Two key travel industry themes from Apple WWDC 2024

June 11th, 2024

by Alex Bainbridge

Yesterday I watched the Apple keynote from WWDC 2024, their annual developer conference. If you haven’t watched it yet, here it is, it is 1 hour 43 minutes long but worth it.

As I was watching (and cooking dinner) a couple of key themes stood out that are relevant to the travel industry AI discussions we are all having:

1) Siri as an AI agent top layer

In my prior article I wrote about how AI agents could become the dominant interaction mechanism for information and bookings.

One question outstanding is who controls the top layer for an AI agent, the layer that is nearest the consumer? The Apple presentation suggests that it is Apple who wants to control that, at least for users of their devices.

The SiriKit Intent system already supports restaurant reservations, ride booking, lodging and flight reservations so they have the makings of an AI agent ecosystem.

2) Where do core features supported by the device end and apps start?

Perhaps we dont need apps (over the longer term), if Siri is an AI agent distribution channel, however as we do currently have an app-centric ecosystem, this is worth considering.

The announced new core features came very close to what existing apps do:

  • Walking directions including offline access – similar to what AllTrails and other walking apps offer
  • Restaurant meetup demonstration – showing that the Apple experience is urban, not just countryside

As a startup I originally was watching the keynote thinking, uh oh, we are streamrollered. And if not steamrollered now, extrapolate the vision forward a few more years and that is a problem for us.

But then it was clear that the travel industry OTAs and e.g. Tripadvisor have a greater problem than we do. They can only build features and services that scale. Now those scale features are within the core device.

In the keynote there were plenty of brands from gaming companies, Hollywood and OpenAI mentioned as content or feature partners. Not a single travel service brand yet many of the new core features are travel service features.

The old joke comes to mind:

Two hikers spot a bear in the woods. One starts running. The other says, “You can’t outrun a bear!” The first replies, “I only need to outrun you.”

Our role now as a startup is to specialise beyond what Apple or Google will reach to (a challenge working this out!), but not specialising so much that we have no market!

The OTA & Tripadvisor role is now to get themselves back into the conversation as right now they are heading to irrelevance. They either have to scale their AI services sufficiently that they force the device platforms to engage with them, or they have to focus on specialisation. Zugzwang.


Image: OpenAI / ChatGPT

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