I asked ChatGPT to help me plan a vacation. Here’s what happened next

Some people love travel planning.

But I am not one of those people.

So the idea that artificial intelligence chatbots, such as ChatGPT and Bing, can research travel destinations and create itineraries is intriguing.

But I’m skeptical too.

Do recommendations just scratch the surface — for example, suggesting that I see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Or can they recommend lesser-known restaurants and handle specific hotel requests too?

The answer is: yes and no — at least for ChatGPT.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t test Bing. When I tried to access it, I was put on a waiting list. The website said I could “get ahead in the line” if I set Microsoft defaults on my computer and scanned a QR code to install the Bing app. I did both. I’m still waiting.

ChatGPT was easier. I went to the developer’s website, clicked on the word “ChatGPT,” registered for an account — and started chatting.

‘Can you help me plan a beach trip?’

“Of course!” replied ChatGPT. But first, I needed to tell it about my interests, budget and how long I planned to be away.

I’m looking for a week-long beach trip in mid-March to spend time with my family, with no set budget, I typed.

“Sounds like a wonderful idea!” it replied, before recommending Hawaii, the Caribbean — specifically the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic — Florida and Costa Rica, along with details about the weather and popular attractions for each.

Nice. But I live in Singapore, I said.

“I see!” it exclaimed. (ChatGPT loves exclamation points.) In that case, Bali, Indonesia; Langkawi, Malaysia; and Phuket and Krabi in Thailand were better choices.

ChatGPT is nothing if not apologetic.

Cost estimates for each hotel were more accurate. But ChatGPT couldn’t show photographs of the hotels or help book them — although it did provide ample instructions on how to do both.

By road or by rail?

Flights

ChatGPT can name airlines that connect cities, but it can’t give current flight information or help book flights.  

It wasn’t able to tell me the cheapest fare — or any fare — from London to New York this spring because it doesn’t “have access to real-time pricing information,” it said.

In fact, ChatGPT data ends at September 2021; it doesn’t “know” anything that’s happened since.

However, the bot could answer which month the London-to-New York route is usually the cheapest, which it said is “January and February, or during the shoulder season months of March and November.”

As for the best airline in the world, it said: “As an AI language model, I cannot have personal preferences or opinions.” But it went on to name the top five airlines named to Skytrax’s “World’s Top 100 Airlines” in 2021.

The list wasn’t correct.

The list provided by ChatGPT appears to be Skytrax’s airline ranking from 2019 instead.  

“Where should I eat?”

Specific questions

I had many more questions for ChatGPT, such as:

“How should I spend five days in South Africa?”
“Which chateaux accept visitors in Bordeaux?”
“If I only have one day in London, what should I do?”
“Which rides have the longest lines at Disney World?”

But before I could, my screen said “Access denied” alongside an “error code 1020” message.

This error may be caused by overloaded servers or by exceeding the daily limit, according to the tech website Stealth Optional. Either way, all of my previous chats were inaccessible, a huge negative for travelers in the middle of the planning process.

A new window didn’t fix the problem, but opening one in “incognito mode” did. Once in, I clicked on “Upgrade to Plus,” which showed that the free plan is available when demand is low, but for $20 per month, the “Plus plan” gives access to ChatGPT all the time, faster responses and priority to use new features.

With access again, I quickly asked about wait times on Disney World rides, a subject which I had spoken to luxury travel advisor Jonathan Alder of Jonathan’s Travels about last week. Alder lives close to the park and has lost count of how many times he’s visited, he said. Yet, only one of their answers — Epcot’s “Frozen Ever After” — overlapped.

ChatGPT mentioned that FastPass and Genie+ can reduce wait times at Disney World, which is partly right. The company phased out its “skip the line” virtual queue FastPass program when it introduced Genie+ in the fall of 2021.

The takeaway

ChatGPT is fast, chatty and feels like you’re interacting with a human. I found myself responding with unnecessary pleasantries — “Ok, sure” and “Thank you” — out of habit.

I could see how it could save travelers’ time, especially if they are looking for an overview or are at the early stages of planning.

But information will need to be current, of course — and bugs and error messages, which I faced several times in addition to the “1020” message mentioned above — will need to be fixed.

