Making the Most of Your Journey with AI

St. Augustine at sundown.
Susan Phillips

While the rich history of the First Coast is what draws many visitors to the area, leaders in the tourism industry are looking to the future to help promote the past.

Artificial Intelligence is a topic that has garnered an increasing amount of attention across all types of industries. And if its leaders have their way, the hospitality and tourism industry won’t be left behind. Whether using AI for marketing, data analysis, customer service or future-state planning, AI is here to stay in the business of tourism.

Susan Phillips, president and CEO of the St. Johns County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said they are cautiously stepping into the world of AI, but she knows the future is coming fast.

“For us, we are gingerly putting our toes in the water. And what I mean by that is that we’re watching what everyone else is doing,” she said, adding that many of her colleagues in other cities are using AI to help with issues like efficient staffing.

“I think for us, at a visitor and convention bureau, what we’re seeing now is that it helps us with some of the content we’re having to create – because content is king and there’s only so much you can do,” she said. “But now we’re finding we have this wonderful tool – and of course, we still have to fact check (when we’re using it), but we have this wonderful tool to help us in creating so much of the content for visitors.”

Phillips said that it’s important to her and her small staff that nothing is a simple cut and paste but that they use AI to inspire new ideas and go from there.

Castle Otttis in St. Augustine, Florida.
Built by Ottis Sadler and Rusty Ickes, this castle on the Florida coast as an artistic “landscape sculpture” and based on Irish castles from 1,000 years ago .

“Sometimes you can get myopic – we’re the destination, so we see it every day, and we forget about some of the gems that are out there. We can use AI, go to ChatGPT, and say, ‘Tell me about this,’ and it will give us these ideas. Sometimes it’s just springboarding, but that’s helping us with our creativity internally.”

While they are mostly using it for marketing content and ideas, Phillips knows that there is a big future ahead for AI in her business.

“I’m sure down the road there will be larger steps and ways for us to use it, but for now, I’m trying to embrace it, but also make sure we balance it with ethics and use the information in the right way,” she said. “It’s just another tool in our toolkit.”

As for the future, Phillips is particularly interested in how the technology will help them in their data-driven industry.

“One of the things I would like to look at is if there’s a way to look at some of our past data and be able to get some learnings from that via AI that we can use to extrapolate and project into the future,” she said. “We’re not there yet, but I think that would be another area certainly to harness that technology.”