NB: This is a guest article by Carsten Kraus, CEO of FACT-Finder.
Technology continues to push the travel, tourism and hospitality industry forward and make it more dynamic than ever before. But the next phase is where it gets REALLY exciting.
For background, this week I took part in a panel discussion at World Travel MarketÂ in London alongside Nate Bucholz, industry head for travel at Google, and Andrew Jones, head of search account management at Bing.
We discussed how quickly the appetite for online travel booking is continuing to grow. According to Googleâ€™s own statistics, 60% of all holidays this summer were booked online and, lets face it, this figure is only going to grow.
Whatâ€™s also interesting is the way in which people now search for holidays â€“ in the UK alone, 78% of people still search via their desktop, but a growing number now also search via their mobile and tablet devices (13% and 9% respectively).
But we are beginning to see some frustration among those who search for their holidays online, because search engine technology cannot match up to the imagination and sophistication of the human mind.
We recently brought 80 people to our usability studio to get deeper insight into how people search for holidays.
All of those taking part had two things in common: they had all booked holidays online and they all agreed it was an incredibly complicated process. One participant made a very telling observation:
“Why canâ€™t OTAs be more like Google?”
This should be interpreted as:
“Why canâ€™t there just be one search box that you type your request into?”
The idea of one-field search was very appealing across the group.
If you look at the search function on any OTAâ€™s website, it is often incredibly complex with multiple fields to complete â€“ even Expedia, which has the benefit of consumer familiarity and one of the simpler search functions, can still be unwieldy.
Another thing that our focus group told us was that most of the time people didnâ€™t know exactly where they want to go, they just wanted to go somewhere warm, or wanted to go diving, which is not something any search function allowed for.
Furthermore, they found that most of the time they were unable to select by criteria such as free wi-fi or hotels with tennis courts, and so were forced to wade through large numbers of irrelevant search results.
If you put all these options into a standard search box it would be huge. A one-field search box would eliminate all of these problems.
Any travel agent will tell you that the type of questions they get asked are “I want a Christmas holiday on a beach with our little daughter”, not a series of checklists.
Most of these terms will not be in any hotel description, so you have to understand what is going on to be able to find the right answers â€“ keyword searching will not do this.
Also by using the word “beach”, the inference is that the person wants to go somewhere where it is warm. On top of this “our daughter” will likely mean there are two adults. “Little” might also infer the need for childcare onsite.
Until now, this hasnâ€™t been possible in a search function as search has not been semantic â€“ i.e. it has been unable to take inferences from the way in which we, as humans think (and therefore type into a search box or engine) and produce intelligent answers from that.
But this is starting to change. We predict that semantic search â€“ in its infancy now â€“ will have made a broad appearance in the search technology space by 2016, and by 2020 will be standard.
Some OTAs that have implemented some form of semantic search have already seen a 12% uplift in sales conversion in one month. The OTAs that adopt semantic search technology now will no doubt be the trailblazers in the search technology space.
The invention and adoption of semantic search technology is a nod in the direction toward more intelligent computers.
And one day, I predict, there may come a point at which computers challenge the intelligence of humans, but I donâ€™t think weâ€™ll be dealing the ramifications of this before 2025.
However, for the online travel industry, the arrival of more intelligent search functionality, that can only aid consumers in their quest for the ideal holiday, is a very positive thing.
NB:Â This is a guest article by Carsten Kraus, CEO ofÂ FACT-Finder.
NB2: Christmas beach image via Shutterstock.