OpenAI states that the current ChatGPT version “is a free research preview.” It also says the system may “occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information” and that it’s “not intended to give advice.”

When I asked it about its travel planning abilities, it said it “can assist with many aspects of travel planning” but that it may not be able to “provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances.”

My verdict: Travel agents’ jobs are secure for the time being.

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India Links Showpiece Instant Payments System UPI To Singapore, Making Cross-Border Remittances Easier

India’s digital payments revolution notched up another win earlier this week as the country’s UPI, or United Payments Interface, was linked to Singapore’s PayNow, adding another nation to the digital network and making sending cash home a breeze for the thousands of Indians working in the city-state.

The cross-border integration between UPI and PayNow was completed Tuesday, allowing citizens in both countries to make faster digital transfers, and at a much lower cost than existing services. “The UPI-PayNow linkup will help facilitate immediate transfers that will help send money to my parents in India and I will not have to rely on third-party apps for the same,” said Kajal Verma, Associate Director of Strategy, APAC, at French advertising and PR company Publicis Groupe.

Verma moved to Singapore last year and has been using wire transfers and other services, which are painfully slow by today’s standards — taking two days or more for the money to reflect in her parents’ bank accounts in India.

India is one of the top providers of tech talent to Singapore, which has seen rapid growth in digital economy and finance, and the proportion of Indian nationals in the island nation’s foreign workforce has risen to 26% in 2020, compared to 13% in 2005.

Fintech expert Kamalika Poddar, from the southern Indian city of Chennai, told International Business Times, “Now we have an instantaneous, inexpensive mode of transferring funds, provided the other side uses either UPI or PayNow. We’re removing middlemen in the process, and making it faster, secure, and cheaper.”

Millions of Indians, like Verma, live and work abroad, forming a large chunk of the global mobile workforce that provides elbow grease to the economies of several countries. India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said last month that overseas remittances sent by these Indians were about $100 billion last year, up 12% from the previous year, making India the world’s largest recipient of such foreign remittances.

Following the PayNow linkup, the service was made available to customers of DBS Bank and Liquid Group. Participating Indian banks for receiving remittances through the UPI-PayNow linkup include Axis Bank, DBS Bank India, ICICI Bank, Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank and the State Bank of India.

Several countries are already part of the UPI network, through payment facilitator partnerships, including Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Bhutan, the United Kingdom, the UAE and some European countries including France.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government realized early that making it easier for these workers to send money home was very important not just for the country’s economy but also to encourage cross-border mobility in a nation of more than a billion people, which would otherwise find it tough to create enough jobs to go around. UPI, part of a clutch of other digital initiatives, has worked out well to that end.

Modi, facing national elections next year and has made development the main plank of his Bharatiya Janata Party’s power ambitions, spoke of the benefits during the linkage to PayNow, “This will especially benefit our diaspora, professionals, students, and their families.”

Cross-border cash transfer made affordable, simple and convenient

UPI, facilitated by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), allows inter-bank transactions through mobile applications for free. It has become ubiquitous in India, replacing cash and card transactions for almost everything from groceries to rental payments. Its vast network now includes 325 banks compared to 60 banks that help merchants accept payments through credit and debit cards and bank transfers.

The remarkably simple concept — all you need is a mobile number and a bank account linked to it via the UPI interface — behind the facility has already helped heavily reduce cash transactions in India. The cash can also be transferred instantly from one participating bank or e-wallet account to another with the help of a QR code, or Virtual Payment Address (VPA). PayNow is a similar peer-to-peer funds transfer service.

In India, various third-party apps such as Google‘s GPay, Paytm, and AmazonPay, support UPI transactions. The NPCI also has its own app, called BHIM.

It was launched in April 2016 and saw massive adoption in India when the Modi government banned currency notes of certain denominations — a controversial step whose real impact on the economy is still being debated — vastly reducing the availability of cash.

Digital payments rose to 30.19% of financial transactions in India in 2021, and more than half, 51%, of these were UPI transactions in the 2020-21 period.

“Until a few years ago, I used to keep at least some loose change with me,” said Varun George, a tech worker in the southern port city of Kochi. “Now, all my money transactions are completely digital. No one uses cash anymore. And I like it that way. We need not carry our fat wallets everywhere.”

