Disruption means opportunity and first movers will take the spoils, says Steve Endacott
My teenage kids laugh at me when I tell them that voice search is the future and in 10 years time typing into phones will be passé.
For my generation, it was impossible to see beyond CDs, to MP3 players, to streaming services like Spotify, so they may be right, but I think they’re wrong and travel businesses should be putting resource into understanding how they can exploit the disruption that a shift to voice search may create.
The home will be the first battleground, as it provides a private environment reducing ‘voice embasement’ (VE), with voice activation via simple commands like “lights on” or “play Coldplay”. Voice-controlled TVs will be next, with food shopping to follow once Tesco and the like launch voice-controlled shopping lists linked to home delivery services.
The car provides a private environment where typing on the phone for the driver is illegal but voice is not. Voice dialling, navigation and music selection are tools that are incorporated into most new models rolling off the production line.
It is inevitable that once people become used to the utility provided by these services that VE will decline and most interactions with mobile phones will become voice activated rather than typed.
Simple travel needs like booking hotels near X or flights to Y, will migrate to voice activation first, just as they moved from phone booking to online booking. The shorter and simpler the booking journey, the quicker it will migrate to full voice booking.
However, will booking a holiday be completed in full by voice? In the 1990s, did we think 60% of holidays would be booked online? The answer is no, as it’s hard to see far ahead in a rapidly evolving internet-based world.
Although nobody can predict the future, here are three obvious things to consider:
• Impact on search. Users have been trained to type as few words as possible to find companies that offer holidays that meet their needs on destination, departure airport, duration and party type. With voice activated search it will be much simpler to state all your requirements initially and get straight to results. So expect an explosion of long-tail searches with its knock-on impact to PPC bidding and SEO optimisation.
• Voice and then type. Initially, voice is likely to be restricted to the “research” stage of booking, for example: “Find me cheap deals to Mallorca from Gatwick for seven nights for a family of four”. Results can then be returned, but what next? Will customers switch to typing and book online or prefer to carry on talking to a call centre on their mobile. I think the answer will be heavily dependent on their location and if they are driving to work, on a train or in the office.
• Pay more attention to Bing. Google is the dominant engine for typed search, but Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana voice search results are all powered by Bing. For my money the Google voice recognition software is much better than Bing’s current efforts, so Google may take the premier slot.
Voice activation feels a bit like the mobile debate six years ago. The experts all told us it was coming, but it was still hard to imagine the impact.
Start imagining guys, because change often leads to disruption and disruption provides opportunities for first movers.