Booking a holiday via an eavesdropping Alexa: The new age of travel personalisation

Consumer profiling and voice search are likely to become the norm for travel marketers within the next few years as devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home grow in popularity.

Those were the thoughts of Simon Ferguson, the Northern European boss of tech firm Travelport, who argued voice-activated search tools will soon be able to effectively eavesdrop on people in their home and plan an entire trip for them.

Speaking at the inaugural Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit in Singapore yesterday, Ferguson said while travellers had become more willing to hand over their data to brands, they had higher expectations of the “quid pro quo” exchange.

“Travellers want to provide their data so that in return they get a very personalised experience,” he said. “Personalisation is starting to come of age.

“There is one unnamed travel company that has made a digital profile of all its travellers. They’ve linked it to a voice – Amazon Alexa. Imagine you’re in your house talking about you want to go to New York. Alexa is connected to my wallet and knows October would be a good time to go. It has access to your Air Miles and is connected to your calendar. The next day Alexa suggests New York, October, flights and a hotel. This is a working prototype.”

When asked whether this prototype will become a mainstream part of the industry, Ferguson added: “It will become the norm, but what it becomes the norm for is the question. Simple, point to point trips and developed itineraries moved online, but complex itineraries – a tour across South America or cruises – are complex and require human intervention. It’s the same with voice search: simple trips you can absolutely talk to Alexa, but complexity will be longer.”

Speaking about modern travellers’ expectations, Ferguson claimed it was no longer feasible for brands to keep their consumers within the “walled garden” of their own apps.

Pointing to Chinese messaging service WeChat as an example to follow, he said: “On WeChat, you can book flights, you can check in, you can even control the air conditioning in your hotel room – all through a messaging app. But when I talk about this in Europe, people shrug and say: ‘That’s China’. But this level of connectivity is what the traveller now expects.

“What we see now is a desire to keep travellers in the confines of our own brand: keep them in our app. But we need to be bolder than than that: we need to appeal across a range of experiences to meet what the traveller really wants.”

On the opportunities for marketers within Asia, he added: “Travel in APAC is going to grow at double the rate than either Europe or the US. Around 40 per cent of travel in APAC is booked online, which is lower than the West, but it’s the growth that’s important. But 40 per cent book on mobile, which is double that in the US and Europe. One in 5 travel apps worldwide are used in South Korea and in China they’ve put in pedestrian lanes for people on their phones. Emerging markets are going to shape the future of travel.

“More travellers will be from emerging markets and they will be going to and from the APAC region.”


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