Tech Is Trendy, but Human Interaction Reigns Supreme: Column

I was at my local Rite Aid the other day where there are four cash registers (although often only one person is working behind the counter). Alternatively, there are three self-checkout stations you can use. I had to pick up some cleaning supplies, so to the back of the store I went, grabbed my items and headed to the front to pay for my things. There was no one using any of the three self-checkout stations, so up I went to scan my items. Piece of cake.

Except I accidentally scanned one of the items twice. It wasn’t all that expensive but I wasn’t going to pay for an extra item I wasn’t getting. So, I looked around to find an employee to help me out—and that’s when I really noticed how many people were waiting online to check out with the cashier, maybe five or six people. Two other self-checkout stations were still free for any of them to use. It then hit me that I was also, thanks to my blunder, waiting on the assistance of a human to help me out.

Two things became very evident to me at this moment: People are more willing to wait a little longer to interact with another person rather than a machine; and while technology can often provide expedited services, it can’t always help out in a time of need.

Matt Turner at Ultra
Matt Turner, editor, Questex Travel + Meetings Group (Tim Fuchs)

I think these lessons are important in today’s age of ever-rapidly-advancing technology. The latest key piece in the technology puzzle is artificial intelligence. It, no doubt, is a very handy tool. To test it out, on ChatGPT, I plugged in some parameters for a trip I’m taking to Rome later this year. I asked it for a list of hotels in my price range and preferred locations, as well as the top attractions I need to visit and places to eat. Finally, once I settled on a few of the suggestions, I asked it to create an itinerary for the four-day trip. It did—and, honestly, it looked pretty good. I double-checked some of the walking estimates via Google Maps and most things checked out. I went back and asked for another itinerary for someone who had been to Rome numerous times and was looking for a more local experience, something that skips the major sites because this person has seen them all already. ChatGPT came up with another solid-looking itinerary.

I then informed ChatGPT that my flight was changed, and I needed help. Its suggestion? “Contact the airline.” Yeah, me and everyone else whose hypothetical flight was just delayed. So, despite the guidance it was able to provide ahead of time, there wasn’t much it could do when given a real-time problem to solve. Again, I am standing at a self-checkout station looking around for a human to help me out.

This is all to say, artificial intelligence—at this stage—is smart enough to be a very handy tool for travel advisors. In any instance that you would be searching for recommendations or ideas on Google, ChatGPT or another similar program can easily step into place. What it isn’t, however, is a traveler’s replacement for a professional advisor. Clearly, humans want and need human interaction. If they’re willing to wait to be serviced by the cashier for a $20 purchase at the convenience store, they should certainly be willing to engage with a travel advisor for a much larger, and more important, purchase.

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