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China's largest online travel company Trip.com Group creates own large language model, Wendao, to push AI as a tool for accurate voyage data

Trip.com Group, China's largest online travel services provider, has launched its own large language model (LLM) - the technology used to train chatbots like ChatGPT - that is expected to make artificial intelligence (AI) an essential tool for its customers to obtain accurate voyage data and deal recommendations.

The Shanghai-based company - operator of online travel agencies Trip.com, Ctrip, Qunar and Skyscanner - unveiled its LLM called Wendao, which roughly translates to "ask for your ways" in Chinese, at a corporate event in its home city on Tuesday.

With tourism continuing to be "an important industry", Trip.com co-founder and executive chairman James Liang Jianzhang said at the event that the group is committed to embracing "technological development and to use advanced AI-driven services to improve the travel process and overall experience".

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LLMs are deep-learning AI algorithms that can recognise, summarise, translate, predict and generate content using very large data sets.

Trip.com's travel-oriented Wendao LLM, which is still in the testing phase and only available to a small group of users, was trained with 20 billion quality travel-relevant data sets, bolstered by the company's real-time data and its proprietary search algorithm, according to Liang.

"The opportunity for vertical LLMs is that AIGC (artificial intelligence-generated content) has met a tremendous challenge - their responses are not reliable," he said.

To ensure that Wendao provides the most accurate response, the group also invested in significant manual labour to verify the accuracy of answers generated by the AI model, the company said in a statement.

Trip.com's LLM initiative reflects the broader Chinese tech industry's determination to close the gap with the West in building ChatGPT-like services, as Beijing steps up efforts to regulate AI by implementing a national standard for LLMs.

After Microsoft Corp-backed start-up OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November, China's Big Tech firms have rushed to develop alternative services, with Beijing pinning its hopes on AI development to raise efficiency in traditional industries and fuel post-pandemic growth in the world's second-largest economy.

Apart from using LLM to provide users with precise travel information and deal recommendations, Trip.com has also applied the technology to streamline its own operations, company chief executive Jane Sun Jie said at the event on Tuesday.

Wendao has already propelled the use of Trip.com's automated online chat-, email- and hotline-based customer services that are available in more than 20 languages, according to Sun.

She said that has helped Trip.com's global customer service unit to save, on average, more than 10,000 working hours on a daily basis since adopting the LLM.

That improved efficiency has enabled Trip.com to direct the customer service unit's efforts in presale activities.

"We're thrilled to let Trip.com customer service representatives work on more creative roles," Sun said.

Baidu, Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings, Huawei Technologies Co and JD.com this year have already rolled out their respective LLM applications for wider adoption in various industries. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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