Google Steps Up Presence in Online Travel Space

We’ve written several times on the dominance of major industry players when it comes to travel searches and bookings. We’ve also highlighted the potential for search engines such as Google to become increasingly influential throughout that process. Last week Google launched updates that look like they will set those things in motion.

Google is one of those companies that’s so dominant it feels strange to label its current business model as disruptive. But when it comes to travel, that description is apt. The search giant has slowly but surely been growing into the industry. It’s clear that Google wants to be much more than a platform that enables you to find places to explore and book travel options. It wants to be a proper part of that process, an online travel agent in your pocket.

Part of that step into the travel agency business is a shift in business model. Google makes the vast majority of its revenue through ad sales. Companies pay to get listed on Google with regards to relevant search, and Google charges a small fee each time they get found. There are plenty of businesses out there who bypass organic SEO and are happy to pay for easy traffic.

In terms of the travel industry, Google already makes plenty of money from travel-related companies, whether that’s ride-sharing platforms, hotels or online travel agencies. All are fighting for traffic and desperate to be at the top of search results. That’s not going to change anytime soon.

However, slowly but surely, Google has been becoming a travel agency of sorts. Ad fees pale in comparison to referral fees. Ever used a platform like Skyscanner, Expedia or Kayak? These companies aggregate search results for your travel query and point you in the direction of the cheapest or best flight/hotel/trip. Once they’ve sent you on your way and you complete a purchase with the operator in question, they take a cut. The relationship differs from platform to platform, but that’s roughly how it works.

So what does this mean for Google’s travel services?

Google’s shift towards acting as a referral engine means that instead of just collecting revenue from, for example, a hotel ad that appears in your search results, it will now focus on getting people to book through its travel tools.

Google Flights is already making headway with this strategy. According to Quartz, “Google is at the heels of the industry leader Kayak for airline referral volume”.

In a blog post last week, Eric Zimmerman, Google’s director of Travel Product Management, went into more detail on the updates to the search engine’s travel tools. In particular, they have been revamped to account for the fact that more and more people are using mobile devices to research and book.

As he wrote, “Planning a trip involves lots of searching for flights, hotels, things to do, itineraries and more. The process is often cumbersome because we have to use multiple tools to gather everything we need—especially on a mobile phone.

We’re evolving the way our hotel search works on smartphones to help users explore options and make decisions on their smallest screens. The new hotel search experience includes better price filtering, easier-to-find amenity information and the ability to book right from Google.”

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Google’s New Travel Features

Google is trialling a few new travel features to make mobile search easier than ever. Users searching for a flight in Google Flights will soon be able to click right in to “Hotels” at the top of the page. You can then click over to check hotel availability and prices in your destination city for the dates you’ve already selected.

It’s Google’s next step towards becoming a one stop travel shop.

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The post continues…

“And it works the same way if you start by searching for a hotel. You can easily click to the “Flights” tab to check prices and fare options, and easily book your flight when you’re ready.

The same options appear if you want to learn about a specific place, or when searching for things to do there. Let’s say you’re checking out a trip to Sydney. You can now easily click to browse available hotels or flights while you’re exploring the destination.”

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“Clicking on “More Destinations” in the top left will drop you into a new experience that lets you explore other destinations, weekend getaways and trips you might be interested in. We’ve also included a feature called Your Trips that helps you see, at a glance, all your upcoming and past travel reservations from Gmail. These results are private, and only you can see this information. You can email your trip reservations to friends or family right from Your Trips, and also make edits and access them directly offline with the Google Trips app (AndroidiOS) when you’re traveling.”

The benefit, according to Google, is an easier research and booking process that connects you to travel companies who help you finalise your plans.

Jason Soss, co-founder of Last Minute Travel, said about the changes, “We’re always looking for ways to help travelers find the best hotel room. With Google’s new navigation, more people can use Last Minute Travel to book their adventures.”

Final Thoughts: Nothing can beat localised, community-driven platforms

Google has an obvious advantage when it comes to the online travel market. This is a company that already has millions of people around the world using its online tools and services, from Gmail to Docs to Google Drive.

Integrating those services into our travel search and bookings, while further developing a set of travel tools – as has been done with the Google Trips app – represents a challenge to established operators in the space.

The switch to the referral market may be subtle and gradual, but there’s no doubt that this is an ambitious play by Google. The ultimate aim is clearly to be the place you go to for everything: research, planning and booking. Flights, accommodation, your itinerary. Everything, all through Google, all in one place.

But one thing any behemoth will struggle to do is appeal to travellers at a personal level. Any huge platform will experience drawbacks that come with targeting the mass market. These include a lack of localisation, and the challenge of providing bespoke trips and decent customer service.

We firmly believe that travellers are pushing away from the convenience of one-stop shops and seeking more authentic opportunities.

That’s why Travelshift software has been designed from the bottom up to be a community-driven platform with content from users, travellers, locals and operators. The result is a travel platform that’s scalable, fast-growing and relentlessly perpetuating success.

If you’d like to find out more, get in touch with us today.

