Topdeck is a reputable tour service provider serving the world with Oceania offices in Brisbane, Queensland. It primarily provides travel services to its customers which includes accommodation and food, even though the latter two are the result of integration with other service providers in the hospitality industry and not services specifically offered by the company. Topdeck has embraced technology as would other players in the market even though only to a considerable extent. The management is yet to integrate voice recognition technologies into its customer management system fully. The technologies embraced by Topdeck include a standard responsive website combined with other services (e.g., bookings), social media integration for connecting with customers, and a mobile app available on both Android and iOS platforms with little voice recognition capability. The mobile app is the most recognized technology integrating with Topdeck’s services and providers customers with a least five cloud-driven functions (e.g., maps and spending tracker). The mobile app could be used with an integrated voice recognition system that ideally uses the Google Assistant engine.
Topdeck’s Scope of Voice Recognition
This paper recognizes that even though Topdeck maybe one of the most-recognized tourism brands in Oceania and around the world, the management has only taken conservative steps in exploiting new technologies such as voice recognition which is not an uncommon phenomenon in the industry. Topdeck does not own a native company-made voice recognition technology but depends on Google Assistant engine. If a customer opts to use voice data, Topdeck’s app launches Google Assistant to capture and process the data. Even though the Google Assistant bundled into Topdeck’s app may be useful to a slight extent, it is worth noting that the tool is not “natively” embedded into Topdeck’s but appended which somewhat renders it inefficient in some cases.
The rapid proliferation of technology from research labs to people’s pockets in a ubiquitous (i.e., internet-of-things) fashion has empowered customers as well as businesses now more than ever in human history. It is now that businesses can make proposals to customers wherever they may be and expose them to value that could fulfill their needs and ultimately generate revenue for the company (Murison 2018). The rise of voice recognition closely follows artificial intelligence (AI) since the algorithms that enable the voice recognition software are inherently AI. Ever since Apple bundled Siri into its iPhone in 2011, other major tech companies (i.e., Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) have followed suit with the promise of convenient customer interaction with services provided by such people-oriented companies as Topdeck and others. But the question remains, to what extent does such a company as Topdeck need voice recognition (VR) technology?
Firstly, today’s average customer is primarily a member of generations “X” and or “Y” and not the baby boomer generation as it had been two decades ago (Brochado, Rita & Margarido, 2016, p.349). The new customer is tech-oriented and therefore any business more so in the service sector that lags behind in integrating customer-centric technologies such as VR would be failing to connect with its typical customer. After all, Topdeck’s target market is individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 years which makes VR an urgency for the management. Secondly, VR offers peculiar strategic advantages that cannot be ignored by Topdeck such as convenience, data gathering opportunities, the speed of service, management cost-reduction, and a growing VR customer base (Enterprise Content Team 2017). Topdeck, therefore, faces a new technology (i.e., VR) perfectly aligned with its target market and one which could improve both front (e.g., customer relations) and backend (e.g., data analytics) services and add on to the company’s stack of strategic advantages.
Voice Recognition Technology Analysis and Trends
Developments in the tourism industry have compelled the adoption of innovative technologies aimed at enhancing competitive advantage and more importantly connecting with customers who are technically members of the generation born at the dawn of the computer and internet revolution (i.e., generations X and Y) (Brochado, Rita & Margarido 2016, p.349). However, the consensus in tourism and hospitality literature is that the adoption of innovative technologies (e.g., voice recognition) is compelled by industry competition that has given cost-optimization strategies even more prominence, the need to enhance operational efficiency, and to align services according to customer needs (Firoiu & Croitoru 2015, p. 32). It is worth mentioning that tourism and hospitality industry trends have shown the growing bargaining power of consumers and the increasing demand for a high-quality experience which services providers try to balance with cost constraints (Rao 2014, p.6; Gökalp & Eren 2014, p.8). Tourist firms in Australia including Topdeck are contending with such global trends primarily because their operations go beyond Australian borders.
