In a strategic move to redefine the landscape of business travel, Chinese ride-hailing giant DiDi is harnessing the power of generative artificial intelligence (AI). At the helm of this innovative endeavor is Chai Hua, the head of DiDi Travel’s Maps and Public Transport Division, leading an internal team dedicated to generative AI applications.
This initiative marks a significant shift in how travel service providers approach business trip planning. By leveraging advanced AI models, companies like DiDi are now able to offer more intelligent and efficient travel solutions. These include selecting optimal flights and hotels and seamlessly integrating with third-party ticket booking platforms and corporate reimbursement systems.
Recent data from DiDi Enterprise underscores the growing demand for such AI-enhanced travel services. In September, the company reported a 13.5% month-over-month increase in corporate travel demand. This surge included a 13.1% rise in flight bookings, a 17% increase in train ticket reservations, and a 12.4% growth in hotel bookings.
This trend not only reflects DiDi’s confidence in using generative AI to spearhead innovations in the business travel sector but also highlights the potential for these technologies to elevate the user experience and operational efficiency.
DiDi’s foray into the business travel sector has been a long-term strategic focus. Since 2015, the company has been actively developing its capabilities in flight and hotel bookings, along with comprehensive business travel services.
In a significant development in March 2021, DiDi’s Enterprise Services division began recruiting senior product managers and experts for its hotel and flight services, signaling the start of internal testing for its business travel offerings. After nearly two years of rigorous preparation, DiDi Enterprise officially launched its flight and hotel booking services in January 2023.
The deployment of generative AI, while resource-intensive, is supported by DiDi’s robust financial position. The company’s Q3 2023 earnings report revealed a staggering 34% year-over-year increase in total orders on its core ride-hailing platform, reaching 3.579 billion. This growth was mirrored in its China travel orders, which saw a 32% year-over-year increase, and its international business, which grew by 43%.
As of September 30, 2023, DiDi reported a cash reserve, including cash equivalents, restricted funds, and financial investments, amounting to RMB 54.6 billion, an increase from RMB 48.8 billion at the end of 2022.
However, the business travel sector remains fiercely competitive. Rivals like AutoNavi Maps and T3 Travel have also announced their foray into generative AI, focusing on safe travel and diverse travel scenarios.
For instance, Ctrip launched its first vertical generative AI model for the tourism industry, "Ctrip Wenda," in July. This model offers personalized travel recommendations, including destinations, hotels, attractions, and itinerary planning, based on user preferences and specific criteria such as location and theme.
In 2020, Ctrip’s business travel management revenue stood at RMB 877 million, climbing to RMB 1.1 billion in 2022. The extent to which DiDi can carve out a significant market share in this competitive landscape remains a subject of keen industry observation.
AutoNavi’s generative AI model for safe travel, released in September, is another testament to the growing trend. This model, built on AutoNavi’s extensive data and decision-making capabilities, aims to enhance safety management for ride-hailing platforms, offering comprehensive solutions from risk identification to regular governance.
AutoNavi Taxi has reported that over 100 ride-hailing platforms have integrated with its model, resulting in more than 10 million daily road safety warnings and an 18.4% reduction in driver overspeeding rates.
In a similar vein, T3 Travel’s recent strategic partnership with China Telecom aims to develop "Qianmi," the first ecological large model in the domestic travel industry. This collaboration is set to introduce a range of large model solutions for various travel scenarios, further empowering the industry’s growth and innovation.