Revolut Offers Pay-per-day Geolocation-enabled Travel Insurance

Urgh. Travel insurance. Possibly the most mundane but necessary part of planning any trip. But plenty of travellers still don’t even bother. Is that because they truly don’t see it as important? More likely is that they are frustrated with how complicated the process is and weary of completing any purchase that takes more than 30 minutes.

So what’s the solution? Clearly, travel insurance needs to get with the times and become smarter. But disruption rarely comes from within the industry. In this case it looks like an external company, Revolut, is set to revolutionise the way we think about travel insurance.

We’ve come across Revolut in the past. The disruptive FinTech company is already changing the travel experience with seamless currency conversions and fee-free money exchanges. You can read more about that here.

Location-based travel insurance from Revolut

Earlier this month the Revolut team introduced something completely different to the market: pay-per-day travel insurance enabled by users’ smartphone location services. In simpler terms, travel insurance plans you can buy that will only kick in when your phone registers you as abroad.

The idea is that the insurance plan is simple to use and inexpensive. With the tap of a button, the service will be set to kick in whenever you are abroad. Coverage includes medical and dental, and there are additional options to add flexibility for adventurous travellers seeking cover for winter sports or their companions.

The plan, just like the rest of Revolut’s services can be turned on and off from the traveller’s phone through the Revolut application. When in use, it will rely on the phone’s location services to calculate the cost of insurance. The price will start from less than £1 per day.

But the cost per day will vary depending on location. Some places are more dangerous than others, after all. But Revolut has said that Europe’s base rate will start at £0.99, stepping up to £1.50 for North America and £1.25 for the rest of the world. More good news for Revlut customers: There will be a cap on the costs for the year, along with the flexibility to choose to pay a fixed sum for a standard annual travel policy.

Revolut partners with Thomas Cook Money for Pay-per-day insurance

All of Revolut’s new insurance policies will be underwritten in partnership with Thomas Cook Money. The London-based Fintech startup has said that their average customer spends 13 days every year on vacation. To insure this under Revolut’s plan would cost roughly £11.76 a year – a significant reduction compared to plenty of established insurance providers.

Nikolay Storonsky, CEO and Founder of Revolut, has said that the new insurance feature is a world first.

…”Pay-per-Day travel insurance which leverages the power of your phone to save you money. We wanted to create a type of insurance that uses technology to help our customers and only cover you on the days you actually needed to be covered – all for the best price. Pay-per-Day travel insurance is a global first, and is another step in our journey to build a platform to offer a better kind of banking.”

Anth Mooney, CEO of Thomas Cook Money, the company backing the insurance scheme, stated that partnering with Fintech innovators like Revolut is a key part of the company’s strategy.

“We want to help more people have better holidays by making sure everything to do with their holiday money is looked after at every step,” he said. “And improving the experience of buying travel insurance is an important part of that. You need strong alliances to start a revolution, and Revolut are making great strides in disrupting the traditional finance industry – we’re proud to be a partner and friend to Revolut, who share our simple vision of making things much better for customers.”

Despite still being a company in its infancy, Revolut has continued to roll out a number of features to benefit travellers in recent months. Among those services is a cash card that can be topped up and used abroad, currency exchange at inter-bank rates, official UK bank accounts and, most recently, the ability to buy and trade cryptocurrencies through the Revolut platform.

 

 

Travel and Technology Come Together Again

If there’s one thing we understand, it’s the potential that technology has to change the way we think about travel. And that counts for every part of the journey. Research, booking, arranging insurance, exchanging foreign currencies – all the things you do before you even set foot abroad can be transformed for the better. And that’s before we get to the actual travelling part.

marketplace software

As a startup enabler and supplier of travel marketplace software, our focus is mainly on everything in the lead up to the booking. The priority is to make that process as informative, seamless and rewarding as possible – for operators and their customers. If it goes well, everybody wins. If it goes really well, everybody wins in the long term.

That’s because what we’ve found with our first marketplace in Iceland, is that focusing on those initial stages of the travel journey can improve the whole experience for travellers. Here’s how.

Before any decision is made on a booking, travellers will conduct research, look for inspiration and read around about a place, a particular operator or different types of excursion. Travelshift software acts as a one-stop-shop for all of that, not just a place to finalise bookings. That’s because our marketplaces are community-driven. They are fueled by passionate locals, travel operators and fellow travellers all sharing their stories, experience and expertise.

From a technical perspective this is an SEO dream. More relevant content from relevant parties is always a winner in the eyes of search engines. From a practical perspective, it means that travellers making bookings through Travelshift platforms are better informed, better connected to operators and much more likely to have a positive experience as a result.

You can see how this all feeds back into fueling the platform even more. It’s a virtuous circle. First, travellers research on the platform and search for inspiration, connecting with locals and finding out more about their potential booking. Then they book and have a more memorable experience because all the information was right at their fingertips during the process. Once they get home, they feedback into the system, perhaps with their own content, review or blog post. The network effect creates an even more valuable source of knowledge every time a traveller goes through the process.

Sound like a platform you could harness? Perhaps you already have a travel niche in mind. Get in touch with us today to get the ball rolling.

