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Can voice technology change the travel industry?

January 20, 2018 Headline News, Tech No Comments Email Email

EyeforTravel’s new Can Voice Change the Way We Travel? report advises travel brands to get ready for the expansion of voice technologies, as although these are at an early adopter stage, they are already important parts of the digital ecosystem and developing at a breakneck pace.

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 last half decade, have demonstrated an appetite for voice products. Even more critically than the smart speaker market, 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 rapidly, 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. This base has allowed both companies to put together voice products that can recognize speech at accuracy rates of up to 98%.

This growing accuracy demonstrates the rapid progress in the field and how the technology is on the cusp of being able to transcribe human speech perfectly. However, for travel where the real issue lies according to the report, is not in the technology to comprehend the human voice, but the ability to personalize the experience. Comprehension is one thing but context and cogent answers are quite another, which will require another leap in performance.

“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 personalized response is required to give you the most relevant information only, and nothing more, otherwise it simply doesn’t work.”

Paul English, CEO of Lola Tech, 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 personalization requirements that it does everything for you” is the future.

Getting to a more personalized service will require a concerted effort on the part of travel brands in terms of data gathering, interpretation and presentation. Therefore, consumers conducting a full cycle of travel research solely through voice remain some way off.

In the meantime, travel brands are finding a variety of uses for voice products to ease the travellers’ journeys. 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 in the sector. Principally these brands are looking at using speakers in guests’ rooms to provide services and ease guest requests. Bill Keen, IHG’s VP of mobile solutions & digital guest experience, reported that they had implemented Alexa into and enthused about its further potential: “Voice is sexy again. I do believe that’s the next interface for us.” For luxury hotel brand Edwardian, they have gone a step further and developed out their self-developed chatbot so now it has been enabled to speak to guests and the leadership team is looking at their own in-room speaker tech.

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