If you had a billion-dollar war chest to invest in emerging technologies for travel, which would you bet on and whose lead would you follow? Given that Expedia Group earmarked $1.3bn for investment in technology in 2017, and has a rigorous test and learn culture, Abhijit Pal, Expedia’s head of research believes they may not be a bad bet.
So, where is one of the three giant global online travel agents (OTAs) putting its money? According to Pal, among the new and emerging technologies that the firm is both “excited by and cautious about” are virtual and augmented reality, AI and machine learning, cloud and voice.
While Expedia is at different stages of the journey with each, it is investing millions in cloud which is a “big bet, and a mature investment” in the drive to profitability. Another priority for Expedia is voice.
“We’re also investing heavily in voice because this is a technology that is becoming widely adopted. We know we need to be there because these are devices that our consumers are interacting with everyday,” he says.
In the US, adoption of voice is particularly marked. Nearly one in five US adults have access to a smart speaker and 20% of the population actually use these devices, according to research from Voicebot.ai. This growth trajectory shows no sign of abating either, according to Statista, which claims that the global smart home market will be worth $53 billion by 2022. Here again, the US is likely to be the biggest spender compared to other regions.
More than just ‘skill’
As early as November 2016, Expedia launched its ‘skill’ for Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices. This week, nearly two years on, Expedia has officially added Google’s voice assistant to the mix. “The Expedia Action is free, easy to use, and is available in English on any device that supports the Google Assistant,” says the official statement. While both allow users to, among other things, search for hotels and flights, add a rental car, access trip itineraries, check and review loyalty points, the big difference is that travellers can book in Google, thus building on the Alexa experience.