Friday, June 14, 2024

How lodging businesses can prepare for the next generation of AI-powered travel search

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is undoubtedly reshaping the world, and the travel industry is no exception. A lot has been shared about the power of AI in streamlining hotel operations and revenue management, and the travel industry is starting to feel the impact of this technology, especially when it comes to planning and researching trips. 

This introduction of AI is not unwarranted. A recent report showed that 62 percent of Millennials would appreciate insights, tips, or hints from an AI companion while on holiday. From asking ChatGPT for travel recommendations to accessing AI on OTAs, travelers are looking for ways to speed up the planning process.

For the lodging industry, the way guests engage during the Dreaming and Planning page of the traveler journey is changing (again!), and businesses must adapt to this new expectation. 

A quick overview of AI-powered travel search was one of the first online travel agencies (OTAs) to launch an AI-powered chatbot, TripGenie, in February 2023, which includes itinerary planning and in-app booking capabilities. Other OTAs were quick to follow suit with Expedia’s in-app Chatbot and’s AI Trip Planner, which was developed a few months later.

Rafat Ali, Skift’s CEO, says of these new AI planning chatbots, “The results are very generic, at least the travel planning part, and even as I write this, travel planning through ChatGPT is already commoditized, UNLESS, and this is a big IF these large companies like Expedia, Booking, Airbnb, Trip and others have to solve soon, they can train the LLMs on a unique and proprietary corpus of content that neither ChatGPT/Google Bard or any of the other travel players have.”

Unsurprisingly, Google has made major strides in implementing AI tech to help with travel searches. Announced in May and gradually being released for testing in different countries,  the new generative AI experience in search (SGE) aims to enhance the search process by incorporating artificial intelligence and conversational functionality into Google’s search results.

Besides providing a snippet of text describing the property, image link cards from various sources, and the hotel’s Google Business Profile, SGE will also allow travelers to ask AI follow-up questions. 

Only time will tell which platforms travelers will gravitate towards to help with their planning process. What’s important for hoteliers right now is to understand how AI tools get their information (and how to increase the likelihood of being included in their recommendations).

Here are the three ways to prepare for the new travel search powered by AI.

1. Optimize your Google My Business listing

Your property’s official listing and profile on Google is called Google My Business. It is a free tool that enables you to promote your property across Google Search, Google Hotel Search, and Google Maps. You can use Google My Business to connect with customers, post business updates, and gain insights into customer interactions.

Your Google rating can significantly impact visibility and conversions, so make sure the following information is correct under your ‘Property Profile’ tab: Hotel Name, Phone Number, Website, Address, City, and Zip Code. Additionally, ensure complete and current information, including photos and amenities.

Make sure your property’s website exists on various relevant websites, and that your NAP (name, address, and phone number) is consistent across listings. Relevant sites include OTAs, local travel websites, lodging associations, business directories and business listing sites, managed listings, your social profiles, and more.

2. Optimize your website

Your hotel’s website is a key revenue channel for attracting and converting travelers. If you haven’t done so already, you should make your property’s site the most accurate and comprehensive source for information about your business. It has to satisfy the visitors’ intent and fulfill the aspirations of E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). 

These are the four assets for designing a website that will build trust with potential guests.

  • Images: Eye-catching, professional, high-quality images are a must. Travel enthusiasts enjoy scrolling through hotel images to get a feel for what they can expect when they stay there. 
  • Short-format videos: Short videos are more than a trend; travelers like this type of content because they are personal and easy to consume. The best part is that they don’t necessarily require significant investment. The key is to be authentic and on-brand.
  • Reviews: Travelers trust AI recommendations but want reviews to support the suggestion. Adding past guest reviews to your hotel website will help potential guests trust your hotel and feel more confident staying with you.
  • Responsive design: It’s no news that mobile travel bookings are increasingly being made. Offering a bad mobile user experience to visitors on your website can significantly jeopardize your results. 

3. Invest in SEO

You want AI to find the information you provide about your property, not on third-party sites. To be respected by AI means that your hotel website must be seen as trustworthy and relevant. And here is where investing in SEO pays off.

You can improve your hotel SEO without having to spend a ton. Here are the basic best practices to start climbing your way up in rankings:

  • Create high-quality and original content for your target audience: You should begin by analyzing your typical guests, their needs and wants, and how to assist them best. Understanding your guests’ preferences, what inspires them with your property or destination, and what drives them to book will help you write unique content. Use your expertise and insights. Content written by people, for people, will be very important for search engines. 
  • Conduct your keyword research: Analyzing the keystrokes of your website’s visitors can be a powerful tool to optimize your website’s pages. By doing this, you can ensure that your pages are displayed when users search online for those keywords. It is essential to include your targeted keywords and their variations in the page’s meta title, meta description, and text headings (H1, H2, or H3). However, you should be careful not to overuse your keywords, which can negatively impact your website’s rankings.
  • Get the technical basics right: from building a sitemap that lists all the pages of your website and ensuring there are no broken links or redirects to optimizing speed, internal linking, and meta tags, technical SEO fundamentals will help search engines and AI bots to ¨understand¨ and rank your website faster. 
Cloudbeds is the leading platform redefining the concept of PMS for the hospitality industry, serving tens of thousands of properties in more than 150 countries worldwide. Built from the ground up to be masterfully unified and scalable, the award-winning Cloudbeds Platform brings together built-in and integrated solutions that modernize hotel operations, distribution, guest experience, and data & analytics. Founded in 2012, Cloudbeds has been named a top PMS, Hotel Management System and Channel Manager (2021-2024) by Hotel Tech Report, World’s Best Hotel PMS Solutions Provider (2022) by World Travel Awards, and recognized in Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 in 2023.

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