The launch of Kayak’s new voice recognition service to help travellers plan their trips is imminent, and Travolution is the first UK travel media organisation to hear it in action.
Powered by Amazon, Alexa works by listening to a user’s question that you might otherwise type into a search engine.
To activate the speaker, you say: “Alexa: Ask Kayak” followed by your question.
It is currently set up to search by price, date and availability within flights, hotels and car hire from Kayak’s database of 1.5 billion searches.
As yet there is no booking facility through voice recognition, but the search results are saved and stored in customers’ Kayak accounts or emailed to them.
Matthias Keller, Kayak’s chief scientist, said: “Voice technology is becoming more real.
“It really helps people jump-start their travel plans when you are thinking where to go within a budget.
The key question I had for Matthias Keller when he gave Travolution a sneak peak of Kayak’s use of Alexa technology was how it deals with countless British accents.
It turns out that because they are implementing the device already tried and tested by Amazon, that’s not an issue. And it picked up my German host’s accent without fail.
He first asked: “Alexa, ask Kayak where you can go for £200?”
The response was Edinburgh, Aarhus and Munster. For me, it was unclear as to whether Aarhus was Kaunas and Munster was Manchester, so perhaps it would be worthwhile to have Alexa add which country those cities are in.
Next question: “Alexa, ask Kayak: How much does it cost to fly to Paris?”
Answer: “Expect to pay at least £78 for a return trip, when are you planning to travel?”
So Alexa’s a conversationalist. And she knows her stuff.
“October 10,” said Matthias. “One-way or return,” says Alexa. “Return,” confirms Matthias. “When do you fly back?”, “October 15”, “Non-stop flights start at £88”.
You get the gist.
We later discovered the cost of Parisian hotels was typically £42 per night for 3 star, £49 for 4 star and that if you’ve got a budget of £70 then you’ll be recommended to stay at The Village.
You can also get live flight information, which is a nice touch if you were perhaps running late for a connection.
What I wasn’t expecting to find out is how much money you need to get to the moon and back.
According to Alexa, a budget of £200,000 “can likely bring you anywhere, even to the moon and back”.
Given the idea is to give you a quick understanding of the cost and availability of a trip, Alexa works well.
But the same service is available on Kayak’s website and I’m not sure the Amazon version is quite as good, or comprehensive.
When I searched the site for options below £200, dozens of options were made available – rather than three.
The Alexa service is better suited to fast-moving business travellers with a place to be rather than holidaymakers researching their trip.
Equally, I think most people would be happy to check departure boards, websites or mobile apps which already exist for live flight information.
Until Kayak’s use of Alexa completes the process by offering bookings, I struggle to see it taking over from online search.
Yet, delegates at the Travolution Summit were convinced voice recognition is among the technology set to take the travel industry by storm in the coming years.
If so Kayak is investing now to stay ahead of the curve.
Disclaimer: I don’t use Siri on my iPhone.
“When you get to the later stages, you might go to a different device.”
Alexa, which has drawn comparisons with Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, also includes a flight tracker and a function whereby you can ask the best time to fly to a particular destination.
Alexa – which evolves by using artificial intelligence to ‘teach’ itself when it did well and where it could improve – has been used by Kayak in the US since May 2016 and is set to launch in the UK “imminently”.
Giorgos Zacharia, chief technology officer at KAYAK, said: “We are aggressively innovating to make travel planning better and voice-enabled travel search brings us another step closer. “That’s why we’re excited to be at the forefront by bringing one of the most advanced travel search skills on Alexa to the UK.”
Rob Pulciani, director, Amazon Alexa, added: “The most natural way to get information is to ask for it.
“With Kayak’s skill for Alexa, customers can now ask Alexa to search KAYAK for a wide range of information about flights, hotels and car hires.
“Getting the latest prices and availability for trips just got easier, and it’s more convenient than ever to get the information you need, even if you’re busy doing something else.”