Wall Street analysts share views on travel future and AI

Everyone wants to know where the money, the market and its maker will go next in travel. At The Phocuswright Conference session dedicated to the intersection of finance and investment, leading Wall Street analysts shared their perspectives on where things will be headed in 2024.

Panelists included Helane Becker, the managing director at TD Cowen; Naved Khan, the managing director at B. Riley Securities; and Mark Mahaney, senior managing director at Evercore. Moderating the discussion was Jake Fuller, the managing director at BTIG.

In a discussion that touched on numerous issues, Fuller turned the focus at one point to technology, playing the contrarian when it came to expectations for generative artificial intelligence.

“I’ve personally tried 25 to 30 different AI travel planners, and I’ve got to say it’s massively underwhelming so far,” he told the group. “I’m getting back a bunch of traditional links I would see in paid search. I’m not getting personalized recommendations, and there’s no real integration of booking functionality. Feel free to tell me I’m crazy, but … how far away are we from some big game-changing, consumer-facing change?”

Mahaney proved the most optimistic with his response.

“To me, that’s the obvious, great application: anything that can address customer service needs, anything that leads to greater personalization,” he said. “So all you’re doing is taking bigger and bigger data sets and applying faster intelligence to it. If you can personalize the travel shopping searching booking experience … there should be a wonderful application in here for artificial intelligence. … I would expect to see something really obvious to the user in the next year or two.”

While Khan saw tremendous upside, he predicted a longer time frame.

“I think you’re in the first half of the first inning of a very long game, maybe a nine- or 10- or 11-inning game,” he said. “At the same time, I think we as humans think linearly, and this thing might actually change things exponentially. Meaning do not expect a linear change. Expect step function changes with every iteration. … We might be surprised if we start to see things change in terms of consumer use … in the next two to three years.”

The conversation turned to how airlines are using AI when Becker spoke.

“They’re using the mobile app more aggressively, pushing data to you, number one,” she siad. “Number two, the idea that if you’re booking, you can be automatically referred to the flight, but do you want the hotel as well? Do you want the rental car? What else do you want? If you have issues, you can use their chat function. So it makes it easier. And I think as younger people travel more, you’re probably going to see more technology improvements because they’re so used to doing everything on their phones, unlike some folks who like either a computer, a laptop or an iPad.”

Watch the video below to see the full discussion.

Street Talk with Evercore, TD Cowen, B. Riley Securities and BTIG – The Phocuswright Conference

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