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Mobile Travel Trends: Are Alexa, Siri and Instagram our new personal travel agents?

Developments in voice and visual search technologies over the last few years have brought big changes in how we search and book travel. We can now find a flight using an Instagram photo, ask Siri to check our flight updates and speak to Alexa to search for car rentals or hotels. 

All of this is making it easier to book and manage trips (maybe even too easy, as one easyJet app reviewer said) and it’s thanks to mobile. Our smartphones have become essential tools for booking travel, with Alexa, Siri and Instagram our own personal travel agents ready to find us our next trip.


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Review: Google Play Store

Voice and visual search are two of the eight major trends our experts predict will shape travel in 2019, and research we conducted with travel professionals and end travelers has confirmed that these are trends to watch. 

Our end traveler research found that 67% of travelers would ask for the status of a flight using voice commands and almost half would check in using voice if the option was there. Travel brands are recognizing this growing trend, with 45% investing in voice technology.

In addition, research from ViSenze found that 62% of millennials say that they want visual search over any other new technology—so for travel brands, there’s a big opportunity to go to where customers are and meet this growing demand.

So how can your travel brand prepare and start to build these capabilities? Here’s what the experts from some of the biggest names in travel, easyJet and Yatra, are saying and some examples of how travel brands are succeeding in voice and visual. 

Download our full Mobile Travel Trends 2019 report for more insights.

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Let’s talk about voice

“Last year’s Mobile Travel Trends reported that ‘the age of touch could soon come to end’. Well, with a year that saw the worldwide smart speaker market grow by 187%, 1,000 Amazon Echo Dots sold every second during Cyber Monday, Apple release Siri Shortcuts and Google’s Assistant appear on its 500 millionth device worldwide, that prediction may already be out of date. 2018 has become the year that #VoiceFirst doesn’t sound like a trend from the distant future anymore.”

Manish Amin, Co-Founder and CIO at Yatra.com sums up the state of voice today in this quote from our Mobile Travel Trends 2019 report. Over the last two years, we have seen voice search grow from the early ‘emerging trend’ days to mainstream adoption, and we’ve also seen some travel brands start to experiment with voice capabilities.

For example, Kayak landed on Amazon Alexa in July 2017, enabling flight, hotel and car rental searches and flight status updates via voice commands. In 2018, easyJet incorporated Siri Shortcuts into its iOS app, allowing users to create their own customized voice commands, like asking to show the status of their flight. In 2019, we can expect to see more travel brands building voice search capabilities, but we will also begin to see examples of brands taking voice search to the next level. 

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The accelerated move to using voice search is causing a shift in how customers interact with voice-enabled devices and the responses they expect. Users are not simply asking for information anymore, like “check my flight status”. Instead, they want to ask their voice-enabled device to“check me in”.So, while voice search was a trend that we predicted in our 2018 Trends report, in 2019 voice will become less about “I want to know” and more about “I want to do”.

From search to action

BCD Travel has started this shift from voice search to action through new voice capabilities on its trip management platform, TripSource. Instead of just searching for flight information, business travelers can use voice commands to manage their itinerary on any Alexa-enabled device. They can request details about upcoming trips like arrival and departure times, hotel confirmation information, the address for rental car pick-up and so on.

BCD is also planning to extend its voice capabilities to allow booking through Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri in the future—allowing a user to book and manage an entire trip without needing to pick up their device.

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The potential of voice commands and actions is still in its infancy, although the speed of developments is rapid. As the technology develops and allows for more natural, interactive conversations, voice will become a core part of how travelers book and manage their travel experience. This ability to carry out actions based on voice commands is turning mobile devices into true ‘personal assistants’.

Download the Mobile Travel Trends 2019 report for more insights on voice search and actions.

Visual search

While there is great potential in voice and it requires a specific focus from travel brands, it’s just one aspect of creating a great customer experience. A truly great travel experience relies on giving customers the choice of interacting with your brand through whatever device or channel they choose.

Voice will not always be an appropriate channel for a customer to use; it all depends on the context. Some will still prefer text search, for example if they’re in public or in a noisy environment. Equally, voice search can only return a limited number of results, especially if on a screenless device, so voice search in travel is most useful for those travelers who know exactly where they want to travel and when.

Travelers who want to return wider search results will likely still turn to text-based search, or a new phenomenon in search: visual. Visual search is unique in that it is the only method that allows users to search, even if they can’t find the words.

Visualsearch

Visual search is already making inroads in retail with brands like Pinterest, Target and ASOS allowing users to take a picture and search for the product captured. In 2018, we also saw the first example of an airline building visual search capabilities, when easyJet released its Look&Book feature.

Looking and booking: The easyJet case study

In 2018, Instagram released stats showing that 43% of 19 to 28-year-olds use mobile devices to book holidays and 28% of people get their travel inspiration from Facebook and Instagram.

These figures sparked inspiration for easyJet, an airline that is constantly looking to innovate to create exceptional digital experiences. In the spirit of ‘going to where the customer is’, easyJet did just that by developing Look&Book.

Look&Book allows users to search for a flight by uploading an Instagram screenshot to the easyJet app. The app can detect the location of the post and performs a geo-lookup to find the destination and its nearest airports and suggests flights for the user to book. 

“We could see huge potential and synergy, so we wanted to find a way to connect the dots from someone seeing a photo and thinking ‘I want to go there!’ to actually booking the trip and the most obvious solution was visual search,” says Dan Young, Head of Digital Experience at easyJet and one of the expert contributors to our Mobile Travel Trends 2019 report.

Since it launched in October 2018, Look&Book has matched approximately 10,000 photos to destinations on the easyJet app and is running at a 5.3% conversion rate in its first two months. With the potential for conversions so high, we can expect to see more travel brands follow in easyJet’s footsteps in 2019. 

It’s time to optimize for voice and visual

It’s an exciting time for travel brands. As big tech players start to invest more in technologies like voice and visual, these capabilities become more accessible to both brands and their users. This opens up new ways for your travel brand to engage with customers and connect the dots between a variety of touchpoints across the traveler journey.

It’s impossible to ignore the growing impact of voice and visual and customers will soon begin to expect these capabilities from every brand they interact with—in travel and in other industries. 

Download the Mobile Travel Trends 2019 report for more insights on the biggest areas shaping travel over the next 12 months, and tips on how your brand can prepare.

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Aisling White - Head of Marketing

Aisling has over 16 years’ experience in marketing, brand, and PR. Prior to joining Travelport Digital, Aisling worked at Hostelworld.com and Sage Software. At Travelport Digital Aisling manages the marketing strategy, content, communications, and digital platforms, to drive customer engagement.

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