The Growing Influence of Voice Tech in the Travel Industry

Every once in a while a technology or format comes along that forces the travel industry to think again. The introduction of the internet and online commerce was one. Then came the dominance of search engines and the importance of SEO, combined with the rise of travellers searching, organising and booking through mobile devices.

Now it looks as though a new medium is slowly beginning to enter the industry: Voice search and voice tech in general. But is it really any different to typing a query into search engines like many of us do on a daily basis? And can voice functions come to our rescue when we need them? Today we’re going to explore the topic and see what influence, if any, the changing way that we search for information could have on the industry of travel.

This article is based on a report from EyeforTravel. Read the full document here. 

First up, let’s clarify what we mean by voice search and voice functions. The rise of smart home technology that’s always listening and the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets have changed our relationship with the internet. Back in the days of dial-up (pre-WiFi), getting online was a task that required time, patience and some level of technical understanding. Now access is everpresent and simple enough for anybody to achieve.

In recent years companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have become aware of and acted upon two different trends in technology. First is the increasing need for a convenient online experience, the fact that we want information at our fingertips whenever we need it. The second trend is the realisation that our voice – no matter how fast we can type – is still our most effective means of communication.

amazon alexa

Amazon’s Echo and the Alexa personal assistant offer a new way for people to search the internet.

As AI has become more sophisticated and computers have evolved the ability to recognise speech patterns, voice commands have taken centre stage. The ability to listen, understand and relay back relevant information is a new peak in home computing. It’s no surprise that the market for such devices is on an upward trajectory.

In 2015, Amazon launched the first ‘Echo’, a voice-responsive speaker for the home that sold almost 2 million units. Once Google entered the market with ‘Home’, sales grew to around 6.5 million in 2016. Products have evolved and new players have entered the fray, leading to industry analyst VoiceLabs to estimate a total of 33 million “voice first” home devices in use in homes globally in 2017.

Voice-first can be taken to mean devices specifically purchased for use with voice commands – not just smartphones and laptops with integrated assistants.

“We think that all search through desktop is dead.” – Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer, AccorHotels Group

So How Common is Voice Search?

Before we get into the specifics of voice search and its relationship with the travel industry, it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider how common this new technology actually is.

Some may see it as a gimmick. Others might use it every day. But how widespread is this adoption? To give you some idea, at the 2016 Google I/O conference, chief executive Sundar Pichai said 20% of queries Google received via mobile phones in the US were spoken, rather than typed. Apparently, Google was using this figure in workshops with British travel firms last year, so it can’t be far off.

Interestingly, in China, the adoption of voice searches is thought to be even higher, with hundreds of millions of users and queries per day.

Some projections – notably from Baidu’s Andrew Ng – state that 50 percent of all searches will involve either voice or images by 2020. Why might we speak instead of type? A joint Baidu, Stanford University and University of Washington study in 2016 found voice recognition to be better at producing text on a mobile device than punching words into its keyboard.

That definition of ‘better’ is mostly down to speed: It was three times quicker to say English words than type them and 2.8 times faster saying Mandarin than typing it.

But it was also down to the number of mistakes made. We often type mistakes by accident and rely on spell check assistants to fill in the gaps as we go. According to the same study, the rate of mistakes when using voice recognition to write English was a fifth lower.

It was nearly two-thirds lower with Mandarin, which is one obvious reason why the Chinese market is leading the way for voice search growth. Baidu, China’s most popular search engine, has invested heavily in speech recognition AI.

So how about some travel industry specific numbers?

According to Bing – the search engine that’s dwarfed by Google but still manages to carry out 9% of searches worldwide, including for Amazon Echo and Microsoft’s digital assistants – voice search for travel is still at an early stage.

In April 2017, Bing Ads claimed that the number of people in the UK using voice search to book hotels increased by a whopping 343% from the previous year. The number of people searching for flights using voice technology grew by 277%.

We don’t know the figures, just those percentages. While the growth seems huge, it may just reflect the fact that these statistics follow a standing start. Sure, more people are starting to use voice search technology. But more is more than 0; percentages don’t mean too much with a tech this new.

Starting from small: The rising use of voice search

It’s expected that digital advertisers will begin to pump more and more money into voice search results in the near future. But apart from offering targeted ads and bugging travellers about their next trip, how could this technology actually help the industry?

google pixel buds, travel and translation

First of all, there’s its practical use. As we all know, typing is not the most efficient means of communication that we have. Especially when we’re on the move or in a foreign country.

Times like that travellers need information, fast. That’s why voice search offers an ideal way to ease some of travel’s timeless annoyances. When you’re dragging your suitcase down the street on the other side of the world and it’s 40ºC, the ability to speak to a virtual assistant, make a booking or quickly get local information is invaluable. Voice search could soon be the ultimate in online convenience.

Sure, we’re not there yet. But we are not far from the technology making a big impact. Just consider Google Pixel Buds, smart headphones capable of translating in real time, among other things.

Problems in the pipeline

There are a few issues with voice search technology. The first is to do with privacy. How comfortable are we in having devices constantly listening in our homes and with us on our travels? Second, and as we discussed in our feature on Google’s Pixel Buds, there is also a fine line between convenience and authenticity.

