Priceline joins A.I. chatbot race, signing on with Google to help ease travel booking

The Priceline application is demonstrated on an Apple iPhone.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As new artificial intelligence tools make their way beyond consumer chatbots and internet search and into a widening array of businesses, online travel is jumping aboard.

Booking, Expedia and Airbnb are among travel companies looking for ways to ease the booking process and help consumers more swiftly make plans.

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“Don’t know where you want to go? This tool will help you narrow that down pretty quickly,” Priceline CEO Brett Keller told CNBC.

Priceline, a unit of Booking, just revealed a new partnership with Google Cloud. The generative AI tools from Google will allow prospective travelers to communicate with a chatbot in a conversational way when making plans and receive personalized hotel bookings.

Keller said AI will help customers make more thoughtful decisions on where and when to travel, as well as help his employees speed up response times.

 “We employ thousands of people today who answer customer inquiries,” Keller said. “AI will speed up the agent’s ability to give actionable advice.”

Keller said if an agent is helping a customer make changes to a trip, all the different legs have complex cancellation policies. Keller says the new technology can read that information very quickly and reduce wait times. Google Cloud is providing the tools and capabilities to help Priceline collect and scrub data that can then be used to help customers.

Carrie Tharp, Google Cloud’s vice president of industries, said the company’s Vertex AI technology will provide location-based information to users, who can ask questions such as: “What’s a kid-friendly activity? I have two hours to spare.”

Tharp said the data Priceline brings to Google’s model will remain with Priceline, not Google.

Earlier this year, Expedia was among the first players to signal its investment in generative AI. The online travel company launched its first ChatGPT-powered travel tool, and CEO Peter Kern told CNBC in April that it will make it much easier to book, cancel and edit trips.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told CNBC the following month that generative AI will make his company’s processes more efficient.

“In the next 12 months, you’ll see major changes to our customer service — the quality gets better, the costs will be lower,” he said.

Brad Gerstner, CEO of Altimeter Capital and a longtime investor in travel and tech stocks, told CNBC that “AI will massively disrupt how we plan and book travel — it is the center of the bullseye.”

However, he said the travel companies’ position is less clear than it was in the past because of changes in search.

“They have a huge data advantage, but there is a risk they go from the top to the bottom of the funnel,” Gerstner said.

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