Technology

Google’s head of travel on how to win in the “Age of Assistance”

Huntley Mitchell

Huntley Mitchell

Travel Weekly was front and centre for the first keynote session today at the 2018 Global Tourism Summit in Hawaii, and Google’s Susie Vowinkel didn’t disappoint.

The tech giant’s head of travel and director of global partnerships started off her talk in the cleverest of ways, saying she had a special relationship with Alexa.

It turns out Vowinkel was referring to her seven-year-old daughter – not Amazon’s assistant.

She went on to define assistance in this day and age as not just being about smart speaker devices or voice search, but about helping people get things done.

“It’s giving people the right things at the right moment that are going to help them through their journey. I think this is particularly important in travel,” Vowinkel told summit attendees.

Google’s travel guru identified three key consumer behaviours that travel organisations and agents need to fully understand in order to succeed in the ‘Age of Assistance’.

The first key trait of consumers, according to Vowinkel, is that they are more curious than ever.

“They are searching for so many new things, and want you to anticipate what it is they’re curious about and their needs,” she said.

Vowinkel urged the audience to focus on getting the right information in front of travellers quickly and being assistive throughout the journey to answer their curiosity.

Susie Vowinkel (Global Tourism Summit) [2]

The second key behaviour of consumers: they’re demanding. Vowinkel said that over 64 per cent of consumers expect that they will see content specific to them and their needs.

Her advice? Customise content for different groups of travellers, identify consumer needs and provide relevant recommendations.

Google’s travel boss identified impatience as the third key trait of consumers, challenging summit attendees to be the leader in travel and site speed (Google recommends companies’ site speed to be sitting at an average of three seconds).

Vowinkel also noted the importance of travel organisations knowing how their mobile site stacks up (Google offers a mobile scorecard and impact calculator to work this out).

In closing, Vowinkel admitted that while the rise of technology such as robots and artificial intelligence is a little intimidating, nothing can replace the actual human experience and interaction when it comes to travel.

“I don’t think we can replace that with videos, and we’re always going to be wanting to experience destinations live,” she said.

“[Technology] is to complement the human experience.”

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