One thing we know for sure is that today’s traveller is generally searching for an authentic experience. How do automated translation and an increased use of technology fit into that equation?

Third, and perhaps of most interest to smaller travel service providers: What about the obvious monopoly that a small number of players continue to have in the world of online search? How does this relate to voice search and voice results?

The biggest names in the space are Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple. According to EyeForTravel’s Tim Gunstone, the dominance of the big four in the voice search space could mean there’s trouble in store for travel firms.

“Google was the most amazing way to sell hotel rooms out there, they [travel companies] piled in and Google ratcheted up the price so it is no longer affordable,” he said. “The industry has developed strategies to cope with effectively a media monopoly currently, but this is going to happen with Amazon voice, and Google voice and all the other voices coming along. The monopoly aspect is the most worrying thing.”

The problem will arise for travel businesses when the big players in voice search start selling the chance to be listed in results. Fabrice Otaño, chief data officer in AccorHotels group, said “What we don’t know is how much we have to pay to be referenced by Google Home. If Booking.com invents a new voice assistant and will pay three billion to be referenced, it’s the same battle as today but on a different channel.”

Many voice assistants partner with third parties to offer skills. These voice-powered apps could be a totally new battleground for travel companies in a few short years.

Voice search is a long way from the finished article

With good reason, there’s plenty of excitement about the potential of voice search technology. But it’s a long way from being an effective way to interact with the internet as effectively as we’d like. That’s mostly down to the still-limited ability of AI to understand natural language.

That also explains why the voice search engine experience will remain a lousy one for the near future. Sure, AI from Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft can’t yet give us the most coherent results based on a voice query. But that’s also because our speech isn’t always as concise as it needs to be. After all, do you ever read your google searches out loud? We tend to speak to search engines in a different way than we would say something out loud.

In time, search engines will get smarter about the results they feedback orally vs those that appear on-screen. Travel suppliers may also have to start developing search results that are optimized for listening. Nobody is really doing that yet, despite the obvious need for that technology looming on the horizon.

Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, says his company is starting to look at voice search. “You can’t go too broad,” he said, because – this is the feedback I’ve got more often than not – customers start asking it anything and everything and you just get a horrible user experience. And then your assistant on Alexa’s store gets bad ratings and quickly ruins your brand reputation.”

“The instructions that come with how we are going to communicate in AI with a virtual assistant have to be very specific and what you want them to achieve has to be quickly obtainable.”

For that reason, voice applications will likely start small. Asking for the total of your reward points is a great example. Or getting confirmation of a booking you have made.

Bill Keen, VP of mobile solutions & digital guest experience at the InterContinental Hotels Group, says that IHG actually trained the company’s Alexa virtual concierge by listening to calls that came into the customer call centre.

“Through voice listening tools they actually powered our initial Alexa implementation in the hotel rooms, where we actually had a repository of things that guests normally ask when they call the call centre desk and we could actually build it into [the device]. Voice is sexy again. I do believe that’s the next interface for us.”

We help you become relevant and stay that way, no matter the medium

travelshift software for maketplaces

Here at Travelshift we empower our partners by helping them build travel marketplaces that get results. We’re well aware that search engine results are dominated by the major OTAs. That’s why our platform provides all the tools you need to build a community of small service providers, content influencers and travellers. Together we can shake up your chosen niche.

Find out more by reading through our case study, or contact us today for more information.

This article is based on a report from EyeforTravel. Read the full document here

Travel Industry Takeaways from CES 2018

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show set out to do what it does every January: Publicise and predict how the latest technologies will weave themselves into every aspect of our lives. It’s no surprise then that several companies have set their sights on travellers. The industry is one that’s always been open to innovation, and it looks like 2018 is going to be a big year for that.

Here are the travel-related highlights from CES 2018. The below quotes are from Steve Koenig, senior director of research for the Consumer Technology Association, in conversation with Skift

There were several themes on display. Let’s take a look at the first, from Intel.

Intel’s Volocopter takes CES 2018 by storm

It wouldn’t be CES without the introduction of products that look more suited to Star Wars than a Las Vegas convention centre. A perfect example of that was the literal take-off one of Intel’s many drone-related projects.

Ever since the car was invented, it seems as though we’ve been waiting for one to take to the skies and fly us to our destination. Expecting a conventional car to be capable of driving and flight remains far-fetched. But our method of short-distance travelling could be turned upside by the introduction of passenger drones.

At CES on Monday, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showed off the Volocopter, one such passenger drone that’s been developed by a Germany aviation startup of the same name. Krzanich admitted that it is “essentially a flying car,” but how close are we to seeing these in our skies?

As far as keynote speeches go, Krzanich has plenty of Intel-toys to play with. In the Park Theater at the Monte Carlo Hotel the Volocopter took off without a pilot while it was tethered down.

“Imagine pulling out your phone, opening up a transportation app and summoning your own personalized ride by air taxi,” Krzanich said. “That sci-fi vision of the future is actually much closer than you might think.”

Indeed, Volocopter has already completed successful trials in Dubai. Compay bosses think it could be just two or three years before commercial operations are underway. Thought Uber was disruptive? This could fundamentally change the way we see (and experience) travel.

