Voice is key to the future of travel bookings

Insight from Nigel Beighton, CIO of ATCORE

The travel industry has been using website search as a critical selling mechanism since travel sites first appeared on the internet. The connected world continues to rapidly evolve and the majority of travel companies are missing out on a major opportunity to inspire customers.

Today, we want everything in an instant – whether it’s food, news or deliveries – and the same goes for travel. That is easier said than done, but as the latest evolution of search appears, we’re seeing huge potential, not only for these instant results but to deliver the necessary inspiration to help customers find their perfect trip.

The demand for instant results has stretched to mobile phones. One in five searches on an Android platform in the US are now completed through voice. We’ve seen an explosion of voice assistants in our homes but we’re only at the beginning of voice search.

Naturally, we’re more comfortable talking. Typing tends to be more structured and thought out compared to speech, which is quick, off the cuff and has a more conversational tone. In typed search, Google dominates. However, the territory of voice search is still up for grabs, hence Apple, Amazon, Google and others battling it out for dominance.

Voice and ML

The goal for voice assistants is to learn from their users – every search creating more personalisation through machine learning (ML). This will lead to the device making judgment calls, understanding previous information to make an informed decision, and improving accuracy. The more informed, the more personalised, and the more personalised, the higher the demand – all of which only makes the assistant more informed – a virtuous cycle.

How can travel benefit? Booking a holiday can be a challenge. Deciding on dates, destinations and what you want included is hard enough, but then choosing one hotel out of hundreds only causes further frustration. Within that, offers expire, and price, availability and other factors are changing constantly, bringing complications. Searching for travel not only needs speed and convenience, but also to be extremely accurate, matching customer requirements with real-time availability.

Status and availability in travel changes in an instant. There are no stock levels – if you want a specific villa that caters for eight people you have to book it before someone else. Travel effectively changes in seconds.

Delivering what someone asks for is only the first challenge for voice search in travel. But what if they don’t know where they want to go? Or when? The second – and arguably more important – challenge for travel companies is delivering the inspiration.

Inspiration imperative

Travel needs to bridge a gap so a search result not only delivers the necessary information but also the right inspiration. Voice search can be the technology that does this.

As time passes, we will only see search getting stronger, and we could soon see search being tied in with social media, Instagram posts and hashtags, cross-referencing personal diaries and other metadata to develop customer profiles with specific companies. People want inspiration. They want to be told what they want.

“It’s everything you want, and I know that because of the information I’ve gathered from access to your social media channels”

Thanks to this deep personalisation, your voice-enabled personal assistant might say to you: “You should go to this adult-only hotel on the beach. It’s everything you want, and I know that because of the information I’ve gathered from access to your social media channels, showing you have a partner, no children, you enjoy sunny destinations, five-star properties and frequent visits to the coast”.

Consumers will adapt to voice, but businesses must understand how to develop the speed, accuracy and connectivity. And customers will have to trust these companies if they are to be willing to give away all of this information.

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