Many people return to leisure travel as pandemic restrictions loosen all over the world. According to a 2022 survey by travel and experiences platform Klook, 87% of Filipinos expressed their eagerness to travel, whether to domestic or international destinations.
Of course, travel remains a costly hobby. To quench their wanderlust, some people look for ways to go on trips that fit their budget.
Timothy Ouano, a Cebu-based developer, aims to make this easier with the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
His AI-powered app, called Travel Budol, lets users build a travel itinerary by simply inputting their location, their destination, and any amount for budget. If users are up for an adventure, they can opt to choose “I’m feeling lucky” and just input their location and budget.
Within a couple of minutes, the app responds with a list of suggestions for transportation, accommodation, and activities within the chosen budget.
“If you actually try the app, if you want to go to Siargao [from Cebu] and then you have, maybe two thousand pesos only, it actually suggests that you can ride a ferry boat to Surigao City, and then you can ride a ferry boat from there to Siargao,” Ouano shared in an interview with Rappler. “It actually makes the itinerary based on your real budget.”
“And then, if the budget doesn’t really fit, it would give you other places like, you could go to Bohol and enjoy more stuff there rather than going to Siargao.”
Building Travel Budol with AI
Ouano created the app for a challenge by his employer, software development consultancy Symph, for their developers to build 30 AI apps within 30 days.
Ouano was not part of Symph’s dedicated team for full-time AI work; he was assigned to another project. But since he had a lot of free time, he decided to join the challenge.
“I myself like traveling. [But] I only have a very small budget and I also don’t know how to make itineraries and [find] the best places for my budget,” he said. “So I was thinking, since we’re doing the 30-by-30 challenge, what if I will do something with AI?”
Ouano built Travel Budol by himself in about an hour — from research, design, development, to deployment. This is a huge difference compared to the usual time frame it takes to build apps, which can take months.
“I would say that AI really helped me develop the app faster,” Ouano said, sharing that he had ChatGPT on the side to enter various prompts, from good choices for site buttons, to a list of the best provinces in the Philippines.
He cited the app’s dropdown menu containing options for destination provinces. “That data, I actually copied that from ChatGPT. I just prompted: ‘Give me the best provinces or best islands in the Philippines to go to.’ And then, ChatGPT responded with all those options, and then I added those to the application.”
Ouano also used Midjourney to create the app logos and background images. Midjourney — similar to DALL-E by OpenAI, the startup behind ChatGPT — is an AI app which generates images based on user prompts.
Where did Ouano get the data that Travel Budol uses to build itineraries? Also through ChatGPT. After a user keys in their location, destination, and budget, the app’s backend gathers it all in a prompt, which it passes to ChatGPT.
“[The app] calls ChatGPT and it prompts something like, ‘Give me an itinerary from Cebu to Siargao, and for the budget of 5,000,’” Ouano shared an example. “And then ChatGPT…lists all those itineraries within the chosen budget: the accommodation, the transportation and activities you can do.”
“I didn’t have to code anything, basically. It’s all automatic,” he added. “I didn’t have to ask anyone from Siargao the best places to go there. I didn’t have to research the best places to go to Siargao or in Bohol.
“So basically, everything was faster. That’s why I came up with the app in about an hour [only].”
AI indeed helped Ouano significantly in creating Travel Budol. Did he encounter any limitations?
“ChatGPT is basically using 2021 data, so it’s outdated. So if you ask for the best link or the cheapest flight to Siargao, it can’t do that because it doesn’t have access to real-time data,” he pointed out.
“That’s why there’s a disclaimer [on the app],” Ouano said. “For example, [the app] shows a 25-peso environmental fee [in its itinerary], but [in real life] it’s 30 pesos. So actually the app shows only an estimation according to your budget.”
ChatGPT can also be susceptible to false information, Ouano said, which can affect the integrity of the data it works with. Experts had also criticized the AI tool since its launch for showing inaccurate information.
In March 2023, OpenAI released ChatGPT-4, which it claimed to be more accurate than its predecessor. It also partnered with Microsoft and added web-browsing capabilities to ChatGPT, making its data closer to real-time.
To make sure Travel Budol shows results as accurately as possible, Ouano made use of prompt engineering. As AI models heavily rely on user prompts, prompt engineering helps developers come up with more articulated queries using a mix of techniques so the AI achieves their desired results.
Can Travel Budol replace travel agencies?
The rapid emergence of AI tools have caused widespread anxiety about the future of the human workforce. What did Ouano think about the impact of AI to the travel industry?
The Travel Budol developer considered the chance of fewer people relying on traditional travel agencies to organize their trips, but for him, AI still can’t replicate the entire process.
“AI right now doesn’t know how to book resorts, book your accommodation, your van. So, maybe we can see [that AI] will help those who make itineraries,” Ouano said.
Travel agencies could use AI apps like Travel Budol to streamline their processes instead, Ouano suggested.
Said Ouano, “Maybe you can ask your client for their budget and then you can input the budget on the AI [app], and then you can make the itinerary that way. Basically, it can be used as a tool [only], not for replacement of people.”
As for his future plans with Travel Budol, Ouano hopes to go beyond the Philippines and add features to create itineraries for international travel.
As for what he hopes the app will achieve? “Hopefully, more people will find the app and then [boost] tourism in the Philippines. It would also be nice, [for us to] finally recover from the [pandemic].” –Rappler.com
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