We Asked AI for Travel Recommendations and It Was Disappointing
Generative AI has taken the world by storm, threatening to change almost every aspect of modern life. Of course, travel planning hasn't been left behind. But, how much can you rely on a robot over a human for recommendations on the best things to see, eat and do? After all, a bot doesn't actually understand the information it is putting out.
To test the waters, I asked different AI systems for travel recommendations in destinations that I know really well. The requests were varied to give the bots a fair fighting chance. Still, the results were unsurprisingly disappointing.
Judge for yourself.
Meet the AIs
To make this fair, I used four different generative AI systems, three of which are specifically designed for travel.
- ChatGPT: I probably don't have to introduce the system that disrupted everything. While GPT isn't focused on travel, many people use it for travel recommendations.
- GuideGeek: Matador Network's travel AI bot is meant to answer travel questions and give advice. I used it by writing it messages on WhatsApp.
- Roam Around: This system generates itineraries for travelers. You input the destination and the number of days and it does a detailed day-by-day itinerary.
- Journey Genie: Another itinerary system powered by AI. Like Roam Around it asks for destination and number of days, but also gives travelers an option to specify the kind of trip they want to plan. In theory, you would get different recommendations for a spa vacation than for an outdoor-centric trip.
Let's see how they do.
ChatGPT: Recommend 10 Underrated Beaches
ChatGPT made sure to give disclosure and explain that "While the definition of 'underrated' can vary, here are ten beaches from around the world that are often less crowded or less well-known compared to popular tourist destinations." But then the first beach it recommends is Tulum.
Yes, the robot thinks that the poster child for Mexican overtourism and ruined beaches is a hidden gem. I literally laughed out loud when I read this. It also recommended El Nido in Palawan — one of the most famous and popular spots in the Philippines.
In the spirit of fairness, some of the other beaches it recommends are a bit more off-the-beaten-path, like Diani Beach in Kenya. Still, if you want to get away from clichés and crowds, don't trust AI. Remember it doesn't actually understand what "underrated" means.
GuideGeek: Give Me Restaurant Recommendations for Dining in Bogota, Colombia
GuideGeek did an okay-ish job, recommending three restaurants that I personally think are overrated: Andrés Carne de Res, La Puerta Falsa and Criterion. Though to be fair, locals often recommend them because of their atmosphere and history.
The other recommendations (Leo Cocina y Cava and Prudencia) are some of the best in the city. The bot did a decent job at explaining the concept behind each but failed to give pretty important information, like the fact that Leo is helmed by Leonor Espinosa, who was voted the World's best female chef in 2022. It also didn't mention that eating at Leo will cost over $300 (yes, dollars) per person.
But I guess if you're not double-checking recommendations from AI, it's your own fault if you're left footing a bill like that.
Roam Around: Plan a Four-Day Trip to Seoul, South Korea
I asked Roam Around to do a four-day trip to Seoul, a city I lived in and know very well.
The recommendations were clearly not written by a human since they are unrealistic about time. The bot sends people to the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone next to North Korea), the Korean War Memorial (and its museum) and Namsan Tower on the same day. There is simply no way you can do them all and actually eat unless you're breezing through everything just to check a box.
It also recommends going hiking at Bukhansan National Park and Lotte World, one of the country's largest amusement parks in a single day ... and follows them with a river cruise at night. Both activities require an entire day as rushing through either is a waste of time and money.
Maybe Roam Around could work to get a general idea, but it's clear that the concept of time goes over the bot's head.
ChatGPT: Give Me the Best Dishes to Try in Mexico
It seems that for very general, generic recommendations, ChatGPT isn't too bad. It recommended expected dishes like tacos and enchiladas but also foods like pozole and sopes, which aren't as well-known outside of Mexico.
Still, I'd be inclined to believe people who have tastebuds and can try the food they tell you to eat over a generative language model that's copying and pasting words.
GuideGeek: What's an Unusual Thing to Do in Paris?
Once again, bots simply can't grasp concepts like "underrated," "unique" or "unusual," probably because these require originality and, by definition, they can't do that.
Some of the recommendations from GuideGeek include places like the Paris Catacombs and Père Lachaise Cemetery — two of the city's most popular tourist attractions. We guess exploring catacombs could be unusual since not many cities have something similar but they're a standard part of a Paris trip.
One cool recommendation was to tour the Paris sewers, which, yes, are open to the public. You can recreate the pivotal scene from Les Mis by walking around them. Don't worry, you (probably) won't get any sewage on you.
Journey Genie: Plan a Three-Day Itinerary in Monteverde, Costa Rica
I pitted Journey Genie's three-day itinerary in Monteverde, Costa Rica, against my own, specifying it for nature-centric activities.
At this point, I'm not surprised at how ridiculous these bots can be. While Journey Genie listed some visit-worthy spots, it also told travelers to make an afternoon trip to Arenal National Park. Let me tell you that this is virtually impossible. If you have a car, the trip takes about 2.5 hours each way. Besides the five-hour drive, trekking the volcano will take another couple of hours — and not staying to enjoy the area's famous waterfalls and hot springs is simply ridiculous. If you don't have a car, you have to hire a private van-boat-van service that takes 5 to 6 hours. Needless to say, this is just absurdly unrealistic.
The bot also recommends a popular cafe that I would explicitly tell tourists to avoid because it's ridiculously overpriced.
GuideGeek: Best Outdoor Activities in Miami
Most people think of clubs and beaches in Miami, but they often ignore all the cool outdoor things in the city. For this question, GuideGeek surprised me, recommending some of my favorite things to do, including kayaking in Oleta River State Park and hiking in Everglades National Park, which most people only see by boat (also a cool activity).
The bot did recommend Wynwood Walls, a collection of cool street art pieces that were once open to everyone but now charge an entrance fee. Street art is supposed to be accessible, so I always tell people to skip this now overly-touristy activity. It also skipped recommending snorkeling or diving in Biscayne National Park — why would it recommend a walk on a closed street over a national park? Because it's a robot and, once again, doesn't actually understand what it's doing.
ChatGPT: Recommend Lesser-Known Museums in New York City
Visiting museums is one of the best reasons to do a trip to New York City. But the Met and the MoMa are too obvious, so I wanted to see if GPT could pick up on some of the super cool museums in the city that aren't as well-known.
Some of the recommendations make no sense. The bot lists the Morbid Anatomy Museum right before explaining that it closed in 2016. Don't be surprised, though, it's just writing words and can't comprehend the absurdity of its advice.
Some other places it recommends are interesting, like the City Reliquary and the National Museum of the American Indian. But, I'll probably stick to checking off things from Atlas Obscura's map.
The Conclusion: Bots Can't Replace First-Hand Human Knowledge
As you've seen, bots can only provide very general information that they probably got from the first page of Google results. Sure, it can be faster to get that information than to read multiple blogs and websites, but you don't get the guarantee that what you're reading is accurate, doable or actually cool.
Because bots don't have any criteria for the things that apply to the human experience (like time), they simply aren't a reliable source of information when it comes to travel recommendations.
Am I biased? Absolutely! But at least I can recognize this bias, whereas a bot could never even understand the concept.