Technology is already changing every aspect of travel.
Tourism no longer starts with a trip to a physical travel agent, but through a search engine or social media platform. Research and bookings are now almost exclusively carried out online. We're even starting to move beyond booking through conventional computers and towards the convenience of smartphones and other mobile devices.
And that's before a trip has even started. That's not even encompassing the travel part of travel, or everything that's going on behind the scenes that travel companies are working on to make every part of the experience smoother, safer and more reliable.
Chief among these transformations is the way that technology has changed the way companies interact with their customers - something that isn't exclusive to travel of course.
In part that's because travel companies are working hard to meet their customers' evolving expectations. But it's also the case that different technologies are helping to take operational efficiencies to the next level (which is conveniently where our own software solution comes in).
'Customer interactions' is a pretty broad term. We can take it to mean any point in the travel experience that companies and their products or service come into contact with travellers.
Here are a few ways that 2018's technology trends are going to shape those interactions.
According to a report from GlobalData - ‘Technology Trends in Travel & Tourism’ - there are six foundational trends that look set to keep travellers engaged, informed, enthused and loyal over the next 12 months.
The headline statement is that travel remains an industry reliant on authenticity, from trips themselves to the human interactions that shape them.
Elena Mogoş, an Associate Analyst for Digital Travel & Tourism at GlobalData, said, “Travel still revolves around meaningful human interactions. However, to be successful, companies need to create a balance between the technological innovations and the human element. Improving the customer experience must always be on the back of travel and tourism companies’ minds when investing in technology.”
So let's delve into these trends and talk about why they are so important.
First up are the closely associated technologies of Virtual and Augmented reality. Both of these are a good example of technology being adapted to fit a problem, rather than being developed specifically to fix one.
There's no doubt that the ability to overlay images onto our view of the world is an exciting one. The same goes for being able to step into another world entirely using VR. But figuring out useful ways to apply these to travel industry problems has been a challenge for travel companies.
but we're getting there. In the past few years AR and VR adoption in travel has slowly been on the rise. As the technologies develop, there's no reason why that trend won't continue.
Currently, AR and VR are mainly used for marketing purposes. Because travel choices are driven by our perceptions and are always visually orientated, immersive VR and AR content marketing is the most obvious application. That's including showing off hotel rooms in advance, taking a virtual walk through a ski resort before booking or even exploring whole national parks from your own home.
These are niche applications in VR might help boost ticket sales and booking numbers, but there's no reason to think that these technologies will revolutionise the travel experience in the same way that, say, wearables could and will.
The one argument would be that eventually, VR will become so realistic that travel is rendered obsolete. But that's an awfully long way off, both in terms of the technology and in terms of the authenticity travellers are always striving to achieve.
Augmented reality, when combined with wearables, could have many more practical applications for travellers. To an extent, Google's translation of text is already an example of that. It's easy to imagine smartphones becoming a platform for more of these kinds of uses. Live translation is one, but what about augmented directions, opening times and closing times overlaid onto your view of the world as you walk past a restaurant, or tourist information that pops up on your smart glasses as you wander through a historical site?
Artificial Intelligence is probably the biggest buzz word in the world of tech. It's thrown around all the time by companies wanting to appear on the cutting edge, even if most people struggle to define what it really means.
But, t give credit where it is due, AI is behind many evolving technologies and innovations in the travel and tourism sector.
We can subdivide AI into a few categories to get a better idea of how it's being applied in travel. The first is machine learning, which can be applied to all sorts of things to automate tedious processes and speed up bookings, check-ins, customer service and more.
AI promises to speed up processing times, make fewer mistakes than humans and decrease costs for travel companies. Good examples of that might be automatic recommendations based on where you're flight is heading or what hotel you are staying in, dynamic pricing systems that react to the market or sentiment analysis on social media.
Aside from those kinds of intelligent, automated systems, two other aspects of AI being applied in travel are robotics and virtual assistants.
Robot concierge and check-in services are a little creepy, but they definitely represent a potential future. Given that hotel chains are always looking to cut costs and provide a more efficient service, robotic room service might not be so far away.
The real potential though, lies in virtual assistants. Home assistants from Google, Amazon and Microsoft are growing in popularity. Taking them with us on our travels is the next logical step, one that's made easy by their easy integration with smartphones.
These virtual assistants could also end up being the link between us and many of the other technological trends listed here. Perhaps they could one day make booking decisions, search for the cheapest flights, control our wearables, optimise our journeys and more.
The burgeoning Internet of Things is a phrase used to describe a world connected devices, where sensors, computers and systems are increasingly integrated, operating with minimal supervision and generally making things better and efficient place.
IoT technology encapsulates many of the technologies on this list, from robotics to smart assistants to VR.
But at its foundation IoT is about connecting devices to networks in a way that previously hasn't been possible. One great example is Lufthansa's smart baggage tracking solution. With a few connected tags, passengers can track their baggage via a link found on their mobile boarding pass in the Lufthansa app.
All of the stress and confusion that comes with lost luggage, gone.
We've written before on the emerging influence of voice search and voice-enabled assistants in the world of travel. As well as being a novel way to get help on the go, voice tech will also soon shape our lives outside of travel.
Intrinsically linked to the rise of virtual assistants, voice tech could shape the way we interact with the Internet of Things in the future. Our voices will always be a more convenient and effective way to communicate with machines, devices and, of course, travel agencies. It's just a case of making those receptacles smart enough to understand and engage with the quirks of natural language.
With that in mind, it's no surprise that more and more hotels have started experimenting with voice-activated devices. Among them are W Austin of Marriott International, Kimpton Alexis Hotel, and Westin Buffalo.
It's certainly not the most advanced technology on our list, but Wi-Fi connectivity is fast becoming a must for travellers - even those in search of remote adventure still want to be connected to home and social media.
Wi-Fi is also the foundation that allows travellers to connect to other useful technologies, whether that's voice searching Google maps for a nearby site, getting directions or translating a menu.
Until 5G comes along and takes the travel experience to a whole new connected dimension, Wi-Fi is the way forward.
Wearable technology is yet another way that travel companies can streamline and improve the experience of their customers.
On the one hand, RFID tags allow companies from Disney to cruise liners to personalise customers' experience. For example, connected bands can be used on theme park infrastructure, hotel rooms and as payment devices. That kind of deployment can lead to lower waiting times, while tracking guests’ locations and activities to enable smarter decision making.
We've also seen the evolution of smartwatches from the likes of Apple and Fitbit - as well as being fitness and GPS trackers, many of these devices can run applications to help travellers on the go.
And finally, there are smart headphones, which could completely turn the travel experience on its head. When merged with voice assistants, smart headphones offer real-time translation, like that of Google's Pixel Buds.
Some of these wearables have the potential to revolutionise the way we travel, while also posing a threat to the authenticity of that experience. Tools that can translate a foreign language in real time are groundbreaking - but how far will we allow technology to creep into those magical moments that make travel so memorable?
It's clear that 2018 has plenty of promise for travel technology. From artificial intelligence to the rise of voice search and travel wearables, the industry is ready to embrace all of the latest gadgets and trends to keep customers happy, loyal and streamline services.