March 12, 2019

Listen up! Voice search in the travel industry

It’s likely that you will have heard of voice search, voice assistants and smart speakers by now. Chances are you’ve probably also asked Siri to tell you a joke and Google Home to make you a sandwich only to be told “No. You’re a sandwich.”

Technology has certainly evolved and progressed in the last 40 years e.g. Teletext in the 70s, the launch of Windows and Mac in the 80s, the World Wide Web (90s), and smartphones in the last decade. What do all of these have in common? They were all technological pioneers, made lives easier and removed friction.

In 2019, it’s fair to say that personal assistants are more than just fun little gadgets; they are now a common household item and for some, part of everyday life. In fact, a study by NPR-Edison Research (quoted in the Harvard Business Review) showed 100 million units have already been sold worldwide and ownership is projected to reach 225 million by 2020 – outpacing the adoption rate for smartphones a decade ago.

Alexa: what role will voice search play in the future of travel?

The numbers above paint a clear picture: consumers are increasingly turning to their smart speakers for their travel needs. In the UK, a survey commissioned by Travelport found that one third of travellers already use voice search tools for trip inspiration.

Ultimately, voice search is about removing friction. If harnessed correctly, voice search has the power to significantly enhance the overall travel experience by saving customers time and hassle. Not only that but travel brands that recognise and act on the potential of voice-enabled devices early on will find a possible new entry point to reach more customers.

Okay Google, how do I win at voice search?

So, you understand the theoretical power of conversational artificial intelligence (AI), but what practical steps should you be taking to make it work for your business?

  • Focus on natural language and branded search terms

Start by creating content that sounds ‘natural’. For example, begin the process by writing down a strong FAQ of all the questions people ask when planning a trip. You could also consider voice-enabling your current apps or adding branded “skills” that can be loaded onto Alexa.

  • Partner early on to secure the best terms

The lightning speed of smart-speaker adoption suggests travel brands only have a small window to negotiate favourable terms with the likes of Google and Amazon. As more people use their voices for search queries, technology giants will start to build up their databases, and travel brands are likely to lose the upper-hand at the negotiation table.

Hey Siri, what’s in it for me?

“To stay competitive in this space, brands should understand that this shift in human-computer interaction brings with it new expectations from customers. ”

Through voice search, brands have an opportunity to utilise the potential of this technology. Additionally, providers across the travel sector need to ensure that they continue to enhance the experience of the modern traveller. The trend we’re seeing for voice search adoption is just the beginning of the story. To stay competitive in this space, brands should understand that this shift in human-computer interaction brings with it new expectations from customers. Brands who want to remain ahead of the travel curve should identify the necessary steps to make a better experience for today and tomorrow’s traveller.