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Published on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Voice technology in travel: challenges and limitations


Sally White at Eyefortravel, takes a look at developments in voice technology and finds there is still a way to go...

Voice is the disruptor, the next 'big tech'. Whoa back off, not so fast! Take a look (or listen) to what the tech-gurus are saying. In the view of some, at least, there is a long way to go yet for the tech giants to match what they have to offer to what the consumer will accept. For the travel industry this includes everyday tasks and information, but for much else this market still ranks as just an 'opportunity'.

Over the next 10 years, Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon will spend an estimated $750 trillion dollars to research and develop voice recognition to work out how to exploit it and gain control, according to Jon Reily, vice president of commerce strategy at Sapient, a Boston-based digital transformation wing of French advertising giant Publicis.

Speaker sales are booming. Forecasting figures for this years eMarketer, a US digital research group owned by German publishing giant Axel Springer, predicted that 'Amazon Echo will capture 63.3% of smart speaker users in 2019, while Google Home will account for 31.0%. Smaller players, such as Sonos One and Apple HomePod, will take 12.0%. Amazon's share will shrink through 2020, while those of its rivals will grow'.

Yet this does not guarantee take-off. "The smart speaker has plenty of potential. But it will take years for its true impact to be felt. Mass adoption has yet to happen, voice recognition accuracy has plenty of scope for improvement and there are still relatively few apps available," says Deloitte in its report What does the future hold for technology, media and telecommunications.

A disconnect

As eMarketer points out: "Despite the growing capabilities of smart speakers, people still tend to use them for basic functions: listening to music or podcasts, catching up on the news, getting weather and traffic updates and asking general questions."

"There is a disconnect between the 'know-it-all, do-it-all' approach that the current digital assistants are aiming towards and the highly personalised virtual assistance that consumers have dreams/nightmares about. Whoever can bring personal consumer data in a secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance will be able to bridge that gap and capture most the opportunity," is the view of London-based telecommunications and IT services consultancy group, Ovum.

Despite speaker availability, Deloitte's research found most voice assistants on smartphones, tables and computers have never been used. "The challenge is not just getting people to try out voice assistants, but their general (historic) disinterest in voice recognition per se. Awareness of the smartphone's voice recognition capability is low (averaging 21%) and usage is even lower (averaging 6%)."

Not all research groups are so cautious in their rating. International digital marketing agency Artefact says it found in its latest survey (of 2,000 adults) that '60% of UK smart speaker owners have made a purchase by voice over the past 12 months'.

It adds: "When respondents were asked to identify what they think smart speakers can do, around half (47%) suggested using them for shopping or buying takeaways, 39% said they were ideal for playing games or quizzes and 28% suggested that you could use them for booking travel." 

Yet, even in the US, the largest market currently for 'voice', its commerce sales last year totalled $2.1 billion, according to eMarketer. That's equal to less than half of 1% of all US e-commerce sales. This was based on a report by global US-based consultants Gartner, who found 'most consumers who do use voice-controlled programs use them to research products, not buy them'.

Consumer recognition

It is not that consumers are unaware. In a survey carried out by PwC last year -Consumer Intelligence Series: Prepare for the voice revolution - 'only 10% of surveyed respondents were not familiar with voice-enabled products and devices. Of the 90% who were, the majority have used a voice assistant (72%). Adoption is being driven by younger consumers, households with children, and households with an income of $100k'.

However, 'for now, the bulk of consumers have yet to graduate to more advanced activities like shopping or controlling other smart devices in the home. Males and younger consumers are more likely to experiment with newer, more advanced features, but even then, it's at a minimum'.

Consumers saw voice assistants as the smarter, faster, and easier way to perform everyday activities. Yet, Deloitte added, for more serious situations involving money (shopping, refund on an airline ticket, etc.), consumers preferred what they already know and trust—at least for now.

For the travel industry, one hurdle that currently needs to be overcome given the popularity of smartphones with its customers is that 'voice assistants on smartphones have the lowest consumer satisfaction rate (38% very satisfied)'.

These users expressed frustration with an apparent lack of understanding, reliability, and accuracy - and when compared directly to that of a standalone speaker, the differences are significant. Other hurdles include the need, he says, for two-way conversations and for that there is the need to use cloud, which disrupts the process.

There is also, pointed out Gartner's Bob Hetu to Grocerydive, the need to have the data and understanding of the likes of Amazon to get personalisation right to persuade customers to trial voice. "If it isn't done right, then it's just an annoyance."

However, at least travellers are becoming more and more accustomed to voice - in their hotels for example, where voice assistants help guests with information. Online travel portal Expedia has published a video that shows how language assistants can support travel planning. Amazon has recently introduced a programme for hotel operators - Amazon Hospitality. SmartEcoMap shows another interesting option to use voice assistants within the travel industry - providing information about the weather, the opening hours of tourist attractions and suggesting what is worth seeing. 

An important suggestion to be born in mind by the (nine out of 10) travel companies who according to an Adobe study, are investing in voice technology is deciding who in the company 'owns' it. Don't, says Adobe, put it in IT - 'only 29% of IT projects are successful!'.

 



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