Modi pointed out that UPI is the most preferred payment mechanism in India, adding “many experts are estimating that digital wallet transactions are going to soon overtake cash transactions (in India).”

UPI has helped India become a global leader by volume in real-time payments among businesses around the world, according to an industry report; 40% of all such payments made through 2021 originated in the country. India’s fintech industry’s total transaction value in the digital payments segment is projected to be $160.60 billion this year, according to a Statista report.

NPCI CEO Dilip Asbe told the IMF last year: “A system like UPI cannot come into any country unless the central bank and the government of that country are keen to bring in such an innovation, which democratizes the payment system to the smallest value and the most reasonable cost. UPI is nearly free today for consumers in India, and the government is providing incentives for the promotion of UPI merchant payments.”

Ajinkya Kulkarni, CEO of WintWealth.com, a platform that facilitates investments in digital assets through their mobile app, told IBT that cross-border transactions through UPI will revolutionize payments the same way communication has been transformed following the introduction of Skype/Whatsapp calling.

“Previously, it took at least a day or two to transfer funds from India to Singapore. With UPI, the time has been reduced to mere minutes,” said Kulkarni. “This is just the start of affordable, simple, and convenient foreign transfers. There’s a lot more to come.”

He added, “The UPI-PayNow linkage is a welcome move. Hoping to see more countries join in on this amazing technology that India has built.”

UPI reached its first billion transactions in October 2019. The following year saw two billion payments being processed and it has been on an upward trajectory since. A staggering 74 billion transactions worth 125.94 trillion Indian rupees (about $1.5 billion) were made through UPI in last year, up 64% from a year ago, according to NPCI’s data. The service remains free, adding to its lure compared to other options like card and bank transfers.

UPI for G-20 travelers

The news on UPI’s linkup with PayNow has come at a strategic time for India. New Delhi will host the G-20 summit, a grouping of the world’s largest economies, in September. The Indian government has extended the use of UPI to travelers from the G20 member nations, helping showcase India’s position as a global leader in digital payments at a time the world economy is in transition and there is an erosion of the West’s economic and political power.

Travelers arriving at Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi airports will be issued Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPI) wallets linked to UPI, with necessary operational instructions. This will enable them to make UPI payments to over 50 million merchant accounts across the country that accept QR Code-based UPI payments. Currently ICICI Bank, IDFC First Bank, and two non-bank issuers – Pine Labs and Transcorp International — will issue these UPI-linked wallets, BFSI.com reported.

India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, has plans to make UPI service available to all international travelers arriving in the country in the future.

UPI is already available to non-residential Indians holding NRE or NRO accounts linked to their mobile numbers.

But while the service theoretically makes it easier, and cheaper, to transfer money across borders, some questions remain. Sitharaman has raised the tax collection at source for outward remittances from India to 20%, from 5%, starting July 1, except for education and medical purposes.

Poddar expressed concern at the implications of this move: “The honorable finance minister in her latest budget made it a lot harder and expensive for outward remittances. In that case, will we still adopt (UPI for outward remittances), she asked.

Google teams up with PayPal for Android Pay purchases. Google/PayPal

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Morning Digest | U.K. government defends BBC over India I-T raids; attempt on to shape an extremist idea of India and PM Modi, says EAM Jaishankar, and more

Members of the media report from outside the office building where Indian tax authorities raided BBC‘s office in New Delhi.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Questioned on I-T survey, U.K. government strongly defends the BBC

The U.K. government was questioned by MPs in the House of Commons on its response to the income tax (IT) raids on BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai last week. Tory MP David Rutley, who is the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), took questions on the raid and freedom of expression in India.

Ahead of UNGA resolution on Russia, France lobbies New Delhi for vote

France is in talks to convince India to shift its position on the Russian war in Ukraine a year into the conflict, urging the Narendra Modi-led government to vote for a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution due to be tabled this week that will call for a cessation of hostilities, according to diplomatic sources.

Attempt on to shape an extremist idea of India, PM: Jaishankar

The recent spate of criticism of the Modi government in the Western media and civil society, which included a two-part documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the 2002 Gujarat riots and Narendra Modi’s tenure as Prime Minister, is “politics by other means”, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday.

