Category Archives: Travel technology and strategy

Concur’s mobile voice search – another great step in business travel experience and productivity?

In somewhat understated fashion yesterday, Concur announced its new voice-driven mobile travel search.

Concur Hotel Booking input

Concur Hotel Booking input

This is a great step for a number of reasons. As mobile bookings grow, particularly for new hotel bookings and in-trip changes, any advancement that enables business travelers to cut friction out of managing their trips is fantastic.

And while this is cool technology, it also helps deliver what business travelers and their companies really need as hard travel costs and fees continue to rise with airline consolidation and a strong hotel industry – economic productivity.

This has been coming for a while. As Google announced its ITA acquisition in 2010, I showed via the linked presentation how a convergence of forces could enable Android voice search integration with ITA’s QPX airfare technology and why travel is a great candidate for voice to potentially help shift the consumer travel landscape.

And as I’ve worked with corporate travel clients the past two years, it’s even more applicable to business travelers.

Now, congratulations to Concur for making it happen, likely using its late-2012 investment in Evature, which seems to have pivoted to voice search after launching as natural language text search, and tapping the Android voice API.

Why is the timing right now?

Simply, voice engagement continues to go mainstream. Android searches were already 25% voice around 2010-2011. Siri, of course, received a lot of fanfare.

But it’s not just mobile. Microsoft continues to push its vision in the striking example of its new Xbox One, architected to markedly drive voice engagement in the living room with its hardware install base and 45-50 Million Xbox Live subscribers.

For travel specifically, as I wrote earlier:

 “Travel is still a commerce category that needs innovation…the beauty of Expedia and others is that they gave consumers the ability to cut inefficient offline search and intermediary steps and costs and go directly to the transaction.

So could natural language voice help cut inefficient online steps and costs? Current online booking UI’s…were great advancements, but still create friction. GDS’s create friction and cost.”

So back to the subject of business traveler productivity – how can we offset those costs?

  • Voice technology isn’t just about convenience…
  • Avoiding typing and drop-down menus can easily save a minute or three, and those minutes add up…
  • Imagine  saving just  ½ hour out of the entire booking and itinerary management process…
  • For a company whose employees take 100,000 trips, value that time at even just @ $100/hr…
  • that’s a $5 Million economic productivity gain…annually
  • Even as a soft cost, it’s a nice bite out of those increasing airfares, ADRs, and lovely ancillary fees

So what’s next?

TMC’s can continue to improve their own product, and for open booking via Concur, the opportunity for suppliers to capture business travelers by reducing friction in their own sites and apps should be compelling.

As for voice search, we’ll see how adoption takes, so keep on talking…


The Olympics and the Connected Trip Experience

Note: Originally published for IFExpress, I have included the IFExpress introduction with full article text and link to IFExpress below.

Image credit: IFExpress

“Now that the Olympic feeding frenzy is over, we thought we would offer one last Olympic-related opinion editorial tidbit for our readers. Aviation writer/consultant, Jonathan Alford (See Below) offers his spin on an Olympic experience in relation to IFEC, a concept he calls “Total Trip Experience and Connectivity”

As London continues to bask in its well-deserved post-Olympics glow (though Prince Harry clearly basked in a different glow), it’s good to recognize what most fans can’t see – the effort to stage a successful Games by working across a vastly complex ecosystem of hundreds of Olympic operating functions, security agencies, National Organizing Committees, media, and more – all of which compete as ruthlessly for resources as the athletes compete.

In 2002, I had the privilege of working for the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Committee on our executive program management and operations team, where I realized the blood of hospitality and travel also courses through a Games – through thousands of volunteers, staffers, and vendors – as an Olympics is geared to three things:

  • delivering a great experience for athletes and guests
  • providing inspiration to the world
  • making money, of course

The air travel ecosystem is complex as well, and as the role of IFEC and ancillary revenue continues to grow, it occurred to me that an Olympic Committee’s model of integrating multiple components of the transportation and destination experience could serve as a framework for airlines’ emerging desire to extend their customer relationships through
the total trip – via IFEC and mobile technology, personalized content and services, and improved airport experiences throughout the “60-hour cycle” I’ve referred to before.

Olympic Committees work closely with airlines, gateway and host city airports, hotels, and host cities not only to ensure appropriate security, but also facilitate a seamless immersion into the destination through the inbound flight, airport experience, ground transport, and relevant destination content.

The role of transport for an Olympics, like for any travel experience, is a challenge.

As soon as I arrived in Salt Lake, I was asked to take over Olympic Media Transportation – rebuilding a severely flawed system to serve 13,000 broadcasters, journalists, and photographers.