The intersection of travel and big data at CES 2018

In the past few years, startups Airbnb and Uber have become huge household names, successfully riding the twin trends of mobile connectivity and peer to peer sharing. With the level of global connectivity set to expand throughout 2018, there’s no reason why platforms such as this won’t see continued success.

After all, the step from 4G to 5G is becoming a reality for many. And technologies such as AI and AR are using data in new ways to reach travellers.

“We are progressively building towards the data era of consumer technology,” said Steve Koenig, senior director of research for the Consumer Technology Association. “5G, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and smart cities are all heralds of that coming data age. Increasingly every action, every decision, every choice, every interaction has more and more data behind it.”

Let’s start with a closer look at 5G. Why is it such a big deal?

Travellers and 5G Mobile Connectivity

It will come as no surprise that the majority of people in established markets in North America, Europe and Asia have a 4G data connection through their smartphone. This connectivity alone has helped to fuel plenty of travel industry startups with everyday consumers in mind.

For the sake of perspective, 5G networks are fast enough to download a two-hour movie in about three seconds. This year these mobile networks will start to roll out. But it might be a little longer before phones enabled to use these networks hit the market for your average traveller.

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“Early 5G networks will sit alongside existing 4G mobile networks to render a feeling of almost unlimited bandwidth for consumers on their mobile devices,” said Koenig. “Maybe that will happen later this year, maybe in 2019, building up to 2020 when we will have the first standalone 5G networks.

“Think about all the disruption we’ve witnessed and experienced in a 4G LTE world, like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb. Imagine what’s going to be possible in a 5G world. It’s amazing to ruminate on this and ponder the possibilities and new business opportunities that are going to be enabled.”

Koenig is right. The roll-out of 5G will lift the constraints usually placed on travellers when it comes to data. Little things, from sending pictures and Skyping home, to big things, like adding augmented reality to the travel experience, will quickly become the norm.

From a travel industry perspective, companies will be empowered like never before. Customer service could go to the next level, for example. There will be even fewer poorly connected places. In theory, travel service providers could track the locations of their customers, offer live help through video and messaging, and increase the potential to sell add-ons throughout a traveller’s journey.

But arguably the biggest change of all will be the home comforts that become instantly available on the road. More bandwidth means more connectivity, more media, more digital tools and more of the things we love, whenever we want access to them.

The emergence of augmented reality

We’ve long predicted that VR could really make an impact on the travel industry. So far, there have been relatively few winning applications. Augmented Reality, however, might be an easier way for travel companies to reach a mainstream audience.

“Virtual reality really got its start in the consumer market, if you think of that big hype cycle with Oculus Rift,” said Koenig. “That has really turned to new use cases in the commercial and industrial sectors. Get ready for augmented reality to explode onto the consumer scene; this is going to completely redefine and re-engineer the consumer experience.”

A bold claim, but we’re excited to see if it comes to fruition.

With more maturity and better infrastructure for mobile connectivity worldwide, the next few years could be the point at which augmented reality gives travel companies the ability to build worthwhile applications for travellers. These could direct travellers to destinations, offer sophisticated translation tools and give advice based on their scenario. It could be the point at which travel companies start to offer a truly personalised service.

With all this talk of AR, it’s easy to forget the potential of VR. In time, that technology will continue to mature. If only for applications such as making meetings and events immersive for people who can’t actually make it. And for marketing potential trips, of course.

“Maybe some of you will be attending this meeting in VR in coming years,” said Koenig.

Making purchases with your voice

Last week we spoke about the potential use of biometrics in the world of travel. We mainly mentioned it in the context of boarding gates and airport travel.

But your voice is just as good an indicator of identity, and it’s clear that in time it will become a more effective means of communicating with technology than clicking, typing and tapping. Online travel agencies such as Expedia are exploring voice search capability as the next step in travel booking.

“Expect voice to join stores, online, and mobile as that fourth sales channel,” said Koenig. “Already this is starting to happen. Brands are starting to align behind the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant.”

How the IoT could impact the travel experience

Emerging technology can impact the travel experience from afar. It’s not all about digital city guides and real-time translation. Arguably the biggest effect technology has had is to keep us connected with home despite all of the miles in between.

In the coming years, it’s clear that the growing Internet of Things will change the way we travel. One great example is the rise of the smart home. Sure, travel is all about leaving home, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose your connection with it.

Refrigerators, door locks, kettles, televisions… all are already becoming connected to one extent or another. And that’s not to mention the rise in smart home camera systems, helping homeowners check in to see how things are going over the internet. Alerts and notifications can be automated, meaning travellers will never truly be disconnected from home.

Whether that’s a good thing depends on the individual. You could be enjoying the sun on the beach half the world away. Real-time video from your house, the ability to play fetch with your dog with the help of a domestic robot, a live feed of the inside of your refrigerator… some travellers might see these as a relief. For others, it might only serve the heighten the anxiety of homesickness.

And what about the new devices that might add something to our travel experience? According to Skift, research suggests that there’s been significant growth in one travel accessory in particular: smart speaker. Sales to travellers are expected to grow 60 percent this year alone.

