.

Yet for the regular person, this is completely unfair. Someone who is really excited about seeing their favorite singer, or sports team, or even visiting home after a long time away from their family due to work in a different city, might not be able to afford a flight anymore. Especially for low income families, minorities, or other marginalized members of society who already don’t get the opportunity to travel much because of a large number of various factors, this artificial intelligence tool in the hands of travel corporations whose first priority is profit, puts the opportunity to travel even further out of their reach. “If AI is making it more difficult for people to travel, then I don’t agree with what these travel providers are doing,” said Alivia Chen ’21.

Sure, travelers could choose the cheaper locations, but that only applies to people with the luxury to choose where they want to travel. What about the people who need to go home to take care of a sick family member? 

Companies should be more aware of their use of artificial intelligence in pricing. Profit is good, but isn’t being fair and ethical to customers just as important? 

“If AI is making it more difficult for people to travel, then I don’t agree with what these travel providers are doing,” said Alivia Chen ’21.

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