Skift Take

Industry response to a recent Skift story centered on this question: Would people actually use voice search to book travel experiences? The answers were revealing about the sector's broader opportunities and challenges.

When Viator announced a recent initiative to integrate its offerings with Amazon’s Alexa in select hotels, there was plenty of skepticism.

Most commenters on a LinkedIn post for our story felt that the vast majority of guests don’t use voice-operated technology in their hotels for anything but simple tasks.

“I don’t know anyone who uses Alexa beyond shopping lists, setting timers and checking the weather,” said Arival co-founder and CEO, Douglas Quinby.

“Agreed that almost nobody uses a voice assistant for travel discovery and planning,” said Jason Halberstadt, CEO of VoyagePort & MyTrip.AI

Others said that they can’t see themselves asking Alexa to book a plane ticket or rooms – that is something most people would do on a desktop device. 

Viator maintains that the use of Alexa is another way for customers to find its services. “Discovery is one of our category’s greatest challenges. Fragmentation means travelers often visit tens of sites and scroll hundreds of options before booking,” said Laurel Greatrix, Viator’s vice president of brand and communications. “We’re working very, very hard to solve the challenge of simplifying this discovery process — which should be fun, not frustrating.”

The need for visual booking?

Many believed that visual elements remain crucial in the travel booking process. “I see people starting with voice. But there has to be a display somewhere to close the deal,” said Timothy Hughes, vice president of corporate development at Agoda. “Travel buying needs images/video and non-linear content.”

Benjamin Rhatigan, a brand strategy and marketing expert at Arrival Projects noted, “Trip and excursion booking is usually such a visual experience though. Customers want to see what they’re buying!”

CEO of AIPEX technologies, Dana Young, suggested a hybrid approach, advocating for both in-room devices and guest phones: “Isn’t the best solution often providing choice instead? Giving guests better visibility to local activities is helpful and there’s no single way to do it. If you can do both but have a single way of managing the experience, even better.”

An Amazon spokesperson said Amazon Smart Properties for Hospitality does offer that option. “Hotel operators can complement the voice experience with visual content rendered on Echo Show devices,” the spokesperson said.

Optimism for Viator and Alexa deal

The outlook was not entirely negative, however. Many experts feel that the technology, combined with the advancements of AI, could push the booking process into a new space.

Daniel Frank, co-founder of a German company that focuses on voice-driven technology, noted the engagement rates of Alexa devices in hospitality. “An impressive 87% of guests use our personalized Hotel skill, resulting in over 1,500 interactions per day per hotel, with an average response time of just 1.7 seconds,” he wrote about Alexa’s usage based on his company’s data collection. His company provides information and statistics about the usage of personalized hotel and destination skills that use Alexa.

John Campbell, the managing director of a company that works to help implement Alexa Smart Properties solutions in the UK, called Rabbit & Pork, said that it is about to install 43 devices in one hotel and 220 in another. “There is demand for it,” he said.

Voice search is seen as a dead-end in some parts of the travel industry – attempts for it to revolutionize the sector have so far gone nowhere. But as generative AI advances, discussions around the potential of the technology are emerging.

“Voice is coming – now that voice actually works. On a hotel room device? Hmmm. It’s great to see them trying things though – that’s how innovation works – rarely in a straight line,” wrote Christian Watts, founder and CEO of Magpie Travel.

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Tags: amazon, booking technology, linkedin, online travel newsletter, partnerships, short-term rentals, the prompt, Travel Trends, viator

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