What used to be simple plug-in-and-play devices are now capable of so much more. Speakers are now developing to incorporate AI, voice control and more. They are fast becoming a traveller’s gateway to the wider connected world.

“Brands are starting to bring forward their own digital assistants; expect them to start to occupy more vessels,” said Koenig. “Smart speaker [sales will] peak in 2019. Maybe the last iteration of this kind of growth pattern was tablets, and before that was DVD players… [consumers] expect a congruent experience across use cases.”

We know all about the power of travel technology

travelshift software for maketplaces

Travel and technology go hand in hand. We know that better than most. Our technology empowers travel startups to build ambitious marketplaces and gain a foothold in whatever travel niche they think has the most potential. That could be geographically specific, such as our huge success in Iceland, or it could be target market specific, aimed at a sector such as wellness, adventure or food.

The Travelshift platform is customizable, scalable and packed with unique features to give our partners a fighting chance from day one. It does this by putting in place foundations that will boost your marketplace for the long term, including a focus on community-driven content, built-in SEO solutions and easy inventory management.

Get in touch with our team today for more information.

 

Biometrics Enter the Travel Industry

Some things in the travel industry never change. Startups will keep on searching for new niches to target. The world will become increasingly small as travellers keep searching for the next horizon. The simple pleasures of sun, sea and sand will remain comfortably familiar to us all. Oh, and your luggage will occasionally end up on the other side of the world by some unknown misfortune. These are some of travel’s constants, the things we can rely on to remain the same no matter what.

Except the thing is: We take some of those constants for granted. Lost luggage could be a thing of the past, if blockchain technology can be harnessed in the right way, for example.

A simpler target for now though is the humble boarding pass. In recent years it has moved from paper to screen, as more travellers have downloaded passes to a smart device rather than printing out a hard copy. Now the boarding pass could be set for another revamp, following the start of British Airways trials at Los Angeles Airpot.

Biometrics in the Travel Industry

You’ve heard the term ‘biometrics’ before. Now it’s moving from the movies into the real world. Information more commonly found in crime dramas and futuristic Hollywood thrillers is being applied in the travel industry.

Fingerprints and facial recognition are already being used to unlock smartphones and open doors, so why not use that information to act as a boarding pass, too?

That’s exactly what British Airways is working on at the moment. BA has become the first airline to trial self-service biometric boarding gates on international flights out of the USA. At Los Angeles Airport, British Airways has begun a trial that could lead to a total transformation of the airport experience. In future, paper and downloaded passes could be unnecessary – all of that queuing and fuss may be replaced with a simple facial scan.

Read more: How to Choose a Travel Marketplace Niche

British Airways and Vision-Box Aim to Smooth the Customer Journey

Created by Vision-Box, a technology company based in Lisbon, the new passenger boarding system from BA allows travellers to gain clearance for boarding by looking into high-resolution facial recognition cameras.

The potential is huge. We all know that the need to prepare and present documents is one of travel’s greatest stresses. The fear of losing or forgetting these slips of paper keep many of us on edge throughout the journey.

Just like the facial identification systems built into mobile phones, the biometric gates use high definition camera technology. These allow customers to pass through by recognising their unique facial features, which are compared against those already recorded through scans taken as part of the immigration process.

So far, the gates have been installed on three stands at Los Angeles Airport. British Airways is the only airline trialling biometric boarding with its customers.

The project extends technology already in use by British Airways on its domestic flights from Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

Carolina Martinoli, British Airways’ director of brand and customer experience, said: “Our customers want the ability to simplify and speed up their journeys through the airport, so we’re investing in the most advanced technology that will enable us to streamline our boarding process and further improve our punctuality.

“We’re using biometric technology that consumers are now familiar with and trust because it delivers a convenient, reliable and secure experience. This step forward to modernise our operation is a first in the industry, and we will continue to work with airports around the world to evolve this technology, and revolutionise the way in which people travel.”

“This industry-first deployment of innovative solutions from the US Customs and Border Protection and Vision-Box, shows the amazing potential of using biometrics to speed up the boarding process while maintaining safety and security,”  said Los Angeles World Airports Chief Innovation and Technology Officer Justin Erbacci. “We have been very impressed with the results thus far, and love to see the passengers’ excitement at being some of the first in the world to use facial recognition to board British Airways flights from LAX to Heathrow.”

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The facial recognition scanners could reduce boarding time.

It’s all about identity

It’s expected that there will be nearly 4 billion air passengers in 2018. This number is set to double over the next twenty years. These are huge numbers for airports and current transport infrastructure to deal with. So those in tourism and aviation need to come up with smarter, faster processes. Essentially, we need to speed up the little things.

Go to any airport in the world and you will see queues. At check-in, at the departure gate, at immigration. All of these queues are necessary because staff are required for safety and security reasons to ensure that passengers are on the right flights. They need to make sure nobody is getting access to an area or flight that they shouldn’t.

But if we break it down further, what’s really happening is the verification of identity. These checks are to make sure that every traveller is who they say they are. Although extremely difficult to forge, it is possible to fake passports and other means of identity verification. Boarding passes are probably more of a challenge given how closely they are generated to the time of travel. But if there’s one thing that is pretty much impossible to fake, it’s your face and all of its minute characteristics.