Voice recognition (VR) is somewhat a new technology that is still maturing and therefore it is not surprising that very few firms in tourism and even hospitality have adopted the technology. For instance, VR has not evolved enough to sustain a lengthy conversation or to sound as human as would be expected. Not only so, but also that every VR technology must be tailored for the specific context in which it is used (e.g., recognize keywords relating to tourism or Topdeck) even though a user may use other relevant keywords such as “sharks” or “bungee” which may not be understood by the AI driving the VR. On a different note, somewhat mature VR technologies are very few. It is only Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple that have demonstrated VR technologies that could be used by tour companies such as Topdeck. However, acquiring licenses for such technologies is still a problem, and even if a tour company did, it would have to invest a lot of time and resources to optimize the AI engine to match the business requirements fully.
However, the use of VR has spiked in the recent past. There was an 80% increase in the application and intention to use VR between 2016 and 2017 with at least 18 global tour service providers going the VR way (Enterprise Content Team 2017). Analysis now shows that the once-exciting VR technology has not been widely adopted as anticipated since Siri launched in 2011 (Murison 2018). Companies that have somewhat taken VR are primarily in the hospitality segment and not tours and travel as Topdeck. For example in the United States, Wynn Resorts is still in the process of adopting Amazon’s Echo (Ivanov, Webster & Berezina 2017, p.1502). Japan boasts the first fully automated and AI-powered hotel, the Henn na Hotel, that significantly relies on VR (Ivanov, Webster & Berezina 2017, p.1502). Here in Australia, Aloft could be on its way to installing Siri as its VR technology since the parent company has implemented the same in Santa Clara, CA and Boston, MA (Chamberlin 2016; Wilkinson 2012). Topdeck has only used VR minimally with no adequate dedication to developing further what it currently offers to its customers. However, with statistics showing that 50% of all internet-bound searches will be voice rather than text, tour companies will most likely rethink their position on VR including Topdeck.
Alignment of business model and value proposition
Tour enthusiasts with high technological affinity. This segment is what may be considered the core of Topdeck’s target customer continuum based on the fact that they need specifically what the company offers and best of all, they are tech-oriented persons. They constitute the perfect customers according to Topdeck’s business strategy and tend to contribute more revenue more than any other segment. They are enthusiastic about new technologies such as Topdeck’s VR strategy.
Tour enthusiasts with low technological affinity. This segment constitutes Topdeck’s second-most significant customer base. They are enthusiastic about what the company offers but are not tech-oriented as such. They tend to use existing technologies more so the standard website with not much interest in innovation such as the introduction of VR.
Low tour enthusiasts with high technological affinity. This category of customers shows little interest in the tours and travel but tend to use technology on a daily basis. They constitute individuals that only occasionally use Topdeck’s services but welcome innovations such as VR that the company may adopt to connect even more with its customers. Topdeck considers this segment a priority in its marketing efforts.
Representative customer journey
#1: Entry: Accessing Topdeck’s services through an ad, website, social media pages, or directly through the app.
#2: Browsing: Brushing through Topdeck’s content to ensure they are dealing with the right service provider.
#3: Catalog analysis and comparison: Skimming through the destination packages to make a selection.
#4: Bookmarking: Setting aside some interesting options.
#5: Purchasing: Inputting financial details to buy the package of choice.
#6: Confirming: Waiting for email confirmation. The customer may call the customer care service to confirm the purchase.
#7: Reevaluation: brushing through offers once again to make sure the initial choice was appropriate.
#8: Exit: Logging off.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Companies in the tourism industry are facing both macro and microenvironmental forces that compel the adoption of technology and Topdeck is no exception. Topdeck has embraced standard technology such as websites, social media, and apps and has recently experimented with voice recognition (VR). However, the company has only tried integrating Google Assistant into its platform leaving customers somewhat dissatisfied with the extent of the VR technology. Since the role played by VR is increasing rapidly in the tourism industry, Topdeck should (1) re-strategize the scope of services it will need to integrate into the AI engine driving the VR, (2) pursue its VR research and design based on customer recommendation, and (3) offer a new AI-powered mobile app rather than bundle its VR into the existing app. Voice recognition could be Topdeck’s new winning strategy.
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