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Make Some Noise: The Future of Travel Sounds Like Voice

 OK Google, Just How Big Will Voice Be?

Predictions from eMarketer state that 40% of Millennials will have a smart assistant in their home by 2019. 

As a Millennial myself, I speak for future generations of consumers when I say that voice search is no longer a novelty or passing trend but rather a new, ubiquitous way of searching and interacting with brands without interrupting our hectic lifestyles. Don’t believe me? Maybe some of these stats will help convince you.

And if you’re still not persuaded that voice really is the next big thing, maybe this will help; by 2021 digital assistants will overtake the world population with a staggering 7.5 billion active devices predicted!

In terms of digital assistants, Amazon Echo leads the pack with a 70% U.S. market share followed by Google Home with 24% and others such as Cortana-powered speakers with much lower shares. With Apple HomePod’s entry into the arena later this year, competition is likely to further intensify.

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Despite voice search being around since 2002 (when Google Voice Search was introduced) it started to gain real momentum with the launch of smartphones and personal digital assistants. A recent study found that 60% of voice search users only started using it in the past year, highlighting just how fast this phenomenon has taken off. However, in an increasingly time-sensitive world where we are constantly multi-tasking, it’s easy to understand why there has been such an uptake of a technology that enables us to search faster (we speak 150 words per minute vs type 40) and do so hands-free.

A New Voice in Travel

95% of the top 20 Cortana flight and accommodation searches in the UK were for brands, illustrating just how significant it is for travel brands to be present on voice enabled devices. And some are finally taking notice. In the past year there has been a surge in airlines and travel brands getting in on the voice action. In June of this year easyJet became the first European airline to launch an Alexa skill, allowing passengers to check their flight status.

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Image source

In September, United Airlines announced that travellers can now check in for flights, get the latest itinerary updates, and even verify if the aircraft has certain amenities all using their Echo device. Other travel brands with Alexa skills include Expedia, Kayak, Tripcase and Skyscanner. Skyscanner is also on Cortana, as is Marriott International. Between March 2016 and March 2017 hotel searches on Cortana in the UK increased by 343%, demonstrating the willingness of travellers to engage with travel brands using voice.

The example below of a trip to Barcelona shows just a subset of the many travel related tasks that can be done today by voice throughout the end to end journey. From getting flight options and departure times to booking a hotel and Uber, nearly all aspects of the trip can be managed through voice across several different devices; digital assistants, CarPlay, Apple Watch and iPhone.

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It’s also important to bear in mind that existing marketing strategies need to be adapted for alternative search platforms such as voice. For example, an ASO strategy will differ for text search (‘cheap flight Europe’) compared to voice search (‘OK Google, what’s a good app to book a cheap flight in Europe’). Voice ASO calls for long-tail keywords to cater for natural language searches and keywords such as ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘where’ etc. all need to be considered. App descriptions should also be conversational in order to rank well for voice queries.  

The next billion users are going to be very different

The rise in voice will have an even bigger impact on the lives of ‘the next billion’ mobile users who, thanks to cheap data plans, low-end smartphones and intuitive apps that let them navigate despite poor literacy, are now online for the first time. One of the defining characteristics of these users is their avoidance of text based apps and web services, with a preference for using voice and images to communicate instead.

By the end of 2016 North America accounted for 95% of Alexa and Google Assistant users. Fast forward to 2021 and over 47% of voice device users will be in Asia and Oceania. With Chinese virtual assistants already accounting for 43 million voice devices last year, we can expect to see new players emerge from these regions for example from companies such as Baidu and iFlytek.

windows phone - blog size.jpgXiao Na - Microsoft’s Chinese version of Cortana, Image source 

Developing markets are certainly driving the next wave of voice powered technology. In the past few years we have witnessed a regional explosion in areas such as India and Africa resulting in a seismic shift in the market.

Google has seen a10x growth in local language voice searches between 2016 and 2017, illustrating a move away from voice as a US-centric phenomenon. With a recent report from KPMG finding that 70% of Indians believe native language search queries are more reliable than English, it’s important that both search engine providers and brands cater for non-English search queries.

Google are leading the way when it comes to catering for voice search in developing regions. As pioneers in this movement, Google stated back in 2010 that they “see speech technology as the way to cross the digital divide”. The same year they entered the African market with voice recognition search technology that supported Zulu and Afrikaans. Google now support 119 languages with their voice search platforms, reaching one billion people worldwide, having most recently added 30 additional languages in August of this year, focusing particularly on emerging markets such as India and Africa. And it’s not just Google moving in this direction, Microsoft’s Cortana became available in India with an Indian voice back in 2015 while the latest iOS now features an Indian accent on Siri.

man with the phone - blog size.jpgImage by Karan Deep Singh via The Wall Street Journal

There are huge opportunities for travel brands to be clever about engaging with these users in a way that best suits them, through voice rather than text communications. Babajob, an Indian job search site is an example of a brand that has successfully adapted its app strategy to the local users with a simple interface that works by voice.

More meaningful conversation with today’s modern traveller

People often talk about voice search being something futuristic that may (or may not) take off – the reality is that this is the future, we are now living in a world where voice search is ubiquitous. The sooner travel brands realise this and start to go to where their customers are by giving themselves a voice, the better equipped they will be to have a more meaningful conversation with today’s modern traveller.

To find out more about how Travelport Digital can help define your travel brands mobile strategy and to learn more about our mobile solutions for airlines and TMCs click here.

Phoebe Collison - Digital Insights Analyst

Phoebe has worked at Travelport Digital for 4 years in various Marketing, Product Research and Digital Insights roles. Phoebe’s current role involves keeping pace with new technologies and industry developments, competitor analysis and advising customers on best practise mobile marketing.

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