This article is based on trivago Managing Director and Chief Revenue Officer Johannes Thomas’s executive interview on the Center Stage at The Phocuswright Conference in Miami on November 9, 2017.
We’re charging full speed into the era in which technology and human existence are inextricably intertwined, each informing the future of the other.
Evolving traveller expectations are fueling technology innovation, just as breakthroughs in technology bring about changes in consumer behavior, which technology then rushes in to cater to.
“I think I am as concerned as I am excited,” admitted Johannes Thomas, trivago’s Managing Director and Chief Revenue Officer, during his executive interview at the recent Phocuswright Conference 2017 — held this year in Miami, Florida — with Phocuswright’s Director of Research, Maggie Rauch.
“Technology will revolutionise pretty much every part of our lives.”
As new technology gives flight to new consumer expectations, and as workforce automation looms ever nearer on the horizon, it’s time for the travel and hospitality industry to ask itself what responsibility it has in dealing with the impact of technology on the way humans beings operate, individually and as a society.
“It’s a huge question,” Johannes agreed. “There’s AI, also nanotechnology, biotech, there’s the blockchain…a lot of other technologies that will have an even bigger impact than what we have seen in the past and will revolutionise pretty much every part of our lives and even change us as humans and how we operate. And that will be super exciting.”
Exciting, but also challenging, if we are to ensure that the human, social, and political effects of these changes are positive and balanced.
“I think that everybody who is in business has a responsibility to understand how to deal with the challenges that are coming with that and how we can find exciting jobs, exciting new opportunities for everybody.”
Many of these exciting new jobs and opportunities will be more than just a means to involve everybody in tech revolution.
They will constitute the fundamental human forces that propel hotel businesses into the future of our technology-engulfed world.
“Human resources and tech solutions need to work hand in hand.”
The human impact of travel technology is not limited to consumer behavioral patterns.
Those on the business side of the industry are finding that to adopt the now-essential technologies, and to have any hope for success in the digital age, they must change they way they operate on a structural level — starting with eliminating any residual resistance to embracing technology.
Johannes discussed the structural changes hotel companies are now going through to make space for and to integrate new technologies — and with them, new roles for people:
“Setting up marketing teams, having data-driven people to manage marketing channels…. getting their hands on the products, having a booking engine that needs to be optimised….” He stressed that both the human resources and tech requirements of a hotel business “need to work hand in hand.”
For the businesses that aren’t “native technology companies,” as Johannes put it, trivago has started providing the technology, the integration of this technology and the expertise on how to use it, to support the digital generation of hotel marketers in finding success online.
“Whoever gives the better answer to travellers will win.”
A native technology company itself, trivago is no stranger to adapting its operational structure and increasing its human resources to keep up with rising traveller demands for greater personalisation and assistance in the search experience.
“We’ve done huge changes, from internally changing our structures, changing a lot of the tech backbone, acquiring tripl…. We’ve built an engineering team in Amsterdam with a strong focus on data science, machine learning…”
And as always, trivago is testing new avenues to solving user experience challenges through personalisation, its integration of HomeAway vacation rentals into its search platform being one of the latest. The reason for this move was to “give travellers a better choice,” said Johannes. “We have a strong belief that with a universal search we have greater opportunity” to address evolving traveller expectations.
Of course, trivago is not alone in its mission to provide the ultimate search experience. It’s a common goal among aggregators and OTAs across the globe. When asked who will win the race, Johannes’s reply was simple, straightforward, and markedly rational:
“Whoever delivers the better answer to the traveller will be the one who travellers go to.”
And trivago is putting a lot of human power into getting to that answer. “We are focusing a lot on building a better search experience. And we believe we are in a very strong position because we are 1,400 people who are just focusing on these problems and nothing else.”
It would seem only natural for a famously data-driven tech company to look to human intelligence to address the challenge of personalisation technology. Personalisation is the space where human identities meet innovative technologies. And it epitomises the future of travel, and of all consumerism.
The solutions now starting to emerge from all corners of the globe serve to increase the level of personalised human engagement with technology, and come in the forms of enhanced search platforms, mobile functionality, and chat-based interfaces. And of course, voice systems.
“Voice platforms could shift more demand online.”
“In solving the AI conversational search context, personalisation is key,” said Johannes.
“When you look at desktop, you have a big screen, with 20 results you’re probably looking at. Then on mobile, maybe you look at five, maybe 10 hotels. And then in the voice environment, you maybe look at one hotel, which you’d expect to be close to what you’re looking for. You’ll maybe look at a second, a third one, but then you’d give up and you’ll never use this service again.”
That is the frustration point that search technology is attempting to provide an answer to. And when the industry reaches this milestone, it will inevitably trigger another significant shift in traveller search behavior.
“The other cool thing about the rise of voice platforms,” according to Johannes, “is that they could shift more demand online and more users searching online.”
“If you can just take out your phone and talk to it…. if you say, ‘I want a hotel in Miami for my family, my pet, close to a beach, and I want to find it from trivago,’ it’s an adoption that will drive more demand there.”
There’s already a vision for how to get to that point.
And so we have yet another compelling example of how technology will hold sway over how we live our lives. Whether we find it concerning or exciting or, like Johannes, a bit of both, none of us can really deny the reality of it.