Expedia Wants to Put an AI Travel Assistant in Your Private Group Chats

Technology + Gear
by Nickolaus Hines Jun 7, 2024

Expedia hopes that you will let it’s AI chatbot enter the chat. Romie, Expedia Group’s AI travel assistant that’s powered by OpenAI and designed by EG Labs, Expedia’s product innovation arm, is designed to join your conversations on WhatsApp and iMessage to do the planning for you.

“[Romie] is actually looking at the conversation with intent and understanding,” Expedia Group’s chief architect Rajesh Naidu said at the travel industry event Skift Data + AI Summit on June 4.

Here’s how it works: Romie is invited to an SMS group chat where it can analyze the full conversation. Anyone in the chat can tag Romie to advice, ask it to summarize the chat and use that data to help with trip planning on Expedia, build an itinerary based on your emails (which it will also need access to) as well as what was mentioned in the chat and what’s near your hotel. It can provide alternative activities when plans are disrupted by weather or other closures.

It’s designed for end-to-end travel planning, “all while getting more intelligent as the traveler interacts,” Expedia Group CTO Rathi Murthy said in a press release. Romie keeps the chat updated with the itinerary “so anyone in the group chat with FOMO can see what you’re up to,” the release also states, adding that Romie is capable of “learning who you are, remembering what type of trips you like, and even if you prefer Italian food and boutique hotels or an afternoon hiking through nature.”

Romie’s activities and restaurant suggestions are made using “industry experts such as Yelp.”

How “expert” Yelp users are is a different conversation — restaurant professionals, business owners, and travelers have had issues with Yelp for years due to fake or uninformed users who tank a business’s rating because of things like ordering something spicy when they can’t handle spice. There’s even a women with growing reams of data showing that Yelp can’t be trusted. AI suggestions are only as good as the data it’s fed.

It’s still up in the air whether people will actually want to allow a company’s AI into their group chats. Group chats are the one of the last places where people can have private conversations that aren’t monitored, turned into data, and monetized by advertisers and tech companies.

I’m not sure what the group chats look like for these developers, but I’m not aware of anyone who has perfect, ready-to-be-sold conversations in a free-flowing group chat — even those that are based around planning a trip. Sarcasm and inside jokes make group chats what they are. AI is objectively bad at understanding any of that, as seen by the tip to use glue to keep cheese from sliding off of pizza.

Romie is available now for iOS users in the United States for anyone interested in trying it out before the full launch (though on a recent attempt to test it out, it was not accessible as of June 7). Even if people don’t start bringing Romie into their private group chats, AI trip planning is already here, and anyone who does all of their planning from start to finish on Expedia will soon have the option to keep every group travel conversation on the app with an AI guest.

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