Listen up, voice search is being tipped to have as big an impact on the travel industry as mobile.
Or, at least so says Simon Breakwell, who founded Expedia's European operations, and has also worked for a string of major travel brands including BA, Thomas Cook, Uber and HomeAway.
Breakwell, currently chairman of bd4Travel, was on stage at the Phocuswright Conference in Los Angeles as a venture partner for investment house Technology Crossover Ventures.
When asked about the new technologies impacting travel, he says:
“Within five years everything will have been turned on its head by voice search. Its impact on travel will be as big as mobile. At the moment is just geeks talking to geeks, but absolutely mass adoption will happen. There are use cases waiting to be developed.”
He adds that machine learning, artificial intelligence and chatbots were part of the voice phenomenon and that these channels would also be widely demanded by consumers.
“One interesting thing is where the power will lie.
“So if I ask Alexa for flights and it responds with data pulled from Expedia, who is the customer having the relationship with? My instinct is that the customer thinks it is interacting with Alexa and that will change the balance of power.”
Breakwell’s experience with Expedia in the earliest days of Web 1.0 began when the European travel market was effectively run by the big four vertically integrated tour operators (Thomas Cook, Thomson (as was) First Choice and Airtours/MyTravel) and before low cost carriers had entered the market.
“I always thought that the online sector in Europe would end up with two big online players with some interesting niche operators, but I didn’t see the emergence of metas and the scale these businesses have achieved.
“Expedia succeeded because it had better tech and better product than anyone else on the market; booking.com succeeded because it concentrated on one thing - hotels – and grew its entire business around optimizing the way it worked with Google.”
And what of the European vertically integrated operators? Breakwell did consultancy work for Thomas Cook but found the group’s decision to take on even more high street shops via its merger with Co-op in 2010 hard to understand.
“TUI had a much clearer idea of the future. It looked at the OTAs and decided it couldn’t compete directly with them so it concentrated on its exclusive product, built a decent website and got ion top of marketing. Thomas Cook struggled with the transition and got left behind.”