There was a time when the notion of holding a conversation with a computer seemed fanciful. Technology has seen to that particular misconception – and in emphatic fashion.
The rise of digital voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana represents one of the most widely adopted tech developments of recent years. It’s set to get bigger, too. A recent forecast by market intelligence specialists Juniper Research predicts 8 billion digital voice assistants will be in use by 2023, compared to an estimated 2.5 billion at the end of 2018.
Voice search in practise
The hotel sector has not been immune to the impact this is having. “I think it’s safe to say it’s already been a game-changer within the industry,” says Melanie Smith, Digital Marketing Manager at Manchester-based agency Run2. “Aside from drastically changing the way people search for and consume information while planning their trip, hotels are now starting to utilise voice-search to enhance a customer’s experience during their stay.”
She points to last year’s introduction of Amazon’s Alexa For Hospitality interface as an example. “It allows hotels to customise the system however they please,” she says. “Guests are able to request services on demand, instantly find key information, such as checkout and breakfast times, and even control room functions.”
In-room assistants of this kind are likely to become more widespread. However, of more interest to the broader hotel industry – certainly at present – is the way potential guests are using voice-search to source information in the trip-planning stage. “The way people are searching is definitely changing,” says Justine McNamara, Senior SEO Specialist at New York-based hospitality technology company Next Guest. “In order to keep up with that, hotels really need to consider the kind of content they have on their sites, to make it more likely to be pulled into the answers that voice-search devices are giving.”
And how exactly should hotels be doing this? “By building their sites into authoritative sources for information,” she continues. “Having information about your hotel and the unique experiences you can offer would be the first step, but it’s also taking it that little bit further and giving information regarding the location you’re in, and what you can do while you’re there. It’s important to look at what consumers are asking around hotel bookings and having content on the site set specifically to answer popular questions.”
Smith, meanwhile, points out that voice-search queries can differ considerably from traditional search queries. “One key difference is the tone and language used,” she explains. “If we consider how people talk aloud versus how people type into a search engine, the voice queries are likely to be more long-tailed. For example, a user may say ‘Siri, what is the nearest five-star hotel to the Eiffel Tower?’, but would type into a search engine: ‘hotels near Eiffel Tower’. So writing in a conversational tone and using natural language will help adapt your content for voice search.”
She also highlights the importance of hotels having business listings on the likes of Google My Business, Apple Maps, Yelp and Bing. “Voice assistants rely on these sources to provide information,” she says, recommending not just that hotels set themselves up on these platforms but that they ensure all information is comprehensive and up to date. “You can also optimise these profiles to give your hotel a better chance of showing up for local search queries by including relevant keywords, adding photos and collecting customer reviews.”
The future of voice search
Search results are one thing but the actual booking process itself is another. It’s not easy to see hotels lending themselves to voice-commanded direct conversions in the way that some goods or services might, for the simple reason that hotel guests tend to do far more research before committing to a reservation. Platforms do already exist on which users can use voice commands to book accommodation, although crucially these work hand in hand with on-screen visuals.
Might that change? “What we’re seeing is that even though consumers are searching for rates or information, when it comes time to book, generally people are going back to a device to do that,” says McNamara. “The difference might be if guests have already stayed at a particular place. I wouldn’t book a hotel unless I’d done my research and looked at images, but I’d be more than comfortable booking by voice if it was somewhere I’d stayed before and knew what to expect.”
And for Smith, the technology’s only going one way. “More and more people are now using their smartphones and other voice-controlled products to plan and book trips on the go - and that includes their accommodation,” she concludes. “It’s vital for those in this industry to get to grips with voice search.”
- The number of digital voice assistants in use is predicted to treble by 2023
- Hotels can capitalise on this by becoming voice-search friendly
- Online voice-searches tend to be more conversational in tone than traditional searches
- The adoption of in-room voice assistants, allowing guests to ask for information and control room functions, may also become more common