Google Assistant revolutionises the hotel industry

Jul 23, 2019 | Connections

Modern technology has established itself in hotels for good and it seems like this is unlikely to change in the near future. Quite the contrary: the expectations of guests and their shopping habits change quickly, forcing hotels to continually modify their offer and adjust their online distribution strategy. Another revolution is happening as we speak – the ability to book rooms with the use of virtual assistants. Right now, this functionality is only offered by the Mountain View giant, but due to the growing trend of using virtual assistants and dynamic development of such solutions it will not be long before its competitors rise to the challenge. 

Where did it all start?

The market for virtual assistant has been growing for several years now, and the battle for the position of the leader and creation of the most helpful assistant is becoming increasingly fiercer. It all started in 2011, when the world heard about virtual assistants for the first time during the official launch of the iPhone 4S. It was accompanied by the first appearance of Siri – an intelligent personal assistant which recognises the users’ natural speech, replies to their questions and performs the tasks it’s been entrusted with. While Siri’s capabilities were very limited at the time, the dynamic growth of the technology made it possible to surprise the users of Apple smartphones on a regular basis and implement new functionalities. It was not long before Apple’s competitors presented their own solutions. In 2014, Amazon’s Alexa debuted on the market and two years later so did Google Assistant. This moment initiated a real race whose goal remains unchanged to this day – to use artificial intelligence and process natural language so as to respond to requests of the increasingly demanding and innovation-hungry market.

Although the solution offered by the Mountain View giant is the youngest one, from the point of view of the hotel industry it is certainly the most interesting one. This is all due to the functionality presented to the global audience last January in Las Vegas during the largest consumer electronics fair in the world – CES 2019. Naturally, this refers to the ability to book hotel rooms with the use of Google Assistant. Although its functionalities are now available to users through various channels, including Google Home products, smart TVs, smartphones and even cars, the ability to book hotels is only available on mobile devices for the time being.

What does the ability to book hotel rooms mean for the hotel industry?

From the perspective of Google Assistant users, the new functionality is likely no breakthrough, but for hoteliers it is a real revolution for which they should start preparing now. There is already talk of it being a real turning point for the industry, one which will force hotels to quickly reorganise their existing distribution strategies in line with the “adapt or die” principle. It will pose a major threat to facilities resistant to new technologies, but for the ones which readily and quickly adapt to the changing environment it will be a chance for dynamic growth and acquisition of a greater share in the market. It is also a good chance to defend or even increase the share of direct bookings.

There is no denying that the new possibilities will have a great impact on how users browse the Internet and plan their travels. The question is: how many of the bookings will be made using virtual assistants? Some studies indicate that we are approaching a real revolution in this field, as in the next two years voice searches may account for as much as half of all searches! Statista analysts believe that Google Assistant will greatly strengthen its position. While in 2017 the Google product could only boast a 25% share in the market in intelligent virtual assistants, in 2020 the share will amount to as much as 43%. At the same time, Alexa will suffer a drop from 62% to 34%. The remaining market players, on the other hand, will increase their share from 13% to 23%. Such major changes in the market share are mainly connected with the fact that virtual assistants are most often used on smartphones. The market in intelligent loudspeakers which Amazon is associated with is several times smaller than the mobile phone market. How much smaller? Google Assistant is currently used by more than a billion devices, which means an increase of 400 million compared with the previous year. In the case of Alexa, the statistics are much less impressive, as it is used by slightly more than 100 million devices.

The development of the market as well as the steadily growing number of devices which are connected to the Internet (Internet of Things) suggest that the change in customer habits in the scope of room bookings may significantly shake up the existing online distribution model and force both hotels and OTAs to redefine their existing strategies.

What exactly can Google offer?

Google’s competitive edge results mainly from the fact that the Mountain View giant has access to a massive database of hotel offers which neither Apple nor Amazon currently has. We can therefore assume that the new functionality offered by Google Assistant will constitute a major competitive advantage at least for a while. What does booking a room with the use of Google Assistant look like now?

Currently, the new functionality is only offered to English-speaking users of iOS or Android mobile devices who live in the United States. The booking process itself is extremely simple and intuitive and can be carried out both via text and voice input thanks to the use of artificial intelligence and the Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology. For instance, when searching for a hotel room in Barcelona, the user only needs to say: “I need to book a hotel room in Barcelona,” and the assistant will ask about the date of stay and present a list of recommended facilities. In order to narrow it down, the user needs to provide the assistant with more details about their preferences – e.g. “Show only hotels close to the city centre with pools.”

The next step is selection of the facility where the user is planning to stay, which can be done both using voice and by clicking. A moment later, the assistant will present the available offers from various OTAs as well as from the hotel’s booking engine and ask the user to select one. Confirmation of the booking, preceded by a short overview of the booking and the related costs, lets the user proceed to the final step, i.e. payment for the booking (naturally, the recommended method is payment with Google Pay). Once the transaction has been finalised, the assistant informs the user that it was completed successfully and sends the booking details to their email address.

Can it be any simpler than that? It certainly can, but we will have to wait at least a couple of months for more details. The dynamic growth of the industry suggests that Google’s competitors will also start offering similar solutions and Google itself will continuously work on surprising its users more and more and offer an even more intuitive and customised travel planning experience.

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