Read more: Why B2B Travel Technology is Vital to the Industry

How biometric boarding works

Today’s facial recognition tech is getting smarter.  The system deployed by Vision-Box captures a live, high-quality image of each traveller’s unique biometric facial traits. These are compared to images captured previously. In this case, those previous images are taken at immigration. But in the future, it’s possible to imagine a system that has every traveller’s face on file already.

After confirming the identity and eligibility of the passenger on that specific flight, the gateway opens and the traveller can board the aircraft.

Justin Erbacci, chief innovation and technology officer at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the airport oversight and operations department, said, “This industry-first deployment of innovative solutions from the US Customs and Border Protection and Vision-Box, shows the amazing potential of using biometrics to speed up the boarding process while maintaining safety and security. We have been very impressed with the results thus far, and love to see the passengers’ excitement at being some of the first in the world to use facial recognition”.

Miguel Leitmann, Chief Executive Officer and Founder at Vision-Box explained the reasons for success: “Vision-Box made use of state-of-the-art biometric technology, able to deliver high-quality data that drastically enhance matching accuracy, sustained by in-house developed Deep Machine Learning engines for superior facial capture.”

“The results present a solution that addresses current security, efficiency and flow-control challenges in a relevant, revolutionary way. We are very proud to have come up with an industry-changing solution that all stakeholders involved in the process rely on. In the end, it’s about collaboratively raising the security and efficiency standards while eliminating obstacles from the traveller’s way, offering frictionless interactions and the best experience to guests until they’re comfortably seating in the aircraft.

The benefits of biometrics

The byproduct of a move to biometric boarding passes and a more tech-based identity system? More convenience for all parties involved and a smoother experience for travellers.

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For proof, you only have to look as far as passport control at airports such as London’s Gatwick and Heathrow. Both have a form of electronic passport checks at immigration. These come into their own when multiple planes land at the same time and there is a high number of arrivals.

The platform for the capability is already partly in place. There are more than 1 billion electronic passports now in service worldwide, and therefore one billion passport photos accessible in standardised format by face recognition systems.

So it looks as though biometric identity verification will soon become the standard for international travel. Some will have concerns about a centralised database containing images, but plenty of others will be happy to avoid queues and some of the stresses that come with airports.

When technology meets travel

Biometric boarding gates is a great example of technology improving the travel industry where it really counts. But you don’t need a high-tech facial recognition system to improve the customer experience.

Sometimes it’s as simple as providing a platform that gives travellers all the information, tips, expertise and boking opportunities they need, right under one roof.

Here at Travelshift we do exactly that. Our marketplace platform software is ideal for ambitious travel industry hopefuls who want to make their mark in a particular travel niche. Got a market in mind or a country you want to bring to the masses? Get in touch with us today or read more about how Travelshift software can help you compete with the big boys in no time at all.

Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies and the Travel Industry

Over the past few weeks, it’s been impossible to watch or read any financial news without being confronted by Bitcoin. At the time of writing, the world’s most famous cryptocurrency has seen a meteoric rise in value, up 161% ($10,567) in the last month alone. People are starting to take notice.

Whether or not you believe the whole cryptocurrency thing is a bubble or that something you can’t hold in your hand can’t possibly be worth that much, the technology is here to stay.

That technology is, essentially, blockchain. We’ve written recently on the potential that blockchain technology holds for the travel industry. Today we’re going to focus on the concept of a digital currency. How could this make travellers’ lives easier? How could travel companies benefit? And what developments are already underway in this space in the industry?

Could the travel industry’s early adopters of cryptocurrencies benefit in the long run?

If Bitcoin and its fellow digital alternatives are to move from the status of speculative vehicles to real-world game changers, they are going to need genuine use cases. As Bitcoin has grown more popular with investors, a few obvious weaknesses have come to the fore. These include the amount of sheer power needed to run the network and a lack of scalability options. This means that Bitcoin has moved beyond being a medium of everyday transaction, and is now more seen as a store of value: digital gold, if you will.

But blockchain, Bitcoin’s underlying technology, can be deployed in different ways – something proved by the various alternative cryptocurrencies gathering momentum in Bitcoin’s wake.

But let’s start with considering why travellers and travel businesses might choose to take a leap of faith into the unknown world of cryptocurrencies.

Read more: Prepaid Travel Cards Offer Agencies a Lucrative Revenue Stream

Speed, accessibility, savings and security

In a few short years, a technology could come to the fore that will release international travellers from the woes of currency exchanges, carrying large amounts of cash on hand, withdrawal fees and fraud. Decentralised ledgers, digital wallets and frictionless transactions could be the future. These are the founding tenets of cryptocurrency.

How Bitcoin and Alts could benefit travel companies and their customers

We know that Bitcoin is on the rise in terms of value, alongside other currencies such as Litecoin and Ether, the token used on the Ethereum blockchain platform. But importantly, we’re seeing this rise in value correspond with a rise in retailers and brands accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment.

