The last afternoon session of this year’s SITA ATIS2016 rewarded all who hung out to see the event through with a mind-blowing demonstration of Google’s new Travel Assistant Demo.
I apologise in advance that the audio might be a little hard to follow, and I recommend viewing the video in full screen mode so that you can better see the projections from Marcin Brodziak’s smartphone. (Note: If you should experience any issues with playback on the post, just click on the video link to my YouTube channel).
I felt it was still worth sharing because this was only the second time Google has ever demonstrated the full functionality of its new travel search Assistant which will go live this summer.
When you think about it, natural language search is an ideal match for travel. Google calls it conversational search and that’s fitting. The Assistant follows the conversation about the planned itinerary and presents travel options for flights, hotels and destination activities relevant to the user’s queries.
As an added benefit, the Google Assistant can handle queries in a collaborative environment. Colleagues or friends can join the conversation to share their travel preferences, and Assistant keeps up with the debate.
Google’s Brodziak said we can expect voice queries to follow next.
It’s the Beginning of the End for the Endless Search
The time of complicated searches through individual websites, scrolling through hundreds of options and then tying the various searches on dozens of tabs together into a viable itinerary is over.
The implications to travel sites which have built their business serving as intermediaries between travel services companies and travellers are massive.
Without the same contextual capabilities, it’s difficult to imagine how they will compete to be the go-to source now.
The Cost of Ranking
I asked Brodziak how Google plans to monetise the Assistant search service. He dodged the question suggesting Google hasn’t decided this yet, but that seems unlikely.
With a limited number of options presented to the user on any query (ostensively in the interest of simplification), Adwords will likely play a role in ranking.
You really don’t need to charge a bookings commission if you can charge companies for the opportunity to get the booking in the first place.
Brodziak did not show the bookings step of the query, though the Assistant suggests making the booking through Open Table for the restaurant search Brodziak made in Los Angeles.
Google is now a strong mediator, the ultimate gatekeeper between the traveler and the supplier—be that the final supplier (airline, hotel, venue) or the OTA (online travel agency).
We’ll know soon enough what competing for those three or four top spots will cost.
Let Me Take Care of That for You
The time to speculate about the future of search is over.
Google has positioned itself as a powerful barrier. We can only expect the influence of Assistant to grow.
Last month, Google sent me a friendly message letting me know that it had read my email, found travel itinerary details and placed them on my calendar.
“Google Calendar now adds events from Gmail, like reservations for flights and restaurants, to your calendar automatically,” the company wrote.
Isn’t that helpful?
The feature can be turned off. But, though at first it creeped me out, I left it on.
It’s a lot of hassle manually entering my travel itinerary in my calendar programs. I already forward reservations to Tripcase to simplify the process, but Google doesn’t even require that little bit of effort.
Am I too lazy to organise my travel agenda? No.
I still spend a lot of time finding the best options and the best prices. But I am busy and often get interrupted by more time-sensitive things. It’s a chore, and any service that makes life easier is a tempting proposition.
As in all things, the path of least resistance wins out.
Assistants are supposed to stay on top of our agendas and simplify our lives. Frankly, Google’s Assistant seems highly qualified for the job.