Historically, typing was used as a way to record words. The first typewriter was invented in the late 1860s and the recognizsable ‘QWERTY’ layout can be found on a number of modern devices today. However, typing wasn’t conceived as a means of giving instructions and commands to technology devices.
Speaking is reportedly three times faster than typing on a mobile keyboard. Therefore, it seems natural that at some point ‘“voice to device’” interfacing will bypass typing and the keyboard because it’s quicker and easier to use.
Until now voice recognition has not been sophisticated enough to accurately interpret human voices, but recently this has reached a turning point.
For example, WeChat has over one billion users owing part of its success to its ‘push to talk’ feature. Using voice to dictate messages to friends is convenient, efficient and accessible. Similarly, Amazon Alexa dominates the Smart Home market by recently expanding in to voice-enabled clocks, plugs and microwaves.
This signifies the beginning of the ‘age of voice’ and the travel industry is on the cusp of adoption. Consumers are comfortably using voice technology in their everyday lives whilst the keyboard become silently redundant. Voice is changing consumer behaviour, and inevitably, it will change the way we search and book travel forever.
Travel search and inspiration
Because travelers are used to looking at images when it comes to booking travel, travel search is inherently visual. Flicking through brochures, browsing travel agency websites, scrolling social media for suggestions are all visual cues consumers take before booking.
This is where “voice only” could be challenged – travel search and inspiration have always been very personal and very visual, but voice technology isn’t.
Integrating voice with displays is then necessary for travel companies to satisfy consumers. Travel companies (agents, airlines, hotels etc.) will need to integrate voice technology with devices that have screens (such as smart televisions) to satisfy the traveler demand of seeing what they purchase.
Travel corporations will also need a comprehensive data profile on consumers using their services in order to offer personalised travel experiences. It’s much easier for voice-enabled devices to collect large amounts of data because natural speech provides richer information, compared to consumers typing out forms or ticking boxes. A voice-enabled device can collect more from conversations than questionnaires. These are all key things to remember for travel companies thinking of investing in voice technology.
Travel booking using voice technology requires adaptation beyond search using a keyboard – mainly because natural speech has sentimental variations that can’t adequately be detected through technology (yet). For example, using voice technology to book a hotel.
When ‘hotel’ is typed in to a search engine, all types of results relating to ‘hotel’ pop-up and most likely fit what the searcher is looking for. But when a consumer is using voice to search – a colloquial question might be asked, such as “Where is good to stay near my meeting?” ’ This question challenges a voice assistant because there are so many keywords that offer different search terms and it must interpret natural language in order to respond.
Chatbots have a good grasp of this concept already. They use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) to mimic the similarities of human language. The beauty of this is that consumers can’t always tell the difference between a chatbot and a human agent. It’s this conversational language that needs to be considered when thinking of integrating voice in travel bookings. Travel companies should leverage their work already done on their typed chatbot interfaces as it will stand them in good stead for when they implement voice technology.
Success will also rely on how travel agents can mimic a natural conversation with the customer. The technology will need to understand and anticipate the answer, as well as being able to respond to the consumer in the best way possible (including asking questions in return). In traditional search it is a Q&A format. Eg “Great Hotels in Tokyo?” Resulting in a page of suggestions. However, voice search is the beginning of a conversation. So it should be built like a person to person conversation with the answers stimulating a “to and fro interchange”.
Voice is already integrating into travel servicing. Marriott Hotels has struck a partnership with Amazon Alexa to be integrated into its hotels in the US. Using voice, guests can ask for more towels, order room service, and turn the lights off. In a closed environment, like a hotel, there is a finite amount of questions a guest is likely to ask. This voice technology can easily store a bank of expected responses to these common questions. However, it’s important to strike the balance between offering good customer service and ensuring the privacy and protection of the data that’s being collected.
Keeping an eye on tech giants like Amazon and Google, as well as industries like retail, will give the travel industry a good idea of what to expect in voice. Voice technology even has the potential to improve airline disruption management in travel servicing (especially when a person is in transit and can’t type or look at a screen. To get ahead, travel companies should focus on having the best of breed NLP and NLU chatbots to help collect accurate conversational data in preparation.
Voice technology is now advanced enough for the industry to consider deploying it to reach travel customers in 2019. Amadeus is always looking at new technologies and innovations that can improve the travel experience, including voice technology. Further ahead in a post-keyword world, travelers will use voice technology to search for travel inspiration, to book a holiday, or to enhance their experience when they travel.
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