Coal India records 31% decline in fatalities in 2022 compared to previous year

Coal India Limited (CIL) recorded 20 fatalities in the year 2022, observing a decline 31% than the previous year. The number of fatalities recorded in the State-owned miner in the year 2021 was 29. According to the CIL, the fatality rate per million tonne (MT) of coal produced was 0.028 in 2022 decreasing sizeably by 40% against 0.047 of 2021.

India, Singapore launch UPI-PayNow linkage

India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and Singapore’s PayNow were officially connected on Tuesday, to allow for a “real-time payment linkage”. The virtual launch was led by a phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.

Confusion prevails over bike taxi services after government’s order

Confusion prevailed on Tuesday over the Delhi government’s notice against the operations of bike taxis in the city, with various aggregator platforms stating that the companies had not received any official communication from the authorities. Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), a body of several digital and app-based companies, on Tuesday requested the government to provide clarity on the matter and engage with all stakeholders before taking a coercive decision.

Uddhav questions Maharashtra Governor’s decision to swear in Shinde as CM when disqualification proceedings were pending

Former Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray said in the Supreme Court that the State’s Governor had sworn in Eknath Shinde as Chief Minister fully knowing that he was facing disqualification proceedings under the anti-defection law.

NIA conducts searches to investigate nexus between gangsters, terrorists

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) searched 76 locations in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi to “dismantle the nexus between terrorists, gangsters, drug smugglers and traffickers based in India and abroad”. The agency said it had registered three separate cases since August 2022 to probe the nexus.

Russia suspends only remaining major nuclear treaty with U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday that Moscow was suspending its participation in the New START treaty — the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the United States — sharply upping the ante amid tensions with Washington over the fighting in Ukraine.

Ahead of UNGA resolution on Russia, France lobbies New Delhi for vote

France is in talks to convince India to shift its position on the Russian war in Ukraine a year into the conflict, urging the Narendra Modi-led government to vote for a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution due to be tabled this week that will call for a cessation of hostilities, according to diplomatic sources. Thus far, New Delhi has refused to vote for any resolution that is critical of the war, either at the UNGA or at the UN Security Council when India was a member last year.

‘India should invest ₹33,750 cr. to achieve its lithium-ion battery production target’

India needs investments to the tune of ₹33,750 crore to achieve the government PLI target of setting up 50GWh of lithium-ion cell and battery manufacturing plants, according to an independent study released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). The country required up to 903GWh of energy storage to decarbonise its mobility and power sectors by 2030, and lithium-ion batteries would meet the majority of this demand, it said.

Wreckage of missing plane confirmed on Philippine volcano

The wreckage of a small plane carrying two Filipino pilots and two Australian passengers was identified Tuesday on one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes, officials said. An aerial search found no sign of those aboard the Cessna 340, which crashed into a gully on the slope of Mayon volcano in Albay province, where it went missing after taking off Saturday enroute to Manila, aviation officials said.

Japan bids teary farewell to pandas sent to reserve in China

Japanese panda fans bid teary farewells to their idols Xiang Xiang, “super papa” Eimei and his twin daughters who were sent to China on February 21 to swap their home at the zoo for a protected facility in Sichuan province.

WTA Dubai Duty Free championship | Sania Mirza ends career with first round defeat

A fairytale ending was not there but Sania Mirza bows out of international tennis after achieving unprecedented success and setting high benchmark for the next generation. Sania and her American partner Madison Keys lost 4-6 0-6 to the formidable Russian pair of Vernokia Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova in exactly one hour at the WTA Dubai event.

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Asian IPOs In U.S. Poised To Increase As Region’s Economies Recover, Nasdaq Vice Chairman Says

In 2019, the year before Covid upended global travel and business, the Nasdaq attracted 33 listings from Asia-Pacific companies. All but five were from China, underscoring the country’s heft as the world’s No. 2 economy and the strength of its tech sector. Chinese Internet billionaires that have listed their main business on the Nasdaq over the years include Robin Li, chairman of Baidu and Richard Liu of JD.com.

This year, with Asia helping to lead a global economic recovery from Covid, the number of listings from the region may beat that pre-Covid number, Vice Chairman Robert McCooey, Jr. said in an interview. “Our pipeline is super strong,” McCooey said via Zoom, noting 94 active “F-1” filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by Asia-Pacific businesses aiming to go public.

