June 2018, London
Hey Siri, can voice technology really change the travel industry?
A new report from EyeforTravel takes a look at the state of play and finds that travel brands need to tune into personalisation
When you have the biggest names in tech battling it out to shout the loudest about development in voice, then maybe, just maybe it’s time to listen. Yes, we are talking Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and we are talking soaring sales too. By some accounts 24 million speakers were shipped in 2017, a 300% rise on the previous year. Amazon led the pack with Echo Dot being its top-selling product, sell-out product for two years in a row.
What this all means for travel companies, is the subject of a new free EyeforTravel report Can Voice Change the Way We Travel? Voice technologies may still be in the early adopter stage, but all the data points to the need for travel companies to prepare for their expansion.
Blockbuster sales of smart speakers over the holiday periods in both 2016 and 2017, alongside a steadily growing number of connected devices per home across major markets in the past five years, demonstrate an appetite for voice products. Perhaps even more significantly, personal assistants are being incorporated into ever more platforms, meaning a market of billions of devices already exists.
Estimates of voice’s market share in terms of search are harder to come by than device sales, but this too is growing, nowhere more so than China. Already, the leading players, Baidu and iFlytek, claim that users are making hundreds of millions of daily requests through voice, allowing them to gather vast amounts of data. The result is that both companies are developing voice products that, they argue, can recognise speech with as much as 98% accuracy rates.
Rapid progress in the field means that we are not far off the perfectly accurate voice transcription. According to EyeforTravel’s report, however, the big issue lies not in the technology to comprehend the human voice, but the ability to personalise the experience. Comprehension is one thing but context and cogent answers are quite another; this will require another leap in performance.
The big issue lies not in the technology to comprehend the human voice, but the ability to personalise the experience
“When you do a normal screen-based search, a whole screen of information comes up, but on a voice-based search there isn’t time for Siri, Echo or Home to read out the whole page,” Sam Turner, sales director of Hotelbeds Group told EyeforTravel. “A much more personalised response is required to give you the most relevant information only, and nothing more, otherwise it simply doesn’t work.”
Paul English, the former founder of Kayak, and CEO of Lola, believes that “ultimately talking to your phone and saying I want a hotel tomorrow night, and I am going to be in Chicago Thursday and then having it know enough about the context and enough about the personalisation requirements that it does everything for you” is the future.
However, a personalised service will require a concerted effort on the part of travel brands in terms of data gathering, interpretation and presentation. So, consumers completing all their travel research solely through voice remain some way off.
Easing the journey
In the meantime, travel brands are finding a variety of uses for voice products to ease the traveller journey. Heathrow airport is experimenting with smart speakers in flight screens and key locations in the airport to help travellers with common questions.
For hotels, Marriott, IHG, Best Western and Kimpton are among the pioneers. Principally, these brands are looking at using speakers in guests’ rooms to provide useful and personalised services. Bill Keen, IHG’s VP of mobile solutions & digital guest experience, reported that they had implemented Alexa and was excited about its potential: “Voice is sexy again. I do believe that’s the next interface for us.” Meanwhile, luxury hotel brand Edwardian, have have gone a step further and developed out their self-developed chatbot, so now it is able to speak to guests; at the same time, the leadership team is looking at their own in-room speaker tech.
For more on the topic of voice and its impact on the travel industry, click here to download the complete report for free.