Simon Matthews, director of technology, data and operational support systems at HomeToGo, opened up about the company’s AI strategy less than a year after it launched its OpenAI-powered curated search feature and just weeks after it rolled out more generative AI developments in December.
“We’re trying to give a richer experience and take advantage of the underpinning without the user necessarily worrying or having a different interaction layer on purpose,” said Matthews.
Matthews believes the STR sector is uniquely suited to the integration of generative AI.
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When searching for a vacation rental, travelers are likely to have specific questions and needs, moreso than someone looking for hotels, which are generally more standardized. Instead, there might be more questions to answer, and AI features streamline the process for the company. “It really does help us serve the customer so much faster,” said Matthews.
The company’s adaptation itself is happening quickly and smoothly – any tweaks needed to improve AI’s understanding of HometoGo’s clientele are happening primarily on their own through machine learning.
Matthews answered a series of questions as part of PhocusWire’s initiative to check in with some travel companies that were the early adopters of generative AI as it generated buzz in the last year. Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What have you learned since implementing AI?
Adaptability is crucial in AI’s dynamic landscape. HomeToGo has been pioneering AI for years, even before the hype train started, which has given us a consistent competitive edge in our market. Within the most recent acceleration of the AI topic, our strategy has been to maximize the potential for our guests and hosts while always protecting them with an uncompromising approach to data protection. We maintain a vendor-agnostic perspective – we don’t tie ourselves to a single large language model (LLM) so that we can be flexible and leverage the best in class solutions for our evolving needs.
How has your strategy changed since you first started?
For several years now, our in-house team has built and evolved our ranking and machine learning algorithms to help travelers find the perfect accommodation for their unique needs with unmatched efficiency. Plus, we’ve been leveraging machine learning to increase image attractiveness and quality on offer pages to help our guests choose the right vacation rental.
In 2023 with the advancement of generative AI, we took a huge leap forward by being the first vacation rental-focused marketplace to launch an AI product with our AI Mode. We have a strong AI foundation for engaging our guests, and our approach now also includes more nuanced and less visible applications.
Currently, we’re integrating AI into the fabric of our marketplace platform. This further boosts our commitment to creating seamless and personalized interactions, as well as our mission to anticipate and fulfill the unique needs of our guests.
What surprised you about using AI?
There are new surprises every day – but the magic really lies in using our pedigree and considerable experience to adopt the capability advancements that benefit our guests and hosts, while not getting carried away with AI in isolation. We continually test new AI integrations for different applications and services – such as HomeToGo Smart AI Summaries for Reviews or Descriptions – to learn more about the nuanced limitations and uncover fresh use cases. The surprises we encounter underscore the versatility of AI.
What are your plans for the next three to five years using AI?
HomeToGo’s product vision is to become a fully AI-powered marketplace. Our intention is to holistically integrate AI across multiple touchpoints of our platform to offer a more personalized experience for our guests and partners.
Our intention is to holistically integrate AI across multiple touchpoints of our platform to offer a more personalized experience for our guests and partners.
Simon Matthews – HomeToGo
AI opens up possibilities such as virtual reality tours, real-time language translation services and intelligent customer services (where we are already yielding results). These advancements not only elevate the customer journey but also offer travel businesses a competitive edge by adapting to consumer needs with unprecedented agility and insight. While we keep exploring all AI-powered possibilities, we’ll continue to be at the forefront of developing industry-leading tools while further weaving AI into the DNA of our business.
Some of the AI products we currently have in beta include AI Mode Web (our revolutionary AI Mode now available for desktop), HomeToGo Smart Reviews (AI-summarized reviews that help travelers make informed bookings), HomeToGo Smart Offer Summaries (AI-summarized home descriptions that highlight what matters most to travelers), and coming soon: our AI-powered customer service support bot (instant guest relations)!
What percentage of users engaged with the generative AI integration you implemented?
Since the July beta release of HomeToGo’s AI Mode, the tool has experienced a consistent uptick in user engagement. Additionally, a significant percentage of our travelers are now seeing and engaging with AI tools that are seamlessly integrated into HomeToGo’s search and booking experience – such as the beta version of our Smart AI Summaries: Guest reviews and home descriptions where travelers may be benefitting from AI enhancements without even realizing. These subtle but powerful integrations of AI help make the HomeToGo travel planning experience fast and easy, and we’re excited to see how our guests are engaging with them so far.
What types of queries are coming through?
Our guests are leveraging AI Mode and its capabilities to explore top-of-funnel questions about potential homes and destinations based on their unique interests or ideal type of trip. For example, travelers looking to live out their on-screen dreams can ask AI Mode where to stay for a “Mamma Mia” inspired vacation, or the best places in the United States to go surfing in March.
Additionally, AI Mode is assisting guests in finding their uniquely ideal home without requiring them to filter for guests, amenities or specific dates. The queries reflect a broad range of travel-related inquiries, showcasing AI Mode’s versatility in providing tailored assistance across different aspects of trip planning.
What are your prediction regarding AI for 2024?
In 2024, AI is set to continue its revolution of the travel marketplace business by significantly enhancing personalized customer experiences, optimizing operational efficiency (including the way we do engineering) and unlocking new avenues for innovation. The integration of AI technologies enables advanced data analytics for tailored travel recommendations, ensuring customers receive highly personalized offerings that match their preferences and past behaviors.
Moreover, AI-driven automation and predictive analytics will streamline operations, from dynamic pricing models to improved inventory management, reducing costs and increasing profitability. As we move through 2024, the adoption of AI in the travel industry is not just a trend but a transformative shift toward a more efficient, personalized and innovative future.
We expect an increase in demand and engagement with AI tools for travel planning: The hyper-adoption within the user communities of all travel marketplaces is clear. We already see the potential for enhancing user experiences throughout the travel planning process, and this will continue as travelers increasingly seek seamless and personalized experiences.
Without doubt in 2024 we look forward to the advancement of the core LLMs from the big tech players like Google and OpenAI with Microsoft. Companies are investing a lot into the rapidly evolving AI landscape – resulting in diverse AI tools and LLMs, each bringing unique strengths and innovations.
PhocusWire’s news on generative AI
Read all of our coverage on how travel companies are using generative AI technologies such as those from OpenAI and Google.