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Wednesday,  April 17, 2024 6:55 PM 

How four travel pros are using AI to improve their operations & save time


How four travel pros are using AI to improve their operations & save time
From top, left (clockwise): Tannis Dyrland, Danny Slupeiks, Jackie O’Reilly-Dupuis, Avery Campbell. (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is more than just a buzzword – it’s a new era of technology that is changing the way we experience the world.

Ever since the 2022 debut of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a natural language chatbot that assists users with tasks like writing emails, essays, code (and even sonnets) in a human-like way, AI has been disrupting industries in never-before-seen ways.  

Travel and tourism included. AI-powered tools can now take requests for flights, hotels, dinner reservations, and activities and automatically turn them into customized itineraries.

(Although, as PAX has previously argued, it’s no match for the personalization and service that a human travel advisor provides).

Still, it’s a realm of computer science that cannot be ignored, and one that is evolving at breakneck speed.

Since last year, a universe of AI-powered applications has exploded, paving the way for a new breed of tools that are reshaping the way people do business.

READ MORE: Step aside, ChatGPT. Why Google’s Gemini could be the next AI supertool for travel advisors

Some in the travel industry have been quick to adapt generative technologies.  

Artificial intelligence is transforming the travel industry. (Shutterstock/LookerStudio)

Last year, Expedia (owner of Expedia.com, Hotels.com and Vrbo) announced a collaboration with OpenAI to simplify trip planning for ChatGPT users.

TravelOnly became the first host agency in Canada to launch its own AI Assistant Tool, which automates marketing tasks for its travel advisors.

The Travel Leaders Group, too, has released a similar solution, called TobyAI, for its global network of agents

READ MORE: ChatGPT - What it is & why travel advisors should try it out

With the recent unveiling of Sora, OpenAI’s new text-to-video tool, which lets users create highly realistic videos by typing a descriptive sentence, and the Canadian launch of Google’s Gemini, which is similar to ChatGPT (but potentially more linked to travel), artificial intelligence is full of mind-blowing potential.  

But how, exactly, are travel professionals utilizing this exciting new technology in the real world?

Here, PAX connects with four individuals who are leveraging AI to improve their operations in impactful ways. 


Jackie O’Reilly-Dupuis – Enjoy Travel

Technology has always played a role in the life of Jackie O’Reilly-Dupuis. The travel advisor grew up building computers in public school and her husband has a background in tech.

Like many early adapters, she began experimenting with ChatGPT in late 2022 when the model was unveiled.

“I used it as a tool for marketing to save time on writing blurbs for things,” says Orillia, ON-based O’Reilly-Dupuis, general manager of Enjoy Travel, which has ten offices in Ontario.

Jackie O’Reilly-Dupuis, general manager, Enjoy Travel. (Supplied)

ChatGPT, when prompted correctly, has helped O’Reilly-Dupuis and her team write countless emails to customers when they can’t find the right words.

READ MORE: Chatbots have travel ideas. But they can’t replace the human heart

“I use it as an extra brain,” O’Reilly-Dupuis explains. Her team will take the concept of a ChatGPT-generated response, and personalize it.

O’Reilly-Dupuis has since expanded her digital toolkit by learning Canva, a graphic design tool that helps with marketing tasks. 

Last year, the web-based program released a suite of AI-powered tools that can help workplaces streamline their content creation process.

Canva makes creating content (such as social media graphics, presentations, and advertising materials) very accessible – especially to those who don’t have professional design experience.

“It takes what’s in my imagination and puts it on a canvas in front of me,” O’Reilly-Dupuis says.   

For example: during the holidays, O’Reilly-Dupuis used Canva to create a marketing graphic depicting a cruise ship with a waving Santa Claus on board.

She saved time, because the visuals generated in Canva fall under fair use. She didn’t have to root around the internet for copyright-free images.

Canva also generates compelling videos in minutes. “You give it the details – let’s say, a beach, two people walking, waves lapping at shore, a clear sky – and it creates it for you,” O’Reilly-Dupuis says.

Another tool she uses is Google Trends, which tells you what people are searching for, in real time.

“It helps us predict trends before they happen,” says O’Reilly-Dupuis.

ChatGPT analyzes and summarizes content from a vast set of information. (3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock)

When applied to the world of travel, Google Trends will alert O’Reilly-Dupuis’ team when something in the market is heating up.

“I saw Icon of the Seas coming before Icon of the Seas arrived,” she says.

It also helps her team understand how other generations are travelling. In knowing what certain groups are interested in, they can adapt their marketing strategies accordingly. 

"Nothing will replace 30 years of experience in a travel agency,” she says. “We have to use these tools to make ourselves shine bright.”

Tannis Dyrland – Tisson Travel Group

“AI has had an incredible impact on the travel industry,” says Tannis Dyrland, owner and CEO of Tisson Travel Group, a community for Alberta-based travel advisors.

“It has become a product of daily use in our office,” she says. “It's revolutionizing the way we work, allowing our valuable time to go into building business and relationships with clients and suppliers.”

READ MORE: How will “Sora,” OpenAI’s new text-to-video tool, impact the travel industry?

One tool Dyrland swears by is Otter.ai, which transcribes meetings in real time, while recording audio, capturing slides and extracting action items.

The tool is a helpful assistant during important meetings.

“While we're paying attention, the system handles the notetaking and transcription,” Dyrland says. “It will transcribe your entire meeting, and at the end, lay out all of the information that was discussed in an easy-to-read document.”