Never mind I had zero transportation experience, but I did recognize transportation would rarely be viewed by media as enhancing their jobs, but could easily detract from them by putting competition arrival times, deadlines, and their work at risk if executed poorly.

And since media influences the perception of the Olympic brand and host city in the eyes of the world, we needed to ensure media could do their jobs without fail. In fact, my goal was to avoid having transportation in the news at all – cynical, but realistic, since it’s typically mentioned only when things go wrong.

Sound familiar?

Travelers think similarly – the flight may not enhance a trip, but can easily detract from it.

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Apple, Siri, Google/ITA, and the growing potential of mobile voice recognition to alter the travel search landscape

With the passing of Steve Jobs, the impact he and Apple have had on our lives and technology is well-documented, but what’s taken a temporary back seat in Apple news, albeit for good reason, is the new iPhone 4S and its clear focus on Siri’s voice recognition platform.

How could this impact travel? About 18 months ago in Spring, 2010, when Google first announced the ITA acquisition, followed by the controversy of Fairsearch and DOJ proceedings, I identified a convergence of forces that could enable Android voice search integration with ITA’s QPX airfare technology (click link to see original analysis) and shift the travel landscape further (see graphic at right).

Potential voice search partner paths (from October, 2010 Google-ITA deck)

I also noted the potential of Apple’s integration with Siri to enter the market, though it would still need the fare query platform, and now that Siri has launched and been somewhat of a revelation (usage has reportedly been 10x what even Apple anticipated), could we now be on the verge of another serious potential player in travel search and demand fulfillment?

This time last year, voice search was projected to be 15% of all searches by 2015, but that did not seem to account for what Apple could do. Android searches were already 25% voice, so along with Microsoft’s voice integration through Windows Phone, Xbox Live, Kinect, and coming Windows 8 platforms, natural language voice engagement is finally going mainstream, and that 15% may end up being quite an underestimate.

Siri tells you she doesn’t do flights – yet

We’re not there yet, but imagine when she does respond to a basic voice query such as, “I want to fly from Seattle to Boston from December 21st to December 28th on American Airlines.”

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Groupon’s challenges in China. What does this mean for its Expedia partnership?

In this article, Timothy O’Neil-Dunne and I raise potential issues for Groupon and Expedia in China and ask what it could mean for their travel partnership – if China is in the plans*

Last week, various media reported that Groupon let go a large number of staff and is closing up to 41 offices of its joint venture in China.

While it is not surprising a foreign company is experiencing challenges entering China, and Groupon’s PR professionals position its actions as normal strategic adjustments after entering a new market full-bore, the scale and immediacy of Groupon’s actions are noteworthy given that it entered the market with such force and pulled back so quickly.

Its issues may lie in the hard knocks many foreign companies, including Expedia, had already experienced, chief among them underestimating the foreign investor-averse and government forces just underneath the surface-level opportunity of China’s potential market size and support of capitalism-style commerce. The constraints of China’s foreign-investment, labor, and media policies, as well as promising but still immature online and mobile transaction markets – all critical for Groupon – are a few indicators. For other hard lessons, just ask Google and Best Buy.

The seemingly simple, yet complex lesson heard over again? China is different. And though whatever segment of China’s projected US$486 Billion in domestic travel spend in 2014 (source: WTTC), of which US$78 Billion may be online spend (source: iResearch), is attributable to group and/or daily deals, it’s bound to be a sizeable market. And it’s in a land grab that can enable irrational capital investment decisions, just as it is elsewhere.

Which brings us to our Groupon-Expedia-China questions. How does this affect plans for the Groupon-Expedia partnership in China – if there even are plans – and why do we question it?

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Featured on…The Google-ITA Software deal: can mobile voice recognition disrupt the travel search landscape?

When Google announced its acquisition of ITA Software in July, 2010, speculation was rampant on how it would integrate ITA’s flight data structure.  Most pundits mentioned airfare display, map-based search, and other fairly straightforward incremental improvements.

However, given a confluence of technology, consumer, and competitive forces, integration of voice recognition technology in Android and other mobile platforms could be a truly innovative force and affect the travel intermediary landscape, enabling travelers to search for flights, hotels, and other travel topics by speaking into their phones, obviating need for traditional click-based methods of OTA and supplier websites.

Kevin May of also wrote a good article on the topic on January 26, 2011, featuring the presentation. Here is Kevin’s introduction and article link:

“Google-ITA Software deal: Is mobile the key element?

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