“A New Frontier for Travel Scammers” is the title of the New York Times article that came out last week.
In it are images of the onslaught of AI-generated travel guides suddenly flooding Amazon.
The travel writers behind them? Not the experienced travelers their author profiles make them out to be.
Instead, they’re robot wordsmiths created using generative artificial intelligence.
While you might think you can tell AI-generated content from the real stuff, what sold the scammed travelers were the hundreds of seemingly real reviews.
Most guides feature comments regarding the experience and helpfulness of these “travel writers.” The reviewers? You guessed it — AI robots, too.
Why AI Deception In The Travel Industry Matters
AI might be an inevitable part of our lives as travelers at this point.
After all, companies like Matador Network are even using AI tools to help people plan itineraries via WhatsApp.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and accept deception. Instead, it’s important to learn how to distinguish between fact and fiction.
It’s important to learn to listen to the real travelers, the ones who’ve experienced everything you’re hoping to.
Sure, generative AI promises convenience and accessibility.
But it also poses significant risks, especially when eager adventurers like you pay their hard-earned money to purchase guides marketed as being full of “expert” travel tips.
Spoiler alert: None of the guides reported in the Times article were full of “expert” tips or even itineraries.
Instead, they were full of copied and pasted information you could have likely found on Wikipedia.
How AI Travel Guides Are Made
How is it possible, you might ask, that a team of tricksters can create a full travel guide, complete with an author photo and profile, a well-designed book cover, and all of the positive reviews to accompany it?
It’s all artificial intelligence.
Modern AI tools make it simple to create fake images of people who may or may not exist.
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With a few prompts, they can generate a compelling bio that talks all about the author’s “20 years of experience visiting faraway lands.”
Mix in some stock photos, a quick book cover template on Canva, and direct publishing tools, and voila — you’ve got yourself a fake travel guide ready to sell to unassuming travelers.
At least, that was the case when the New York Times investigated a few AI travel guides.
What A Fake AI Travel Guide Looks Like
One prime example came from Mike Steves (an assumed spin on well-known travel guide writer Rick Steves), a “renowned European travel writer” who has “traveled to over 40 countries.”
His guide, “France Travel Guide: Discover the Beauty, Culture, and Charm of France Through an Insider’s Guide,” was selling for $16.99 and had a 4.4-star rating from 37 reviews.
After a few real reviewers got their hands on a copy, they found it included no real itinerary or any helpful information at all (aside from letting readers know that they do, in fact, speak French in France; thanks for the tip!).
Aside from the guide text, which was obviously fake fluff, how did The Times find out it was a fake guide?
First, they ran some of the copy through Originality.ai. Unsurprisingly, every text entered came up as 100% AI-generated.
Then, they took a closer look at the “author” — both his photo and bio.
Zooming in on the photo revealed some weird AI anomalies, like a bizarre growth on his neck and weird clothing.
A quick Google search for “Mike Steves travel writer” revealed no other published works and no trace of him in the city he listed as living in his author bio.
How To Avoid Getting Scammed By Fake Travel Guides
Take one look at the AI-generated travel guides on Amazon (and the reviews that accompany them), and you’ll see why so many people fell for the scam.
With such convincing AI content out there these days, how can you avoid getting duped?
The first step is to be aware of common travel scams like this.
Then, learn to research the companies and individuals you’re entrusting to provide you with travel experience.
If you find a travel guide online, for example, research the writer.
Look for other published works in reputable travel publications or social media accounts where you can see them traveling to the places they’re writing about.
When in doubt, stick with brands and people you know and trust.
National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steves all publish award-winning, expert-backed travel guides you can trust.
Finally, stay up to date on travel news to make sure you’re always one step ahead of the scammers!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com