Expedia tips voice as the biggest disrupter in travel

Okerstrom: Accelerating voice technology

Expedia Inc predicts that voice will trump over chatbots and artificial intelligence as the biggest disrupter in travel in the near term.

The company, which said it spends some US$1.3 billion a year on technology, demonstrated the use of its voice-activated hotel booking app, Alexa, at the Expedia Partner Conference last week, showing how a customer can use voice to search, book, pay for a hotel booking, check-in and access the room key from the home screen of the app.

Okerstrom: Accelerating voice technology

Arthur Chapin, Expedia’s senior vice president, global product & design, said the company is piloting the product in three properties in Denmark before rolling it out to partners in a couple of years.

Expedia’s CEO Mark Okerstrom, when asked by TTG Asia what will be the biggest disrupter and how he is prioritising technological innovations, said: “Voice is incredibly interesting.”

“The initial idea with mobile was that everyone’s going to take their desktop experience and put it on a mobile device, but we quickly learnt having a super computer (i.e. mobile) with you all the time changed things – 50-70 per cent of our mobile bookings came on the same day or next day and before we knew, we were able to target customers with offerings (such as) in-destination activities.

“We think about the type of queries made with voice, where people aren’t visually forced to take hotels, flights, etc – it’s much more free flowing. That’s the point where our multi-product capability becomes incredibly interesting, because (it resolves the questions) where can I go in three hours to get to a sunny place for my family, what’s available, what price, how can I bundle that together, can I book it?”

Okerstrom said a lot of the work that enables Expedia to take advantage voice, chatbots and artificial intelligence is largely in place now and the company is eager to accelerate the developments.

Expedia chairman Barry Diller, in a ‘fireside chat’ with Okerstrom on stage, also picked voice as the most disruptive technology in the next five years.

“It is possible that AI will be replacing so many functions but that’s going to take some time. Self-drive cars in the next few years? It’s crazy. I would be the last person driving that car. I really think that voice, near term, is going to have the most impact. You saw the demo – voice is going to change so many things, and it’s just at the beginning, but it’s adoption is going to be enormous and it’s going to affect a whole lot of things.”

Diller, when asked how he thinks future technology will affect livelihoods, said: “Like anything, there will be some (kind of creative) disruption. And out of that, is going to absolutely come all sorts of new things. Yes you can make these projections and say what will happen to the 800,000 truckers (truck drivers) when they don’t have to drive those trucks any longer? But I absolutely believe that there will be replacements in all sorts of areas that we can’t even conceive of. (Look at) the industrial revolution…we’ve been through these cycles so many times.”

There’s going to be disruption before there’s production. “It’s going to be disquieting for a lot of people depending on how old they are – there is the luck of timing in almost anything – but out of that will come such a bounty in so many areas,” he said.

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