Skift Take

When it comes to new tech platforms and technologies such as voice-activated search with Amazon Alexa, the advantage, in the short term, goes to the big travel tech and marketing companies, including online travel agencies and metasearch companies, because they have the engineering staff and other resources to address these disruptions.

If there’s a new platform, then leading travel companies will be there to test it because they think consumers might be there too.

So it is with Amazon Alexa, a voice-activated personal assistant, and its Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices.

Expedia debuted an Alexa “skill” today that enables Expedia customers to ask Alexa about their existing Expedia flight reservations and then to book a car rental or inquire about their Expedia loyalty program numbers. Consumers can’t yet make a flight or hotel booking through the Expedia Alexa skill, but that’s in the works.

This is Expedia’s first voice-activated search product — which can be done hands- and eyes-free — and builds on Expedia’s work in natural language processing, which began three years ago.

Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and online travel founders discussed the potential of voice search at the Skift Global Forum in September, and at a Skift Backstage Podcast here.

While Expedia just debuted its Alexa car-rental skill, flight and hotel metasearch-company Kayak, owned by rival Priceline Group, has had an Alexa skill for checking flight, hotel and car-rental prices for at least six months. Kayak’s Alexa feature doesn’t enable travelers to book anything but in addition to doing price searches the Kayak Explore feature, which is integrated into Alexa, allows consumers to search for vacations if they have little idea or no where they want to go.

Consumers using Alexa after downloading the Expedia skill and linking accounts will find Expedia retrieving any existing reservations booked through Expedia, and will hear the details of their upcoming itinerary, and can inquire about flight status details.

If they say they are interested in tacking on a car rental, Expedia asks them the car type and then presents three prices, including taxes and fees, and vendor choices for the rental, according to an Expedia video [embedded below].

“Should I book this car for you now?”


“You are all set.”

To cancel the car rental reservation — something that happens fairly frequently with business travelers’ plans changing — the traveler needs to do so on and 24 hours in advance.

Developing features for and marketing to the ever-increasing number of platforms, from Facebook to Instagram and SnapChat, and from the latest iPhone or Samsung device and to Alexa, where consumers hang out is a major challenge for travel brands.

In the online travel world, in the short term, at least, the advantage goes to the big tech and marketing companies, including online travel agencies and metasearch companies, because they have the engineering staff and other resources to address these disruptions.

“Expedia understood the best way to provide natural, contextually aware conversations with its customers was to do what it does best: to utilize its test-and-learn approach for product development on these platforms,” an Expedia spokesperson says. “The company began embarking on its journey with Natural Language Processing for the first time about three years ago with a few Expedia tasks built on text input.

“Now Expedia is excited to unveil its first foray into voice-activated search content with the Expedia skill for Amazon Alexa, which also demonstrates the company’s commitment to continue expanding and learning within this ecosystem to help make travel simpler and more seamless for people everywhere.”

Don’t expect Amazon Alexa to disrupt travel planning or booking anytime soon but voice search could play a much larger role over the long term.


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Tags: amazon, apps, expedia, kayak, voice search

Photo credit: The Amazon Echo Dot can now handle your music, garage doors, and car rentals, with the latter courtesy of Expedia. Amazon

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