The travel industry has some major changes ahead of it. Virtual reality marketing, voice-controlled travel bookings, and the growing ambitions of brands such as Google and Facebook all look set to define the next 12 months. Here are six major trends we will be keeping an eye on in 2017.
1. Voice search
As travel research increasingly moves to mobile, the value of voice-activated technology is becoming more apparent. Instead of having to stop and physically tap a device or swipe a screen, voice search will make online interaction fluid and seamless.
The transition has already begun. Last year, Kayak integrated with Amazon Alexa and Expedia just recently debuted their own Alexa voice search function. This seems to be just the start of an inevitable transition towards a frictionless form of research and booking.
Currently, these platforms don’t allow hotel bookings to be completed using voice commands, but this technology is already being developed. In the year ahead, expect other metasearch sites and OTAs to follow suit as the move towards a hands-free experience starts to take off.
Powered by artificial intelligence and the technology that is driving chatbots, a new generation of voice assistants will also get better at making suggestions based on past consumer behavior and specific requests. In 2017, this space is likely to be a major area of growth and investment.
2. Growth of virtual reality
In 2017, we expect virtual reality will start to be viewed as a genuinely viable marketing tool. Brands such as Marriott, Hilton and Conrad Hotels have already invested heavily in advanced forms of VR to showcase their properties or destinations. But new and more affordable versions of VR are now lowering the barrier to entry.
In particular, we think that VR could end up being heavily driven through social media—and that hotels may look to guests as content creators. Last year, St Giles Hotels did just that by asking guests and social media influences to generate and star in a series of virtual reality videos. Other hotels may soon start to tap into the potential of VR by finding new ways to create content and harness more affordable technology.
3. Facebook to become a bigger player in the travel industry
Facebook is already intimately entwined with the travel experience. While on vacation, travelers are quick to update their social network with tales of adventure and poolside selfies in exotic locations. So far, Facebook has struggled to monetize this relationship. But it’s getting closer.
A new Recommendations feature now allows users to ask for suggestions from friends on new experiences, events, things to do, and services. The feature also encourages direct interaction with recommended businesses via their Facebook Page, and brands can also pick from a new range of call-to-action buttons.
This feature has only recently been rolled out, but Facebook has announced plans to expand it further. It’s very possible that hotels could feature within new developments as Facebook looks to monetize its hugely influential role in the travel process. If that happens, Facebook could potentially become a brand new research and booking channel for hotels.
4. Google’s travel ambitions
2016 was all about the fight between OTAs and hotels. But next year, the travel industry at large may focus their attention towards Google and its apparent travel ambitions.
Until recently, OTAs such as Priceline and Expedia enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with Google, spending huge amounts to grab the top spots in its search results. But recently, Google has started making its own moves into the travel space. And it’s making some OTAs feel slightly uneasy.
The launch of Book on Google means that users can search and sometimes book flights directly on Google. Last September, the company also introduced a trip-planning app, which in some instances allows people to book hotels and flights on Google.
While the company is quick to point out it has no intention of becoming a travel booking company, developments such as these will continue to unsettle OTAs this year. If the search engine giant is perceived to be stealing direct bookings away from them, the likes of Priceline and Expedia may begin investing some of their marketing budget elsewhere. Watch this space.
5. Will Airbnb be an OTA disruptor?
The continued growth of Airbnb has come to redefine the way people think about travel. With the recent launch of their ‘Experiences’ and ‘Places’ features, Airbnb now offers travelers the ability to book accommodation and trips when they travel. Plans are also afoot to expand services further still, including car hire, flights and grocery deliveries.
Up until recently, the company’s growth has been discussed in regard to its impact on the hotel industry. In 2017, Airbnb may put the pressure on OTAs, forcing them to adapt their business model as the sharing economy platform shows increasing intent to become a full-blown travel booking company.
In the coming year, it’ll be fascinating to see how Airbnb rolls out its grand ambitions—and just as fascinating to observe how OTAs respond to a potentially new and powerful player in the travel booking space.
6. Millennials will no longer be its own marketing segment
Travel brands are constantly reminded about the importance of appealing to millennials. But now, the industry is waking up to the fact that millennials are far too diverse a group to lump together as one.
At this year’s Skift Global Forum in New York City, Clayton Reid (CEO of global marketing firm MMGY), made a compelling case for why travel brands must account for the unique differences among this demographic. This included reference to diversity in financial circumstances, lifestyle, career status, and individual preferences and behaviors.
In 2017, the winners in travel marketing will be those who understand the nuances within micro-markets, and then create a diversified marketing strategy to target these markets effectively. In the coming 12 months, hotels should consider a more refined approach that appeals to the specific tastes and requirements of an incredibly diverse millennial demographic.
What’s in store for 2017?
The predicted trends of 2017 could see big changes in the travel industry—both for brands and for consumers. New forms of virtual reality will offer hotels a new way to market to guests, while voice-activated search will change how people search and book their travel plans. The ambitions of Google, Airbnb and Facebook will also challenge OTA dominance—shaking up an established hierarchy that will need to adapt to survive in a fiercely competitive booking space.
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