It’s midnight in Paris and I’m sitting in a velvet booth at a theater called Le Crazy Horse. A waiter with a ponytail has just sabered a bottle of champagne with a sword, and now a half-dozen topless cabaret dancers are swinging upside-down from the ceiling. I don’t know who this stranger with pink hair seated next to me is, or what I’m even doing here, but I decide to roll with it, remembering that my app led me here.
All-knowing digital assistants are set to transform how we travel. From Google Trips to Hello Hipmunk to Lola, new apps and services are increasingly relying on GPS and artificial intelligence to not just help you plan and organize trips, but to also learn your preferences and suggest personalized itineraries once you arrive.
With Lola, for instance, you can text a live representative something like, “Need a flight to LAX next week” and, with the help of computer-generated recommendations, an agent will send you potential itineraries before booking your trip. But as the battle to turn your smartphone into your travel agent intensifies, the world’s third-largest e-commerce platform has entered the fray without anyone noticing.
Since late September, Booking.com has been quietly piloting the beta version of a predictive learning feature called Booking Experiences. If you currently use Booking’s app to reserve a room in one of six initial markets (Amsterdam, Paris, Dubai, Rome, Barcelona, and London), you’ll unlock a list of 30-50 local tours, activities, and attractions offering special discounts or the ability to skip the line to enter. To get into any of the venues, you just have to scan a QR code in the app that’s tied to your credit card. Since no one had reviewed the product yet, I was eager to test it out before it launches in New York and Orlando this year. So I used Booking’s app to find a room in Paris and blindly followed its list of curated Booking Experiences around the city for a few days.
Based on my dates, budget, and preferred arrondissement, Booking’s top-recommended stay was the chic, Christian Lacroix–designed Hôtel du Petit Moulin in the Marais neighborhood. After dropping my bag and admiring the room’s mirrored ceiling, I saw that the closest ‘Experience’ was a “skip-the-line fast entry” to the Centre Pompidou , 12 minutes away. But to access the pass—as well as other “skip-the-line” passes to the Louvre Museum and Palace of Versailles—I had to go to a ticket office 20 minutes away in the opposite direction.
I opted for passes to both the Pompidou and Louvre, and after a quick QR scan purchase, I breezed past the 35-minute line at the Pompidou and the 45-minute wait at the Louvre, saving an hour in all.