ChatGPT, travel data, OTAs: PhocusWire’s top opinion stories of 2023

A part of PhocusWire’s mission is to create a forum where thought leaders in the travel tech world can share their insights and views on significant trends and developments in the industry.

These opinion pieces are often among our most popular stories in any given week — so we thought this year they deserved their own roundup of the most popular ones in 2023. This year’s popular op-eds were heavy on ChatGPT and artificial intelligence, of course, but also covered uses of travel data, social media influencers and the loyalty strategies of travel giants like Expedia, Booking, Hopper and Airbnb.

Watch for our countdown of the top 10 travel tech news stories in the coming days. Meanwhile, in reverse order, here are our top opinion pieces from 2023 …

10. How travel brands can activate first party data

Written by Dave Goulden of Sojern, this story from January spoke to how travel marketers can use first-party data to attract new travelers.

The issue was top of mind for many with the internet moving away from third-party cookies, and Goulden advised travel marketers to follow the example of the retail industry by getting to know their customers better.

“Travel behavior has changed immensely in the past two and a half years, and first-party data gives brands important insights into what guests want now,” Goulden wrote. “First-party data drives personalization, and it also allows marketers to draw from the guest experience across all touch points on the buyer journey.”

9. Automation, innovation, ChatGPT: The future for travel agents

Written by Eviivo CEO Michele Fitzpatrick, this story from September addressed ways automation and tech innovation was continuing to transform travel and how travel agents could integrate technology to successfully work with clients.

The story focused on three areas: identifying which automation tools could make an agent’s life easier; preparing to immerse in virtual and augmented reality; and, of course, learning all the ways large language models like ChatGPT could be applied to the job.

“The human touch and wonderful, personalized service that many travelers prefer can be integrated with ChatGPT to provide the best combination of facts, knowledge, convenience and empathy,” Fitzpatrick wrote.

8. Two ways airlines might increase revenue

Written by Peer Winter of 777 Travel Tech, this story from January encouraged airlines to seek new tactics and think beyond their core markets to execute their growth strategies.

At the top of that list: expanding networks, exploring new approaches to distribution and putting a premium on revenue quality.

“In today’s marketplace, cultivating new, sustainable sources of high-quality revenue and finding innovative ways to capitalize on surging travel demand is imperative to airlines achieving the long-term growth they need to survive and thrive,” Winter wrote.

7. When will travel agencies deliver the “connected trip”?

Written by Magpie CEO Christian Watts, this story from March asked why travel tech isn’t closer to providing a single app that helps travelers from the start of booking a trip to the return home — while recommending along the way “where to get the venti, half-sweet, non-fat, iced mocha with light whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top that you need daily.”

Obstacles include the inherent disconnect of in-destination activities, including experiences and restaurants and the inadequacy of the data that’s historically been available to travel companies. The solution — coming soon? — may lie with artificial intelligence, in both the data it can help gather and the recommendations it can offer.

“It’s a beautiful concept,” Watts wrote. “Your on-the-ground, always-there assistant is where a brand can create real loyalty, with all those extra touchpoints, rather than a long string of flight delay notifications. It is, or should be, a worthy objective for all major travel brands.”

6. Taking the long view of American Airlines’ NDC strategy

Written by AmTrav CEO Jeff Klee, this story from April followed American Airlines’ decision to remove some of its content from global distribution systems (GDS) as part of its new distribution capability (NDC) strategy.

While noting that direct fares on the NDC were little different at the time than what had been available before on legacy channels, the author predicted that would change quickly and called on travel management companies (TMC) to brace for it.

“Thanks to American’s actions, more progress has been made by TMCs, GDSs and other industry players in the last quarter, albeit grudgingly in some cases, than in any other quarter I can remember,” Klee wrote. “Eventually that will translate into better experiences for travelers and their companies.”

5. ChatGPT means radically improved travel sales conversion

Written by Travelocity founder Terry Jones, this story from April shared some of the author’s firsthand experience with artificial intelligence a decade ago by working with IBM Watson.

That convinced him that the user interfaces he’d seen in place since launching Travelocity in 1996 will quickly be surpassed by what AI could do. Natural language search, for example, leads to a wealth of user intent data that can be used to personalize offers, leading to more sales conversions and better customer satisfaction.

“Don’t forget AIs are ‘learning’ systems,” Jones wrote. “They grow and improve with each interaction. If your competitor has a learning AI-based interface and you don’t, they will soon have an AI Ph.D., and you will still be in kindergarten. I doubt you will ever catch up.”

4. Travel fintech trends to watch in 2023

Written by Outpayce CEO David Doctor, this story from January looked at opportunities for travel companies to capitalize on the trend of financial services like payments, lending and more to be embedded in digital experiences.

The story cited the example of Amadeus’ work with British Airways to trial biometrics on selected flights at Heathrow Terminal 5 so that enrolled passengers could use facial recognition instead of a boarding pass or passport at check-in, bag drop or when boarding. By the same token, biometrics could be used to authenticate payments during a journey.

“We expect adoption to accelerate further in 2023,” Doctor wrote, “driven by an increasing number of partnerships in travel and fintech with continued recognition that smooth and connected payments can be an important differentiator for travel brands.”

3. The power – and limitations – of ChatGPT for travel

Written by Lennart Dobravsky of Lufthansa Innovation Hub’s TNMT, this story from January in described a colleague’s construction of an artificial intelligence-based travel inspiration tool. It didn’t take more than an hour to build.

The speed of the results reinforced the potential of generative artificial intelligence, but the author also addressed the technology’s limitations, which were just being recognized at the time.

“Generative AI is likely to have massive implications for all kinds of obvious use cases around texting and imagery in the travel context, such as itinerary planning and customer service,” Dobravsky wrote. “If you compare most of today’s airline chatbots with what ChatGPT has to offer, it feels like we got catapulted from the stone age into the modern world overnight.”

2. Influencers are a new class of travel agents – but lack the right tools

Written by Betsy Mulé of F-Prime Capital, this story from August made the case that social media influencers are increasingly becoming a new breed of travel agent. On TikTok, the travel hashtag garnered 182 billion views; Instagram offered 695 posts with the same tag, providing untold inspiration about where to go and what to do, especially among younger travelers.

The story noted a new generation of startups were creating tools to help influencers monetize their efforts — and for their followers to act on booking the journeys they’ve been inspired to make.

“While tools exist for traditional travel agents, they are built for 1-to-1 transactions for trained travel agents rather than the 1-to-many interactions creators have while building a community and a brand,” Mulé wrote.

1. Tracking the loyalty strategies of online travel giants

Written by Mario Gavira of, this story from January compared the loyalty strategies of Expedia,, Hopper and Airbnb. While most of the online travel players were betting on financial rewards as the key to boosting customer retention, Airbnb took a different approach.

Its focus on building a strong brand that connected at a deeper level with travelers allowed it to eschew the usual performance marketing strategies. The story questioned whether it could maintain its dominant position in drawing direct bookings without offering financial rewards.

The stakes would be high, Gavira wrote. “If the past decade was primarily ruled by the overlords in online customer acquisition, expect this decade to be shaped by the players who manage to build a genuine loyal customer base in travel.”

Gavira’s bragging rights don’t end with having written our most popular opinion piece for the year. He also wrote another of our most popular op-eds: a story from May about the potential impact of ChatGPT plugins on the travel booking experience.

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