On 24 October at the WIT 2017 travel and technology conference in Singapore, Google VP of Engineering for Travel and Shopping Oliver Heckmann made a presentation on how AI and other new technologies will help the travel industry.
- Translation is critical for travel:
- Moving Google Translate to an AI-based system improved translation quality more overnight than the earlier system saw over its entire lifetime.
- Google Pixel Buds can translate among 40 languages in real time – like having your own personal translator.
- Although 50% of global online content is in English, only 20% of the world’s people understand English.
- In advertising, machine learning can uncover new insights, predict consumer needs and assist travelers during trips.
- Google products used in travel include:
- Google Maps
- Google Photos
- Hotel Search
- Google Flights
- Destinations on Google
- Google Trips (now available in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese)
- Because of inter-country differences in consumer needs and behavior, Google is pursuing a country-specific strategy in travel technology vice region-specific.
- Friction in travel services makes the industry ripe for innovation and AI.
- Research by Phocuswright found that 1 in 3 travelers is interested in using a virtual assistant for research or to assist in decisionmaking.
Next feature he would like to see:
Ability of Google Assistant to learn his travel preferences and make all kinds of travel bookings seamlessly
Google is the 800-pound gorilla in the online travel vertical, and there’s an upside and a downside to that.
Upside is: Google makes a lot of money by delivering digital ads anywhere and everywhere, and so can afford to develop its many wonderful products like Google Translate, Google Trips, Google Assistant, etc.
Downside is: Google’s enormous market share enables it to bully everyone else in the market by doing things like building a blocker of specific ad formats into the Chrome browser, penalizing websites not using SSL encryption of page requests, changing AdWords text ad format and making it impossible to edit ads in the earlier format, favoring its own shopping service over those of competitors, and more.
For me, as long as everyone in travel/tourism is making more money than they were pre-Google - which everyone should be if willing to play by Google’s rules – the pros outweigh the cons.