The holy grail for online travel agencies is how to recreate the experience of personal recommendations.
At least, this is the view of Arthur Chapin, senior vice president of global product at Expedia.
To that end, the company is investing heavily in machine learning and voice technologies, a main focus of discussion at the Expedia Partner Conference in Las Vegas this week.
According to Chapin, the key to effective machine learning – feeding data to machines for self-optimized improvements – is to ensure it’s set up in the right way to ask the right problems.
“Machines beat humans, and machine learning beats traditional computing,” he says, adding that Expedia is "racing" to get the company’s stack plugged into machines.
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Elizabeth Shepherd, vice president of enterprise data platforms and services, adds: "We can give some of the more mundane or complex tasks to machines … so we can start focusing on where we as humans add value."
The advent of voice also represents a “massive paradigm shift” in the industry, according to Adam Jay, senior vice president of product and global marketing at Expedia sister brand Hotels.com.
He notes that currently 20% to 30% of searches today are voice-driven, a statistic expected to rise to 50% by 2020.
Expedia CEO and president, Mark Okerstrom, says the possibilities with voice are “incredibly interesting,” with the power to disrupt the top of the purchase funnel as well as allow for multi-product capability.
“Think about the type of queries where people aren’t visually forced to pick a hotel or flight. The [exchange of information] is much more free-flowing,” he says.
While Expedia currently works with Amazon’s Echo to book a rental car and check travel details, it’s expanding to hotel booking in the next couple months; integration with Google’s Home product is also in the works.
* This reporter's attendance at the event was supported by Expedia Inc.