As these digital currencies emerge as a genuine alternative to conventional banking and fiat currencies, their benefits are becoming accessible to ordinary people around the world.

One of those benefits is the ability to transfer money to another individual or company, without needing any kind of middleman. Bitcoin, Ether, Ripple, Litecoin: All can be sent between users without any banks or payment service providers charging a commission for the transaction. Having said that, a small fee is paid for every transaction to miners (or destroyed in the case of Ripple), whose computing power has to solve a complex puzzle in order to confirm new entries on the decentralised ledger.

So cryptocurrencies are not free, but to differing extents, all can move money around at a fraction of the price of conventional companies such as Paypal and Swift. They also tend to be faster, which goes some way to explaining why Ripple (XRP) is seen as Swift’s biggest competitor moving into 2018.

So that’s speed and fees covered.

What about security?

The whole point of cryptocurrencies is that they are founded on cryptography, puzzles that only computers can work out. Every transaction is also recorded on a decentralised ledger. There is no single point of weakness in the network, no vault that can be cracked. The mining community (or more accurately, their computers) confirm and record every transaction on the blockchain. Currency movements are recorded in hash functions with timestamps so that the data cannot be changed or tampered with.

It’s this reason that blockchain technology is offering all kinds of industries ways to enhance security and prevent fraud.

And finally, we come to accessibility. Did you know that a recent report from Mastercard found that over 130 million people in Europe have no access to traditional banking services? Sure, some of us take banks for granted, but that’s not the case for everyone.

On top of that, a lack of trust has developed between the public and the financial sector. Conventional banks are seen as profit-driven, not people-driven, and responsible for global economic problems. In that environment, the emergence of digital currency far from the reach of major institutions is attractive.

What does all of this mean for the travel industry?

Okay, we’re finally getting to the focus of this piece. How will cryptocurrency and all of its benefits impact the travel industry?

Established players in travel and tourism are already embracing the opportunities Bitcoin and alternative cryptos have to offer. Let’s take a look at some recent examples.

Although more blockchain than cryptocurrency, Fritz Joussen, CEO of industry giant TUI Group, recently outlined the firm’s belief that Blockchain technology would become a fundamental part of business in the next decade. He also revealed that the company has launched its own project based on the technology called BedSwap. The system allows TUI to move its hotel inventory to different points of sale depending on the demand.

And then there’s another industry heavyweight, Expedia.com. The OTA introduced the option for customers to make Bitcoin payments for hotel bookings halfway through 2014. It’s a matter of time before flights and other major purchases are also available to cryptocurrency holders.

Across the Pacific, Japan’s HIS Co Ltd recently announced compatibility with Bitcoin for payments. The company started by launching the payment option at 38 of its stores in Tokyo. The aim is to increase the number of participating outlets further. As part of the move, the company offered special bitcoin tour packages.

That’s a few examples of industry giants taking cryptos seriously. Smaller agencies are doing so, too. Take Malta’s Bitcoin Adventures. Originally set up to raise the profile of Bitcoin in Malta, the slightly strange company’s first customer was a Japanese tourist who arranged a three-night stay paying with cryptocurrency.

Thailand has had an up and down relationship with Bitcoin, banning it in 2013 only to reverse the decision a year later.  Plenty of the country’s tourist hubs have embraced the currency, including the Pattaya Beer Garden, which sees major benefits of accepting Bitcoin, including a lower risk of credit card fraud.

Another travel startup, UK-based TamTam Travels, has an interesting business model based on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. The company’s membership portal offers discounts on benefits and services around the world.

As part of a pre-launch last year, the blockchain travel startup offered discounted packages on memberships, with additional rewards of its ‘native’ blockchain currency – called the JIO Token – for purchasing memberships.

TamTam Travels accepted a number of cryptocurrencies for its launch including Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ether and Litecoin.

Our final example comes from TripAlly, a travel/tech startup using cryptocurrency to end the financial pain of international roaming. Instead of paying a fortune for local data, TripAlly aims to provide mobile internet without borders. How? The startup will provide their service as a mobile application that will allow you to access foreign mobile networks for data. Hooray.

But what has that got to do with cryptocurrencies? Well To raise funds to get the company off the ground, TripAlly held an ICO, an Initial Coin Offering; a crowdfunder with the cryptocurrency community. In return for donations, backers have received Ally tokens, which can be spent on the roaming service provided by the company.

Mainstream adoption in the travel industry is inevitable

In the past few weeks, cryptocurrency trading application CoinBase has been one of the most popular apps across Android and Apple download charts. This is not just because people are seeing cryptos as speculative vehicles. It’s also because the technology promises a new way of doing things.

With that in mind, it seems inevitable that cryptocurrencies will become a more common part of our day to day lives. Some of these digital currencies have been around for a while, too. Bitcoin came to light in 2009, yet it still comes as news to many. It’s been a slow journey, but Bitcoin and other Alts are gathering momentum.

The world of travel appears to be open to working with the concept of digital money. The blockchain technology at its foundation is already revolutionising all kinds of processes.

Mass adoption is on the horizon. So perhaps the travel industry’s early movers will reap the rewards when cryptocurrencies become the norm.