Voice interaction isn’t a new concept: the first iteration of Apple’s voice assistant Siri was released way back in 2011. However, it’s only in the last couple of years that it’s really begun to capture the collective imagination, and this is particularly true in the case of corporate travel.
Suddenly, it seems that everyone is implementing or planning to implement a voice search offering, from Expedia announcing their own voice search ‘skill’ for Amazon’s Alexa in 2016 to hoteliers like Aloft testing out voice-activated rooms and Ryanair enabling voice search for customers seeking flights, flight status updates, or hotels through their website.
Are we experiencing a paradigm shift in the way corporate travel is conducted? Or, is voice interaction another transient tech trend, destined to dominate industry think-pieces and end-of-year lists for a while before fading quietly into obscurity?
How is Corporate Travel Using Voice Interaction?
Corporate travel is a little behind its sister industry, leisure travel—Google rolled out its voice search travel platform 'Google Flight'—which works through Google Assistant on smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and smartwatches—7 years ago now, and new services like App in the Air are cropping up all the time. However, the seeds have undoubtedly been sown for voice technology's use in corporate travel.
While voice interaction is notably absent from the big 4 GDSs, some airlines and hoteliers have begun making tentative steps towards embracing the technology. We’ve already mentioned Ryanair at the budget end of the spectrum, but Korean Air has also been an early adopter of the technology. Hotel chains popular with corporate travellers, such as Best Western and Marriott, have been trialling the use of voice search, while even in-flight entertainment provider Spafax has released a ‘skill’ for its Profile platform that allows travellers to ask Alexa about the available films on an upcoming flight.
This is alongside fare aggregators like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia all experimenting with voice search. So, even if its use isn’t widespread among TMCs yet, voice interaction is undoubtedly becoming more common among other industry players.
How Important Could Voice Technology be?
Voice interaction’s importance to corporate travel is likely to depend largely on the prevailing mood of business travellers and the organisations that employ them. For the moment, corporate travellers seem relatively happy with the old intermediary model; much of heavy lifting is left to TMCs and the GDS—which for many organisations and travellers is still the simplest option.
Until it isn’t.
As more and more people invite digital friends such as Alexa and Google Assistant into their homes and become accustomed to using the technology in everyday life, travellers will likely begin to demand the same functionality from their working environment.
Corporate travel already has a problem with travellers going “off-policy”; according to the GBTA, it costs the sector billions in lost productivity each year. It’s possible that this could get worse if TMCs fail to embrace innovation and travellers are forced elsewhere to use the tools they’ve become used to. After all, we’ve seen this situation before with other innovations like the sharing economy.
What’s more, artificial intelligence is progressing concurrently to existing industry battles, such as IATA’s drive to change the way air tickets are sold to travellers through its New Distribution Capability (NDC). The NDC’s focus on delivering integrations with greater product differentiation and access to more dynamic content, independent of the traditional GDS route, will likely encompass voice search in time—particularly as airlines are beginning to adopt the technology.
This could well leave TMCs with little choice but to embrace voice interaction or risk being left behind by changing traveller preferences. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the technology could have a transformative effect on the way TMCs operate. For one thing, it’s an opportunity to automate some of the high-effort, low-value work you need to perform in answering daily queries. It’s also a chance to fundamentally redefine the way travellers interact with your business.
Voice interaction can give TMCs the ability to create a more naturalistic booking experience, one that doesn’t require them to scroll through feeds or use a keyboard at all, as well as offering enhanced options for personalisation. What’s more, the launch of programmes like Alexa for Business
This all comes with the caveat that voice interaction is still a very young technology (at least commercially), with countless innovations yet to happen and no doubt a few kinks to iron out. So, it’s difficult to predict exactly how it will affect corporate travel and perhaps it will be another decade before we know for sure. However, it is clear that it represents a huge opportunity for TMCs, we may even look back one day and consider failure to adopt new technologies like voice interaction as equivalent to ignoring the rise of the internet in the 1990s.
Voice interaction is just one part of the pivot towards IoT and mobile in travel; to find out more about how the right mobile strategy can help your TMC stand out, download our guide.