China businesses and entrepreneurs that led the way in 2019 may have to share the stage with those from other Asia nations this year, however, McCooey said. Though it’s impossible to say for sure how many will come through, McCooey noted that only about half of those F-1 filers are from Chinese companies.

“If you rewind the clock three-four-five years, 80% of them would have been Chinese and only a small number from other parts of Asia,” including Singapore, South Korea and Japan, he said. “The fact that 50% of them come from China is great, but I think it does show where the market has shifted over the past few years,” McCooey said. “We’re casting a broader net here that includes China, but also looking at Asia (overall).”

To be sure, the Nasdaq is mostly for U.S. companies – they account for about 80% of the 4,000 businesses that trade there. Yet the remaining 20% — or about 800 — are based overseas. Among the largest are JD.com and Trip.com from China. Even amid the pandemic last year, a total of 48 international listings came to Nasdaq (including SPAC IPOs), 30 of which were from the Asia-Pacific. Some of biggest listings in 2022 were Gogoro, a Taiwan operator of a battery-swapping platform and scooter maker, and Atour Lifestyle Holdings, a mainland China hotel chain operator.

There remains an international listing backlog this year in part due to the difficulties of traveling during the pandemic, said McCooey, a 15-year Nasdaq veteran who oversees IPOs from Asia and Latin America. A shadow over China fundraising lifted in December when the U.S. regulators said they had reached an agreement over auditing of Chinese-listed firms that had caused new listings from the country to grind to a near halt. This week, Hesai Group, a supplier of sensors for self-driving vehicles whose investors include Baidu and smartphone maker Xiaomi, is expected to list. So far, there have been four other international listings on the Nasdaq this year, three of which were from the Asia-Pacific: Cetus Capital Acquisition, Quantasing Group and Lichen China.

Aside from the easing of Covid-related restrictions in China itself, hopes for a recovery in Chinese listings at the Nasdaq got a boost when China’s New York consulate chief Huang Ping came to ring an opening bell last month to mark the Lunar New Year.

Whether China gains actually materialize will also depend in part on confidence among listees and investors alike, he said. “Success begets success,” said 57-year-old McCooey. “That’s what my dad used to always say.” The more companies that go public and are successful, the more confidence others will have to follow them and go down that path, he said.

One further challenge this spring for China firms and their underwriters will be fallout from the U.S. downing of the suspected spy balloon this month, stoking Cold War fears. McCooey said he didn’t expect an impact on listings. “Tensions between the U.S. and China have gone on for decades,” he said. “They just get heightened in the press sometimes more during certain periods.”

Also potentially poised for a good year in 2023, believes McCooey: U.S. listings by companies from Southeast Asia. “There’s been a tremendous amount of growth in the companies in the region,” he said. “Companies have now grown to a size and a scale” and in industries associated with the Nasdaq such as technology, healthcare, consumer logistics, and robotics, McCooey said. “They’re interested in the U.S. market and they’re growing.”

Among the 18 Asia-Pacific companies to file F-1s since December, four have come from Singapore, including CytoMed Therapeutics, a biotech firm, and IMMRSIV, a software company.

“There’s been a lot of money that has left other parts of Asia (and) come into Singapore. It’s looked at as kind of the Switzerland of Southeast Asia and warm and welcoming,” he said. “A lot of people are comfortable there, a lot of businesses are comfortable there, and the business climate is good there. There just are a lot of factors that are working in (Singapore’s) favor right now. And then obviously, with some of the geopolitical tensions that have gone on, companies (will) try to remove themselves from that.

Although India hasn’t accounted for many international Nasdaq issuers of late, owing to restrictions by the country on direct overseas listings (companies have to list at home first), McCooey said he’s also optimistic that more businesses from that country will also seek to tap U.S. markets.

“I’ve been a huge believer in India for years,” said McCooey, a graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s just too large, and an amazing market for us not to think about it that way. It just takes a while.”

See related posts:

Tool Maker’s IPO Mints China’s Newest Billionaire

U.S. Tops New Asia Power Ranking “Due Largely To China’s Setbacks”

China’s Luxury Goods Market Poised To Recover, Bain Says

Language Gaps Hold Back U.S. Companies In Fast-Growing Asia: KPMG Economist

@rflannerychina

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