I tried www.copy.ai today — an artificial intelligence content generator. I've been sceptical about such tools and this is the first time I've tried one out. I was shocked at how good the results were!
It was almost impossible to think that the content was created in just 10 seconds by an AI tool. And it made me think what does this mean for the travel writing industry...
🤖 Do you think AI-based content generators are going to replace travel writers and storytellers?
Curious to see what you think. Do you use an AI writing tool in your content creation process? Or are you completely against them?
That's a good question! I think AI content generators can definitely replace travel writers, but I don't think it will happen any time soon.
The reason is that AI content generators are still pretty bad at writing things that people actually want to read. In fact, most of what they produce is just garbage. It's like the difference between Google Translate and human translation—the first might get you close enough to understand what you're reading, but it's going to be totally incomprehensible to anyone who speaks the language fluently.
The reason humans are so much better at writing than computers is because we have an innate sense of rhythm and cadence in our speech patterns, as well as an understanding of which words work best together in different contexts. Computers don't have this yet—they can only create text based on templates (called "stochastic sampling") or by learning from existing texts. But neither of these methods gives computers much flexibility when it comes to creating original content that sounds natural and engaging for readers.
So although AI content generators will probably replace travel writers eventually, there's still a long way to go before they're good enough to do so without raising some eyebrows among customers.
I actually didn’t write that, I generated this comment with AI using the title of this post! 🤣 😱
Oh man. That was spooky
I just had a go at creating an outline for my next blog post. It looks pretty good for summarising the information that's already on the web so creating the factual basis for a post. But you'd have to add in your own experience and opinions, otherwise you'll just be creating something that looks like everyone else's posts! And I don't think it will work for anything that is more experientially based.
I agree that the content will look like everyone else's... UNTIL the AI is trained to optimise for conversion.
Here's an example of the AI nightmare. Imagine you have a post about a hotel review, written by AI. The AI generates multiple versions of the landing page, and based on the traffic and conversion rate to bookings, optimises the content over time. This could be applied to anything with a conversion funnel in travel — e.g. tours, restaurants, travel gear, etc.
For experiences — all that's needed is an AI programmer to plug in reviews from TripAdvisor or similar sources into an AI engine to generate "experiential content" about a place. It could even be trained to write "good things" and "bad things" about places or tours, by being informed from existing reviews.
And here's the ethical issue... the AI is initially trained on content written by real human travel writers! However, Google will eventually favour the AI generated content, and those AI-generated travel sites will effectively steal your traffic and revenue.
The threat of AI is not limited to travel writing. AI-generated travel photography and artwork will also be a disruptor of travel content. Google’s "Imagen AI" is already way ahead in this field than most people would think. Take a look at what artwork it can already create:
I tried it too - very interesting - with VERY little input (I just said blog about visit to dublin, with hotel, attractions, dining) and I got the following as one option:
"Dublin was a city that surprised me. I thought it would be similar to Paris, but it was very different.
The city is clean, with beautiful buildings and friendly people. I stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel, which is located near St. Stephen's Green Park and Grafton Street, one of the most popular shopping streets in Dublin. The hotel has a beautiful lobby and an indoor pool. It was also easy to get around town by taxi or bus from this location.
I highly recommend taking a tour of the Guinness Brewery while you're in Dublin! It's an interesting story about how this iconic beer came to be, and you get to taste some samples at the end of your tour (which is included!). There are also lots of pubs around town where you can enjoy live music after your tour.
I would definitely recommend visiting Dublin if you're traveling through Europe!"
I would say that's shockingly real sounding, although the Shelbourne does not have a swimming pool. You can see how it's an amalgam of thousands of travel blogs about Dublin - which would probably have a very negative impact on SEO. What an AI is not going to do is find a new or unique angle. That said, this could be a labour saving device, write the outline of a blog instantly then you just have to edit it. Sometimes easier to edit something into what you want that overcome the tyranny of a blank page.
So my take is human + AI might be where it's at - able to beet AI on it's own, faster than human on their own.
It also provided a more template type of response to start with:
"I'm a little late to the party, but I'm here to tell you about my trip to Dublin! If you've never been, I highly recommend it. The city is filled with history, great food and drink, and tons of things to do.
I stayed at [hotel name] for three nights. It was a great location—close enough to all of my favorite neighborhoods and tourist attractions but far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
If you're looking for something super touristy and cliche, check out [attraction name]. It's apparently one of the top things people do when they visit Dublin, but personally I liked [attraction name] more. It was more authentic (for lack of a better word), and less crowded than the other option—which means more space for me!
[Dining name] is one of my favorite restaurants in Dublin because they have really great Irish dishes like lamb stew and bangers and mash (which are sausages with mashed potatoes). They also have an amazing dessert menu that includes creme brulee cheesecake!"
