Sure, Alexa looks up things and answers questions for you. But as of Tuesday, you can ask the virtual personal assistant inside Amazon’s Echo to make hotel reservations for you too.
It’s a Kayak-driven application that could rock the travel-booking world as more consumers shift to using their voice instead of their fingers when using cellphones and tablets.
Kayak developed the interface that right now applies only to hotel bookings through its website.
To use voice-command reservations, you first have to tell Alexa, which comes with Amazon’s Echo voice-enabled speaker, who you are and link up your Kayak account. That way, all your information — from name and address to preferred credit card — instantly appears.
So you might say: “Alexa, I need you to book a hotel room in Boston.” In turn, it will ask you when you want to travel. Then Alexa will start giving you options, which include the hotel’s name, price of the room and maybe something about the room, like how many beds it has.
“I couldn’t have imagined this years ago,” says Matthias Keller, Kayak’s chief scientist who worked on the interface. “We’re extremely excited about it and extremely committed to it.”
At the same time, Keller admits this is a bit of an experiment too. Right now, because Kayak is a travel booking comparison site, reservations are made through prices on its sister companies Booking.com and Priceline.com.
And, if Alexa gets something wrong, reservations can be canceled without penalty.
Keller says he’s pretty sure Alexa won’t make rookie mistakes like booking you to Namibia when you want to go to Nebraska.
“When we developed it, it went through extensive testing, user studies, Amazon has done a lot of testing [and we had] experience from a previous generation,” he said.
Still, if you hear Alexa going down the wrong road, you can ask it to clarify — and get back on the right course, Keller said.
And what about booking airline tickets? Keller isn’t ruling it out, but says that requires a more complicated transaction.
“All the content on our site, we would love to have on Alexa,” he said. “… This is a controlled experiment. As soon as we have more experience with it, we’ll see how we can extend it.”