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Amazon dominates travel brands’ ongoing experiments with voice technology

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Amazon made a canny move in becoming the first major company to roll out and heavily market smart speakers. This first-mover advantage has made Alexa the go-to for the travel industry’s initial attempts to deploy voice technology finds EyeforTravel’s new Can Voice Change the Way We Travel? Report, which is free to download now.

It’s easy to see why travel brands are largely teaming up with Amazon as it has by far and away the most popular smart speaker in terms of sales currently. Amazon has at least 70% of the market share currently according to estimates and substantially beating out Google Home in terms of web search interest in 2016 and 2017. Even more importantly its Alexa personal assistant, as they have made it part of their strategy to focus on the supporting ecosystem and bring in external developers. This has allowed Alexa to grow the number of ‘skills’, or programmed tasks and apps on the system, exponentially across 2017 from around 7,000 to more than 25,000 by the end of the year.

Hotels are putting their own offerings among these skills, as are metasearch companies, airports, online travel agencies, and airlines. This covers a multitude of brands, including KAYAK, United Airlines, Marriott, IHG, Best Western, Skyscanner, Edwardian Hotels, Heathrow Airport, and Kimpton. Hotels are probably the most prominent users of Amazon Alexa and Echo speakers currently as there is an obvious use case for in-room speakers that act as concierges.

For IHG, they have begun testing their own virtual concierge through Alexa. However, they found that the human element was still critical, using their call centre to train, “Central Reservation Offices (CROs) have been trying to manage a downward cycle in that not many people are calling them anymore, but they know a ton about the way people actually talk, their cadence and what they ask for,” said Bill Keen, IHG’s VP of mobile solutions & digital guest experience at EyeforTravel North America 2017. “Through voice listening tools they actually powered our initial Alexa implementation in the hotel rooms, where we actually had a repository of things that guests normally ask when they call the call centre desk and we could actually build it into.”

However, current adoption trends doesn’t mean Amazon will have its own way for the foreseeable future. Multiple players are eyeing the opportunities that voice afford, including Baidu, Samsung, Microsoft, Apple and Alphabet/Google. “I’m a huge Alexa fan, but I think Google is going to have a big advantage as they have a lot of the context,” said Paul English, CEO of Lola Tech. “When you do a simple query to Google Home, it can piece together all of that.” This data advantage appears already to be having an effect as independent research has found that Google Assistant is more accurate in coming up with spoken answers than any competitors. Similarly, Chinese rivals have made huge progress and claim that their systems are now more effective at transcribing than native Mandarin speakers.

It therefore remains to be seen whether Amazon can keep its lead but right now it is the biggest player in terms of dedicated voice applications being built by the travel industry.

For more on the topic of voice and its impact on the travel industry, click here to download the complete report for free. You can also download our free report on in-room technology, including smart speakers here.

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Nikhil Vijayan
Head of Digital & Content
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About EyeforTravel

EyeforTravel is an online travel intelligence provider to hotels, airlines, online travel agents, cruise, car hire firms and more. Established in 1997 by Tim Gunstone, right at the inception of online travel, the group offers a diverse product portfolio including industry analysis, insights, research, webinars, reports and conferences. From major hotel brands to new startups, EyeforTravel helps its 80,000 strong customer base make better decisions, build better brands, close the most lucrative deals and ultimately sell more of their product.

For more information visit www.eyefortravel.com.

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