As technology gains ground, the latest advances are often compared to science fiction. In the case of voice technology, that’s hardly surprising: Not long ago, the only people who spoke to computers were crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise. With the advent of digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, almost anyone can now have computers do their bidding – simply by talking to their smart devices.
The widespread uptake of voice technology in its various forms promises a major shake-up across a range of sectors, including the travel and hospitality industry. This month, we’ll look at the tech as well as the associated challenges and how you can shape up for them.
Taking Speech Recognition to the Next Level
Today’s voice tech builds on essentially the same technology that powered the often less-than-stellar speech-recognition solutions of just 15 or so years ago. But vastly increased cloud processing power and sophisticated AI algorithms have fueled a quantum leap in recognition speed and accuracy, bringing natural language processing into the mainstream.
Voice Search: Uptake Is Skyrocketing
The appeal of this enhanced speech and voice recognition is reflected by a burgeoning market, which is expected to be worth almost USD 32 billion by 2025. One key application in this field is voice search, which allows users to quickly and easily search the Web by talking to their devices, instead of entering queries via keyboard. Experts predict that searches of this kind could account for a hefty 50% of all searches by 2020.
What’s more, Microsoft reports that, in Great Britain, hotel searches using its Cortana digital assistant have climbed by 343% year-on-year and flight searches by 277%. And a recent survey commissioned by Travelport found that over a third of UK travelers now use voice search to prepare for trips.
Voice Technology in the Travel Sector: Some Real-World Examples
Given the speed and convenience of voice search and its obvious appeal for customers, travel players have been quick to roll out voice-powered solutions such as the following:
Expedia Action enables travelers to search, book, and cancel hotel accommodation, and to access loyalty points, using the Google Assistant app.
Book on Google is geared to delivering a seamless booking process, making it easier for users to search and book flights and hotels.
Alexa for Hospitality is a line of Echo smart speakers designed for use in hotels, allowing guests to perform tasks such as placing calls, setting alarms, and controlling smart devices in their rooms.
Pinpointing Potential Issues
As these examples show, voice technology has potential to transform not only how travelers plan and book their journeys, but also how they interact with hotel staff and facilities during their stay. However, the tech also presents challenges – some based on consumers’ expectations and concerns, some arising from sector-specific requirements, and others from the demands presented by the technology itself.
People using voice search generally want instant answers, so the information delivered must be brief easily digestible.
Marketing in the travel sector relies heavily on visual images. As a result, voice search alone is unlikely to cover all customer needs.
Voice searches differ from conventional searches because they typically use long-tail keywords (that is, more than three words) and even take the form of a conversation with the device.
Customers may have security and privacy concerns regarding voice solutions.
To put the technology to work for your business, you have to consider two key areas: optimizing content for voice searches and optimizing the user experience.
Mastering the Challenges of Voice Search
In terms of all-important search engine optimization (SEO), your first step should be to establish a presence on voice search platforms. This will deliver invaluable insight into how consumers use these platforms, which you can then leverage to design effective, search-engine-optimized content.
If you have doubts about the suitability of voice search for the traditionally image-heavy travel sector, it’s worth remembering that voice will not entirely replace conventional searches. Rather, it provides an alternative in line with specific user needs.
Last but not least, you’ll have to look at ways of optimizing your online content so that it provides answers to the long-tail keywords that characterize voice searches.
Enhancing the User Experience
If travelers are to get the most out of voice technology, you’ll need to examine ways of integrating voice search devices into every stage of the journey – for example, by equipping hotel rooms with smart speakers. And to meet the growing need for speed – especially among younger users – you’ll have to look at ways of optimizing response loading times.
And don’t forget to think about ways of allaying consumers’ fears regarding their privacy and the confidentiality of their data – after all, while most travelers appreciate personalization, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of smart devices “eavesdropping” on them in their hotel room.
The Bottom Line
As the market growth projections show, voice technology will see major growth in the next few years – so now’s the time to start preparing. But bear in mind that while voice search will play a pivotal role for travelers, it won’t do away with conventional searches. So, when drawing up your strategy, the best approach is to treat it as a potentially valuable supplement.