Digital innovations are consistently changing how marketing is undertaken and how consumers behave. Indeed, one of the most eye-catching examples of this might prove to be online-based voice-search redefining how consumers browse and book hotels. If that sounds like the future, in many ways it is; in that it’s not happening a great deal yet. And yet, to some extent it’s very much happening right now.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the reality is, as you read this, artificially intelligent chatbots are being used by travel companies for customer booking services – a chatbot being, of course, a computer programme that can conduct an auditory conversation with someone. The ‘voice assistants’ of the Internet giants (Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s ‘Google Assistant’) are quickly becoming more sophisticated and, thus, increasingly popular with consumers. At this stage, limitations obviously exist, but fierce competition (something that’s rife in the hotel trade, naturally) will drive innovation. Indeed, the travel search company Kayak recently teamed up with Amazon to integrate its services with Alexa so users can, via the voice service, search for flights and hotels and check real-time fight details.
Give the people what they want
What will really drive the growth of voice-activated search, though, is whether there’s a genuine market for it. Whether people actually want to engage with their digital devices in this way, instead of tapping away and reading their screens. Well, if the statistics are anything to go by, it seems that they probably will – last May, Google announced that voice searches already account for one in every five (20%) of its mobile-based enquiries.
Moreover, the sort of hotel room choices that customers are being offered – at least by online travel agents (OTAs) – are urgency-based; deliberately designed for them to make ‘best price’ instant decisions over considered contemplation. However, it’s quite possible that voice-based search could spell an end to this; with price-pressuring giving way to customers themselves initiating the search conversation with open-ended questions that are more speculative than (at least) OTAs presently like.
Of course, once successfully established, voice-activation searches would benefit too from ever improving, ever smarter technology. This would likely give rise to voice-search tools learning from a customer’s past behaviour and, thus, offering highly personalised recommendations. For example, a search query for a flight to a specific destination may also result in the software suggesting a hotel choice, should the searcher have previously booked a hotel as well as a flight for that destination.
What would this mean for the accommodation itself? Well, think of how hoteliers presently focus on ensuring their hotel search engine optimization
is targeted so their properties appear as highly favoured a result on search pages as possible; in this scenario they’ll need to make sure this is just as true as ever, so their hotels are recommended along with relevant flights – literally in the booker’s ear.
Much of the above is, of course, a series of predictions; yet informed forecasting. The likelihood is that, thanks to voice-activated assistance, hotel searching will become faster, more intuitive and far more personalised. As noted above, should it become dominant, hotels will have to and bend with this new direction (just as they had to when it came to embracing the popularity of mobile and the advantages that’s brought in terms of marketing and booking). Chances are then it could be a digital marketing hot potato for hotels this year… or maybe in the very near future, at least.