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Your vacation was ruined, and the company apologized — with a heartfelt note written by ChatGPT

Responding to angry customers is one of the hardest parts of her job, Natasha said.

Finding the right words, conveying the appropriate level of contrition — especially when the hotel isn’t at fault (read: rain complaints) — is a tedious and time-consuming process, said the director of a five-star resort, who asked that CNBC not use her real name to protect the resort’s name.

But now she has a secret weapon: generative AI.

Natasha pastes a traveler’s complaint into ChatGPT and asks the chatbot to write a response.

She said a task that would easily take her an hour is done “in two seconds.”

‘A pretty good job’

For all its faults, ChatGPT “does a pretty good job” responding to customer complaints, Natasha said.

“One [response] was much better than what I would have done,” she said. But “it has to be checked …you have to read through it.”

Responses tend to be “schmaltzy” and adjective-laden, she said. Still, they “hit the points of like ‘We’re sorry, we wish we could have done something, we’ll do better’ kind of thing.”

Why more companies are using AI to respond to negative online reviews

They also address every complaint mentioned by a traveler.

“It’s hard to write these letters; you have to go through line-by-line,” she said. “You wouldn’t be doing the person justice, if you didn’t respond to everything on the list … the AI does this really well.”

But best of all, artificial intelligence isn’t defensive like humans, said Natasha.   

“The AI takes all the emotion out of it. Maybe the people were ass—–,” she said. “It doesn’t care.”

The ‘ghosting’ risk

Responding to negative online reviews is even harder, said Natasha, since they are so public.

Plus, research shows that companies that don’t respond to online reviews — even positive ones — can harm their brand’s reputation.

In a ranking of U.S. hotel chains by their “online reputations,” the tech company SOCi found that a driving factor for low scores was “ghosting” — that is, failure to respond to traveler reviews.

The need to constantly monitor and respond to online feedback is partly why using generative AI for “reputational management” is worth an estimated $1.3 billion to the travel industry, according to a 2023 report published by the travel market research company Skift.

Not only can large language models track sites where travel reviews appear — from TripAdvisor to Yelp to Reddit — they can also help companies “respond to reviews, especially negative ones,” the report, titled “Generative AI’s Impact on Travel,” states.

Some 45% of hotels use reputation or review management software already, it said.

A screenshot of a discussion about using ChatGPT to write reviews on Airhosts Forum, a website for Airbnb hosts.


But short-term rental owners use AI for these purposes too, said Luca Zambello, the CEO of the short-term rental property management platform Jurny.

“The short-term rental/Airbnb industry has been early adopters,” he said. “Within the next five years, I would say it is probably going to be adopted by the vast majority of the industry.”

He said responding to reviews is time-consuming, which is one of the reasons his company provides this service.

“The majority of our users absolutely love it,” he said. “It is really a no-brainer for companies once they see how good it is.”

An open secret

Using AI to write penitent responses is a taboo topic in the travel industry, which prides itself on personal service. Conventional wisdom, too, has long held that apologies must “come from the heart.”

I want people to think that I am sitting there toiling away over their letter.


Director of a five-star resort

When asked if she wants travelers to know she uses AI to respond to negative emails and reviews, Natasha said, “I sure do not. I want people to think that I am sitting there toiling away over their letter.”

One company that acknowledges using AI to deal with customer complaints is the travel booking platform Voyagu, which stores past customer communications to help travel advisors with future interactions, a company representative said.

“Travel advisors always reply to customers themselves, but Voyagu’s AI system tracks all communication — both written and verbal — and suggests a better way to respond,” she said.

Brad Birnbaum, CEO of the AI-powered customer service company Kustomer, said technology of this sort is being used “not just within hospitality, but really all forms of customer support.”

His company, which counts Priceline, Hopper and AvantStay as customers, uses AI to help customer service agents sound more professional, he said.  

“We will take text that is really rough and convert it to elegant text, to empathetic text,” he said.

Birnbaum said customers likely don’t know that their interactions with agents are either generated or improved by AI.

“And I don’t think they would care,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I think they probably welcome an agent system because they’re going to get a better response faster.”

More discovering it

Michael Friedman, CEO of the family-run vacation rental company Simple Life Hospitality, said his company does not use AI to respond to customers.

“We never write an email with AI,” he said. ‘There is still a personal element in the ‘tone of voice’ that I believe AI is missing. … I believe there is nothing better than the human touch.”

Wanping Aw, managing director of the Japanese travel agency Tokudaw, said she had never thought to use AI to respond to customer complaints. But after learning that other travel companies are, she decided to test ChatGPT with a real-life problem she recently faced.

She typed: “Our guests are travelling to Mt Fuji. Their bus engine just started smoking. They are scared and anxious to know what is going to happen to their itinerary. What should we do?”

The result? “PRETTY AMAZING!” she told CNBC by email. “ChatGPT suggested exactly what we did!”

The chatbot provided a six-step plan that included evacuating the travelers and arranging alternative transportation.  

Text showing the apology letter ChatGPT generated for Wanping Aw.

“Actually it’s better,” she said. “ChatGPT provided a good solution — better than my expectations — and also a great apology letter which I wouldn’t have able been to write under such stressful situations.”


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