In the last five years, I have already found myself being bumped from events and FAMs because of influencers and a favoritism toward younger writers with far less experience. In the early days, when I was bumped or did not make the cut, it was because the writer had a prestige outlet and many years more experience, so I understood the criteria. As I have observed many (not all) influencers are effectively AI, it’s not much of a stretch to see actual AI replacing them. When I started out as a food and travel writer at the ripe old age of 32 after several years in PR, it was merit based and everybody was 10-15 years older at events editors sent me to. I felt privileged to be there and appreciated their advice and insight. Today, Many younger people are not respectful. it seems to be a slippery slope to where any kind of journalism loses its humanity altogether
Definitely not. Because tourist content in the storytelling format should convey emotions.
100% agree with this. Take the AI-generated Dublin piece above, for example. I cannot imagine any serious editor accepting it, even if it is fact-checked and proofed by a human, since it has exactly zero story or real insight. (Go to the Guinness tour. Gee, I never would have thought of that!) I have to believe that people still want to be engaged when they read travel writing, and I don't foresee AI being able to manage that anytime soon.
Such a discussion — thanks Maria for posting this topic. As an editor, of course, I am curious. Can't wait to comb through this entire thread and comment accordingly.
No. What about credibility? Journalistic principles? Honest recommendations based on experience? Posting an article generated by AI stating, 'Hey, I went to Dublin and stayed at X hotel' when you really didn't is a lie. And even if you did go, this isn't your experience. I know travel writing has been on a slippery slope for a while, but when did it start being OK to fill sites with fake content? I hope the Google algorithm finds a way to weed it all out.
I would apply the credibility question not only to AI-generated content. If I research today my competitive landscape, I find so many fake sites and accounts. Some readers may not spot it in the first place, but if you look more precise, it becomes apparent that they write about things and places they have never been. Now with such AI capabilities and by the way. I love what, e.g. OpenAI can do. The information available to an ordinary reader becomes even more deluded. The truth is not only what we write but how we tell a story and create emotions with supportive real, taken pictures and produced videos. For me, these are the only signals if the content is authentic. It will likely take a while for AI catching up with such an approach. A time ago, I was so frustrated about all this fake information that I added a post to my portal with the headline "11 Sneaky Ways Travel Sites May Trick You".
Have been watching this space pretty closely over the last year or so and it has improved *a lot* over that period. I do think it depends on the type of travel writing you’re talking about though.
For service writing, absolutely it’s days be numbered. Not yet, but give it another 6 months to a year and the product will be pretty close. For other, more creative/personable style writing, not so much—that’s a far bigger bridge to build, and not sure that’s even on the radar.
As Ian says, the real thing here is it’s infinitely customizable form, which will manifest with it becoming by far the most effective funnel for purchases, be it hotels, tours, or whatever.
As an example, you spend a lot of time in a page about X temple and bookmark it or whatever, later when you’re back on site, on another page, the AI knows you liked the first page and inter-relates the two in the copy on the new page. This level of granularity is impossible for human-written material, but will be extremely effective at boosting the stickiness of pages to you and reducing the stickiness of your money to your wallet.
Is that good for consumers? No. Will it happen? Yes.
Not just writers, in due course, videographers too. www.newscientist.com/article/2346939-how-will-ais-that-generate-videos-from-text-transform-media-online/ (paywalled, but the opening reveals much)
I think it would be pretty far off to have AI fully replace all the nuance that a travel writer brings to the table.
That said there are some really interesting applications for AI in our industry: namely destination research and telling stories that might not otherwise get the attention of a capable writer.
I’m very interested in this space and happy to talk more with anybody that’s interested!
The comment about AI optimized landing pages is both fascinating and scary.
No one needs more descriptions of hotels in Dublin. They need to know why they should pick one over another, which is best written by a writer who has extensive knowledge of the Dublin hotel market and is aware of the needs of the audience they're writing for. Compiling random information written by TripAdvisor users and booking sites will get you generic descriptions for a generic audience, and zero accountability. Which we already have in most travel writing! Considering half the Paris content I see published by humans now is full of basic factual errors (which keep getting repeated by other "travel writers" who don't do their own research), if the AI content will just be using the same useless ingredients scraped from the internet, we'll just end up getting the same uselss results: bland mush. ;-)
Reading the comments here, I think most people are dismissive that machine learning models (the computer science behind what we call "AI") can be trained in specific knowledge-domains (ie: travel), which means they are going to get better (and better...) since there is $ in this industry.
I would bet that large OTAs (e.g Expedia, etc) already have some engineers on this task. Especially anyone with hundreds of thousands of hotel descriptions. Alternatively a startup will come along that will offer AI travel content to the masses, for cheap. Sadly, Google ain't gonna care who created the content.
Here's an idea. There needs to be a new meta-tag for website owners to protect their content from being ingested into AI data. For example, we have "noindex" metatag (which prevents Google from indexing a page), so perhaps we need something like "noai" which tells AI harvesters to get lost. Wishful thinking!
AI generated video is coming next!
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