While no one, at least that I know, has a crystal ball that can see into the future, accurate forecasting - or the “making of predictions” - is an important aspect of business planning.
The factors that one needs to take into consideration when making informed predictions about the next year are many. Looking ahead to 2019, I thought it was important to weigh three key areas. First, how technology might impact the travel sector next year. Second, how demographic trends and consumer tastes will evolve. And third, how legal, economic and global trade issues will factor in.
With so much to consider, it’s easy to overestimate or underestimate the impact that any single issue will have on business next year. Given all of this, here are my top predictions for the travel industry in 2019.
Prediction #6: Voice-powered assistants will remain a novelty and make no significant impact on commerce.
Yes, they are great fun for controlling music and switching off the lights before you go to bed. But, I think voice assistants are just a modern-day version of the Clapper.
It’s my prediction that voice-powered user interfaces will never get even a fraction of the adoption for commerce that the humble but ubiquitous mouse and keyboard command today.
OK, I could be wrong about never, but in 2019, voice assistants will be a long way from functioning as a viable commerce tool for travel bookings. Don’t people need to do that secretly at work from their phone or laptop anyway, in silence?
Prediction #5: Online travel portals will find their “one destination for all travel purchases" strategy won’t gain much traction with consumers.
Expedia and Booking.com are trying to move into the attractions and ticketing space as they try to be a one-stop shop for consumer travel purchases. While extremely logical, this approach doesn’t take the fickle nature of consumers into consideration.
Voice-powered user interfaces will never get even a fraction of the adoption for commerce that the humble but ubiquitous mouse and keyboard command today.
Consumers love to shop around. They like deals. They like to read reviews, and they like to get recommendations from their friends. We see this in Sojern's own data analysis and research of the consumer path to purchase for travel.
While the number of touch points varies greatly from person to person, the path they take is far from straightforward and can involve hundreds of searches across a wide range of sites and apps.
Instead, next year, due to the increasingly low barrier for access to digital marketing technology, attractions will increase their marketing directly to consumers, and not through the portals.
Prediction #4: We will stop being afraid that robots will take our jobs and embrace AI in all its very humble and useful incarnations.
Fear of the all-knowing and all-seeing artificial intelligence-powered dark overlord will fade. Consumers will find that autocorrection and grammar-checking tools have morphed into auto-sentence completion tools, and they will find them useful at improving typing on a phone.
They will like this new consumer-friendly face of AI, as it makes all kinds of simple things that are actually complex to do on a computer simpler.
AI has probably passed through the “trough of disillusionment” in the Gartner hype cycle, and it’s now finding a variety of ways it can be useful, like data-mining past aircraft maintenance logs to improve a mechanic's ability to diagnose and fix airplanes, instead of replacing them. That is until the robots take over...
Prediction #3: You won’t have to read another article on blockchain's impact on travel.
We’ve all seen this three-act play before. Act one: A new technology is invented at the fringes of computer research, and a mainstream benefit is not a consideration to the developers.
Act two: The technology matures to the point that it attracts early adopters who evangelize it as a solution to the widest range of ailments.
Act three: There is complete disillusionment with the realization that the sky-high expectations are not going to be met, and this morphs into the reality that, yes, there are genuine benefits enabled by this technology, but only when we focus more on the end-user needs and less on the technology. Then we can all just go about our business as before.
I’ve no doubt there will be a ton of articles on blockchain’s impact on travel written next year, but will anything new that will change the game be said? I predict not.
Prediction #2: A perfect storm of new technology, consumer adoption and low-cost creation tools will put programmatic video advertising on the media plan in a big way.
AT&T acquired the largest independent advertising exchange, AppNexus, this year, and they have big plans for programmatic television next year.
With free video editing software in the cloud and an assortment of low-cost video advertising platforms available to businesses of all size, 2019 will be the year that programmatic video breaks out.
YouTube is already the de facto juggernaut in the space. Netflix is now testing simple static promotions, of what one could call house ads, for their own programming on their platform.
I don’t expect them to open that up to advertisers next year, but given their rising level of debt (more than $20 billion), monetizing that inventory will be a priority for Netflix at some point, soon.
Prediction #1: Chatbots and instant messengers will actually make an impact as marketing distribution tools.
This has already happened outside of the United States, particularly in China. We’re only now starting to see this trend take hold with average consumers.
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The popularity of workplace-focused instant messaging platform Slack with Silicon Valley will cross over to the mainstream as they go for an IPO in 2019, bringing their cute and visual IM platform to an even broader base of business users.
This will, in turn, push more consumers to the instant messenger-style interfaces and serve as a way to conduct commerce, including booking travel.
Apple has already provided the apps on your iPhone as a gateway to connect via their text-messaging application. Android and Facebook have also made similar types of tools available.
For a new mobile-first generation, conducting commerce with a chatbot from their favorite brand, airline or hotel makes sense. It takes time for brands to catch up, but expect their early experiments with chatbots to start to gain traction with consumers in 2019.