With help from Alexa, Kayak debuts voice-enabled travel search on Amazon Echo

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Amazon’s popular Echo (Alexa) device integrates with a number of third-party services. As of today, that includes Kayak, where you can now use the voice assistant to search for flight, rental car and hotel information.

To enable the capability, users must add the Kayak “skill” on the Alexa smartphone app. To initiate Kayak, you need to say the somewhat cumbersome, “Alexa, ask Kayak . . .” But once in, Kayak users can track flights and ask a wide range of questions, which sometimes include extended “conversational” interactions. Currently, there’s no booking capability, but that will likely come in the future.

Most of the content is enabled through the Kayak “Explore” and “Flight Tracker” tools. Example questions users can ask include:

  • “How much will it cost to fly to New York in June?”
  • “Search for hotels in Michigan”
  • “Where can I fly for $500?”

I conducted some hotel and rental car queries. In the latter context, Alexa and Kayak took me through a series of questions:

  • Where was I picking up the car and when?
  • Would I drop it off at the same location?
  • When did I want to drop it off?

There were a number of back-and-forth questions and answers, and it felt like I was having a conversation with the device. In this respect, Alexa has moved well beyond Siri and Google Now, which aspire to the same functionality.

As indicated, it was able only to provide pricing information. It couldn’t book a reservation for me. Obviously, the next step is to enable voice-driven reservations and booking. This is the explicit aspiration of virtual assistant Viv, which was publicly unveiled this week.

Vertical search/content integration with virtual assistants is one way that search is clearly evolving, and the Kayak-Alexa example points toward a future where the SERP is, in some cases, entirely gone or perhaps secondary (think about the SEO implications). Having said this, travel booking through voice has real limitations, such not being able to see or choose from a number of alternative options.

Yet this could be accomplished by using the Alexa app to show results after the queries were input via voice and Alexa. Regardless, virtual assistants, voice search and AI figure prominently in a more fragmented and complex search future.

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