China’s biggest travel agency Ctrip on Monday introduced a vertical AI large model designed for the tourism industry. The AI-driven model, called Xiecheng Wendao, allows users to ask Ctrip travel-related questions. The company’s chair James Liang said the model is in its early stages and still “requires a long process of iteration.”

Why it matters: Many companies are fine-tuning existing general large models with industry-specific data to cater to their specific needs. Ctrip, in this case, said its specialized model is built on an undisclosed general model, filtering 20 billion high-quality unstructured streams of tourism data along with its own structured real-time data and search algorithms.

Details: Ctrip’s AI model will offer recommendations on destinations, hotels, and sightseeing, the firm said at the Monday launch event, and also can offer real-time search results for flights and hotels.

  • The country’s biggest travel services provider did not reveal the specific number of parameters used to train Xiecheng Wendao, with Liang emphasizing that parameters are not as critical for a vertical model compared to other data integrations.
  • Ctrip said users often take up to 11 days to research and decide on travel plans on average, as pre-journey planning is often the most time-consuming and complex part of the process. Liang further claimed that this is an area where generative AI can significantly improve efficiency.
  • Although Chinese tech majors have been quick to release their own AI models and services, the country is yet to have a local AI tool as widely popular as OpenAI’s ChatGPT has been outside of China. Baidu, the local search giant, is still restricting its ERNIE Bot service to internal testing after releasing it four months ago. Ctrip’s AI model is also in a testing phase; users currently have to apply to use it.

Context: Chinese companies are increasingly turning to industry-specific models, in a variation on the race to create artificial intelligence chatbots similar to ChatGPT. It seems a safer path for domestic firms to utilize the rapidly-growing technology, especially in a country that has recently taken a major step to regulate generative AI content.

  • James Liang, also an economics professor at Peking University and a researcher of demography, expressed his concerns over China’s long-term innovativeness at the press conference, according to local media outlet Caixin. While he said innovative work and emotional work cannot yet be replaced by AI, low fertility rates are hurting China’s future innovation potential.

Cheyenne Dong is a tech reporter now based in Shanghai. She covers e-commerce and retail, AI, and blockchain. Connect with her via e-mail: cheyenne.dong[a]