Tannis Dyrland, owner & CEO, Tisson Travel Group. (Supplied)

Meanwhile, each agency at Tisson Travel Group, which launched last year, has an AI tool built directly into their website.

This assists clients in doing what they love – search for travel, Dyrland says.

“But it also assists the agent,” she explains. “It takes information and data and builds itineraries based on the clients wants and needs without having to go back and forth multiple times.”

AI-powered dictation software, such as Gleen, is also allowing the Tisson team to automatically write emails, letters and notices to clients and industry personnel.

“Artificial intelligence has given us back what we all wanted…time,” Dyrland says. “Time to run our business and be efficient in our day-to-day tasks.”

Danny Slupeiks – TravelOnly

Danny Slupeiks worked at IBM for 35 years before joining the travel industry in April of last year. 

As an associate at TravelOnly, Slupeiks, who is based in Newmarket, ON, considers himself to be an early adaptor of AI tools. Embracing new technology is in his DNA. 

As a new travel advisor, his priority has been to “get out there” and engage the market with fresh online content.

READ MORE: A “momentous leap forward": TravelOnly launches AI Assistant tool

Using TravelOnly’s AI Assistant tool, Slupeiks has found success in blog writing, which AI will do automatically, saving him hours of time.

"I’ve gotten addicted to it,” Slupeiks says. “I would allocate two hours to write one or two blog posts, and I’d wind up with 13.”

Danny Slupeiks of TravelOnly. (Supplied)

The posts Slupeiks generates, which are usually 500 words or less, tend to tackle a specific question. As one who sells a lot of cruises, he fields many questions from clients about life at sea, and he uses his blog to address relevant topics.

For example, one post he generated outlines the best spots for people to be on a cruise ship if they’re feeling nauseous. Another post could be a mock-up itinerary of fun things to do while in Barcelona or St. Thomas.

Like ChatGPT, TravelOnly’s AI Assistant generates text quickly, based on whatever commands are inputted into the system.

Each blog “takes me three to four minutes to do,” says Slupeiks, who’s able to generate a week’s worth of content in one sitting.

Slupeiks will edit his AI-generated copy. He’ll change words to Canadian spelling, and inject his own voice so that it doesn’t sound like a computer talking.

“I don’t want it to read like it was copy and pasted from somewhere,” he says. “I make it conversational.”

As a result, Slupeiks’ website is constantly updated with new and timely content, which is what consumers want to see, he says. 

And while he isn’t 100 per cent certain of how AI has contributed to his success, his business is doing well, nonetheless.

“I booked 40 per cent of last year’s value, all in January,” he says.

He's also saved money – the travel professional used to outsource content creation, “which is expensive,” he says.

Now, with AI now handling his blog writing and social media, Slupeiks, as an industry newcomer, can focus on other important things, like training and business development.

His advice to agents who are apprehensive about artificial intelligence? “Give it a try. You have nothing to lose,” Slupeiks says. “It’s not an age thing. It’s a matter of staying relevant and keeping up.”

“Technology will push you out of the way. I’ve seen it in my career. Technology just moves along, and you have to move with it.”

Avery Campbell – ACTA

The role of artificial intelligence isn’t limited to the travel agent and agency space – it’s also making its mark in the advocacy world.

Avery Campbell, director of advocacy and industry relations at the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and Travel Advisors (ACTA), has been documenting his AI journey on his LinkedIn page for several weeks now.

Systems powered by artificial intelligence, Campbell says, has helped propel Canada’s member-based travel trade association into the future.

Avery Campbell, director of advocacy and industry relations, ACTA. (Supplied)

“Like many in travel, we’ve long relied on outdated processes, databases and technology,” Campbell says. “[With AI], we’re now examining processes that we can improve on for staff and members.”

Some of the software Campbell has been using includes OpenAI API (ChatGPT’s backend software for developers) and Microsoft Azure, a cloud-based machine learning application.

ACTA, which lobbies at the federal and provincial government levels, now uses AI to gather large sets of information, Campbell says. 

On a daily basis, the federal government, for example, will release updates about all sorts of issues relating to Canada’s provinces and territories. Dozens upon dozens of updates can be released in a single day, and for a lobbyist, it’s a lot to keep track of.

Previously, ACTA would rely on its regional councils to bring forth information that could be of interest to the retail travel sector and consumers who benefit from professional travel services.

Now, this process is automated thanks to an AI-powered tool that, based on a set of petametres, will monitor government updates and flag the relevant ones to ACTA, Campbell says.

Zapier, a tool that automates workflows, is the computer brains behind this operation. In a matter of three to four steps, it will connect to RSS feeds, sort “thousands of pages of data,” and deliver relevant results for humans to review, Campbell explains.

“We’ve been able to catch things we didn’t catch before,” he says.

Campbell is building a similar tool that sorts government bills, legislation and regulations as they appear in communities across the country. With AI, ACTA is alerted when updates happen, which helps inform travel advocacy efforts.

“The beauty of AI is that it allows people who aren’t software developers to build complicated technologies that would have been inaccessible a year ago,” Campbell says. “Previously, it would have cost thousands of dollars. Now, we can do it in a day.”

Campbell says he’s also leveraging AI to modernize ACTA’s archives, allowing employees to find files in a timelier fashion.

“We’re going to be able to advocate better for our members and provide them with a superior level of service,” says Campbell.

On the benefits of artificial intelligence: “The possibilities are endless” he says.

“I’m so excited to see where AI is going. What AI is today, versus a year ago, is changing every aspect of business,” he says.

“I believe it will impact the travel industry, more so than the internet.”


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