Travel tech going places


BANGKOK, 23 August 2017: Bigger shifts in how people book travel will occur over the next five years due increased mobile penetration in Asia, according to Expedia Asia Pacific’s Head of Marketing and Channel Strategy, Gabriel Garcia.

Garcia was commenting on the power of technology in the online travel industry space, sharing Expedia’s view on key factors and trending shape the travel business.

Trending highlights

Gabe Garcia

The next big thing will be better use of information to make the travel inspiration and booking experience more personalised and predictive in real-time.

But he warns that big data is not enough. Companies need to turn data into consumer value in real-time.

Companies like that has 200 plus travel booking sites in more than 75 countries have the scale and access to arrive at better travel data and this will give them an advantage over smaller operators to create superior personalised, customer experience.

Garcia says the biggest challenge in travel is to make the inspiration to booking phase as seamless and frictionless as possible.

The challenge is deliver the best trip for the traveller in the quickest and easiest way possible.

Expedia says its “Travel Graph” provides opportunities for developers to identify patterns that can drastically improve the online travel experience.

“Our goal is to give travellers the most relevant data for them, which is why we use pattern recognition that takes data from across Expedia’s brands and delivers insights in a way that consumers find useful.

“Increased traffic to our websites means we can more effectively match customers with the most relevant content for them.”

Virtual Reality

Millennials expect technology to enhance their travel inspiration phase. More than 50% of Millennials (source: Millennial Traveller Report) are interested in using VR to help them discover new holiday destinations, and there is a clear expectation for VR to make the standard holiday photo a rich media experience.

It will involve fully immersive VR has the potential to captivate travellers with style and substance, offering true-to-life expectations and matching wearers to their ideal experience.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube will undoubtedly continue to develop more immersive content, including the likes of virtual and augmented reality. With high-end devices such as Oculus Rift coming to market, along with more affordable setups such as Google Cardboard, immersive experiences could potentially be used to captivate prospective travellers.

Garcia claims that the commercial use of VR in the future will allow travellers to have a deeper understanding of what a destination ‘feels’ like, before committing to booking a flight.

Machine Learning/AI/NLP

Expedia has been refining its algorithms since its over two decades.

“With the introduction of more advanced technologies, we’ve improved our algorithms, and added components that incorporate some of the fundamentals of machine learning.

“We started implementing this type of artificial intelligence a few years ago, and it now exists across various parts of our website in small fashions.”

One example is the flight search algorithm, Best Fare Search (BFS) is a one-of-a-kind product that reduces the nearly infinite set of flight combinations down to a key set of options. The algorithm has been learning the patterns for over 10 years.

Garcia clarifies: “We are testing the ways machine learning can automate and expedite some of our big data tasks. For example, we use machine learning to help refine our sort algorithms, geography tools (associating inventory with specific search regions), recommendations and other areas.”

Natural Language Processing  turns travellers’ normal questions into searchable content.

Expedia’s homepage offers a bunch of fields for travellers to provide clarity. They include destinations they want to visit, dates they want to travel and the number of people traveling.

“Natural Language Search is about making the experience more like a conversation you would have with a spouse or partner, when planning holidays… I want to go to a beach with fun activities for my family.”

The homepage allows travellers to search in this manner, as does the Expedia bot for Facebook Messenger.

“As the data available grows, so will our ability to refine the algorithms that can turn content from natural language processing to a solution that more closely resembles artificial intelligence.”

Here is how tech will change the travel experience.

In a world where artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, facial recognition, augmented reality and big data transform our built environment, opportunities for travel players are vast.

The big strength of AI technology is that it can learn from past experiences, use these lessons to evolve, and begin predicting patterns of behaviour.

Because AI relies so heavily on data, the travel sector is prime for taking advantage of this technology: every time a person searches, books, and travels, they create new data to be studied and understood.

Using predictive algorithms gives this information more value and allows companies to better present information to consumers.

Once a traveller is at their destination, augmented reality (AR) has the potential to transform their experience in a whole host of ways. Museums, visitor centres, zoos and aquariums are already using AR to enhance visitors’ experience with additional information as they tour a space.

The way forward starts in the lab.

  • Expedia’s aim is to bring choice, comparison and, most importantly, convenience to travellers.
  • Through the Usability Lab, UX, product and engineering teams are able to gather real scientific insights in order to deliver this promise.
  • Two primary technical capabilities of the lab include eye tracking and electromyography (EMG) technology.
  • With EMG, small sensors are placed on the cheek and eyebrow of test subjects, and the sensors record tiny changes in the user’s facial muscles. Expedia’s researchers then track the changes in the EMG readings to understand the real-time impact that the experience is having on the subject as he or she navigates the booking process.
  • When paired with eye-tracking, researchers are able to get a sharp read on exactly where the user was looking and what actions they took as a result.

Testing new product innovation

  • In addition to consumer behaviour insights, the lab also gives Expedia an opportunity to test new products.
  • Expedia researchers observed that travellers manually noted down prices to compare and find the best deal when searching for their trip. Scratchpad – an intelligent personal assistant – was developed to solve this problem.
  • When customers login and search – no matter which device they use – their searches are saved. More importantly, prices are automatically updated with the latest information eliminating the need to start over. Since its launch, Scratchpad has evolved to include price trends and price prediction functionality.

EMG research insights

  • One of the earliest discoveries with EMG research is that photos create delight. Expedia was particularly interested in hotel photos being delightful and enhancing the decision making process when shopping for hotels. Having done extensive research it is able to understand what types of photos are delightful and  offer photo guidelines for hotel partners.
  • Language (e.g., labels attached to hotels in hotel search results: “Excellent”) can elicit a positive emotion from shoppers when used judiciously. Language related to savings or deals can be particularly positive, especially when the prices truly reflect savings.

(Source: Expedia, Gabe Garcia)