Hey Siri

Hey Siri, how will the rise of the digital assistant impact how customers search for a hotel?

If you have watched television recently, you are likely to have seen one of the many adverts for devices that act as a voice-activated digital assistant.

Sometimes known as ‘smart speakers’, they are powered by artificial intelligence software allowing users to call upon their device, whether it be Alexa, Google or Siri to perform a multitude of actions; asking for a weather report, playing a particular song, texting a friend, adding an item to a digital shopping list, or, interestingly, asking for the nearest hotel.

While many sceptics may have doubted that these devices were more than a gimmick, an expensive and glorified jukebox, or a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, it is becoming clear that these devices are not going anywhere. Estimates suggest Amazon alone have sold 19 million echo devices to date.

They are likely to change the way that many people interact with the internet and how they source information. This is something hotel revenue managers will need to be aware of.

The technological landscape never stands still, and voice-activated commerce currently accounts for $1.8billion in the US but is expected to rise to $40billion by 2022.  According to the ADI consumer electronics report, 20% of voice assistant owners already use the devices for online shopping. Hotel revenue management strategy will inevitably be affected by changes in the way that consumers approach research and hotel booking.

What does this have to do with revenue management?

How consumers interact with hotels is crucial for revenue management, and the importance of optimising a website for mobile use.  Unfortunately, mobile browsing is no longer ‘the future’ and businesses must now start to adapt to voice browsing.  Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

This may be transformative for hotel revenue in two ways; firstly, the search terms that everyone is so used to using will inevitably change, because we speak differently to the way we write, secondly, the artificial intelligence software in the devices will seek to automatically find what we are looking for to present us with the best option, so essentially, they will do our browsing for us.

Speech searches and revenue management

This technology is still in its infancy, but the way we search has a profound effect on the content that is shown. Businesses must anticipate what consumers may type into a search engine to enable them to advertise their products.

The voice assistants are specifically engineered to recognise and respond to natural speech. Where someone may have typed “hotel bargains London”, this is not how they speak naturally.  It’s more likely they will say something like “Siri, find me some cheap hotels in London”. Whilst this may seem a nuanced difference, it could change the entire linguistic architecture of online searches, targeting, website optimising, and consequently it will be of huge interest to hotel revenue managers.  Sites may have to adapt to using long-tail keywords ­­– meaning that people will search more by using phrases and asking open questions.

Artificial intelligence and browsing without a screen

As the technology is still emerging, anticipating the impacts remains speculative, but there are some clear challenges ahead for hotel revenue managers. 

Browsing without a screen will not allow the user to scan a few pages of a search engine to assess whether the first option seems the best.  The voice-activated results cannot display advertisements either, so it is possible that the providers may seek to realise the revenue through increased fees. This is something that may affect revenue analysis in a restructuring of commissions and costs for engaging with the technology.

Conversely, it is possible that consumers may wish to maintain a visual link when approaching hotel booking and voice activated searches may become much more relevant in other commercial spheres.

While it is a matter for speculation at present, this is a development hotel commercial teams will be keeping a careful eye on to see how this unfolds over time.

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