Dutch Travel Agency srprs.me Is For Tourists That Relish The Unknown

There are a few constants in the travel industry that haven’t budged despite the influx of technology and a new generation of travellers approaching things in a different way. One of those is the pain of planning, the agony of trying to make the best of a destination that you have little or no knowledge of.

The second is a need for adventure, for genuine, memorable thrills and excitement. Travel remains a form of escape and we want it to feel that way. But here’s the ever-present issue: How do you stay spontaneous and have an awesome itinerary? How do you keep that adventurous spirit burning when you always know what’s coming next?

The third problem faced by many travellers is simply choosing a destination. With European city breaks, for example, there is so much choice, not a huge difference in price but so much variation. An incredible city break is always on the doorstep, but taking the leap and choosing one is difficult.

The fourth and final problem is packing that sense of adventure into relatively short trips. Most European travellers make the most of long weekends and look to spend a few days in a destination. That doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity.

These are all problems Dutch travel agency srprs.me (short for Surprise Me) has been trying to solve. The Amsterdam-based agency does travel differently. Instead of offering a range of destinations and accommodation, srprs.me takes spontaneity to the next level. You tell them your dates, your budget and a few basic preferences. They handle the rest.

It sounds simple because it is.

The only thing we can tell you is that there’s an airport nearby. Whether it’s a destination that’s off the beaten track or somewhere you’ve heard of lots of times before, it’s the excitement of not knowing that gives you the thrill.” – srprs.me

Once your booking is complete, the srprs.me team go about arranging your flights and accommodation. Then, a week or so before you’re due to travel, they will send you a weather forecast. Spontaneity is no fun when you’re wearing shorts in the snow, after all. A couple of days before you’re going to leave they will send you a code in the post. That code gives you access to your destination, and the idea is that you open it up once you arrive at the airport.

If it all goes well, you find out where you are flying right before you check in and board the aircraft. It’s all the excitement and adrenaline of a last-minute trip with the peace of mind that comes with having everything booked already.

Guess what. You’re in control of picking your destination. We’re joking. That’s never going to happen. However, we will let you be in charge of one thing. You pick a cardinal point and we determine the exact coordinates. Whether you choose to go to your favourite part of continental Europe or decide to go to a lesser-known region, the city you end up in will always be a surprise.” – srprs.me

Personalisation Still Matters

This concept wouldn’t work without a bit of flexibility, which is interesting.

During the process, you can choose a part of Europe (north, west, east, south) and name a few cities that you want to rule out of contention. That should be enough to make sure you get the kind of trip you’re looking for and don’t head somewhere you’ve already visited seven times.

But it’s intriguing that srprs.me hasn’t gone all out on the mystery travel concept. They’ve left a little bit of room for personalisation. Perhaps this tells us that, while travellers are increasingly in search of adventure, they still want a few home comforts, as well as the guarantee that comes with having accommodation sorted and the ability to pack according to the weather forecast.

Why Mystery Travel is So Appealing

All in all, mystery travel finds the perfect balance between spontaneity and organisation. Sure, there’s probably a market out there for hardcore adventurers who want to be parachuted into a city with nothing booked and no plans. But for the majority of us, a hint of adventure is enough to get the adrenaline flowing.

srprs.me’s unusual formula frees travellers of all of those obligations that occur in the build-up to a trip: You don’t spend ages creating a city bucket list, you don’t find out the best spots to eat. Instead, you make it up as you go, and probably have a more authentic experience as a result.

Final Thoughts

Here at Travelshift we love nothing more than innovative travel companies and concepts. We straddle the space between tourism and technology to build travel marketplaces that make a mark. Just like srprs.me, we think that true travel experiences rely on adventure and authenticity.

That’s why our marketplaces are built with tourists in mind. Our software enables travel startups to band together and build community-driven marketplaces to compete with industry giants. Simply choose a travel niche, bring together authentic suppliers and watch as your community grows into a self-perpetuating, thriving online tourism business.

Contact us today for more information!

UK Government Highlights Risks of Celebrity-Inspired Travel

Social media platforms such as Instagram and Youtube are giving us more insight than ever into the lives of the rich and famous. This phenomenon has ties with the rise of ‘influencers’, closer relationships between brands and celebrities, and aspirational content becoming a thing.

This trend, however shallow it may appear to be at first glance, is having a transformative impact on the travel industry. Young people, according to the British Foreign Office, are going further afield as a result of online influencers. Research suggests that one-third of UK 18 – 24-year-olds (33%) will be influenced by celebrities when preparing for their holiday this Easter, with nearly one in three (30%) saying stars inspire their travel destination.

The role of influencers

There are a few problems that can arise when celebrity influencers are, well, influential. The most obvious is the realism they provide. On platforms such as Instagram, we already see the lives of others through a prism of sunshine and happiness. When it comes to celebrity influencers, that concept often moves to the next level.

Read more: The Power of Market Influencers in the Travel Industry

Of course, not all celebrity and influencer accounts are the same. Some are better than others, some are only accidental travel influencers. Some focus specifically on providing a realistic view of a destination, while others are all swimming pools, hotdog legs and sunset selfies.

The issue with the latter is clear: people following in those footsteps could land at a destination uninformed, and with unrealistic expectations of local customs, infrastructure and culture. And that’s where things can get awkward.

We’ve also seen high profile YouTubers – accidental influencers if you like – making poor decisions while travelling and generally making fools out of themselves. A case in point is American vlogger Logan Paul, who provoked headlines back in February 2018 when he took a trip to Japan and appeared to go out of his way to offend the locals.

The most controversial part of his Ladventure was a trip into Japan’s infamous suicide forest, Aokigahara. Paul posted images of bodies hanging from trees, among other things that were both culturally insensitive and disrespectful, to say the least.

What we have to say here is that Logan Paul is by no means representative of travel influencers. That’s partly because he isn’t one. But he is no doubt influential with his millions of young viewers. And he does travel. So the parallel is inevitable.

The UK Government is #Concerned

The worry is that these big YouTube stars and other influencers might inspire the wrong kind of behaviour from young travellers. We’re not sure how justified that worry is. But the British Government’s certainly considers it so, particularly after successive news stories in which UK citizens are getting into trouble abroad.

The British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is “warning young Brits following in the footsteps of globe-trotting celebs not to fall foul of lesser-known local laws and customs, which could land them in serious trouble.”

According to the FCO, young Brits are heading further afield as a result of celebrities and online influencers, to “destinations that have more unusual and surprising rules than UK travellers are used to.”

On the face of it, that’s quite a patronising statement to young Brits already. However, the statement continues…

“As most young Brits don’t have A-listers’ concierge support when planning trips abroad, the FCO is urging British people to be aware of local laws and customs in the destinations they are travelling to by reading up on Travel Advice – something that fewer than two fifths of young people (38%) currently do – if they want to avoid getting into trouble abroad.

FCO analysis of ONS data has found a significant increase in Brits travelling further afield than the traditional European trips, often to popular celebrity destinations that have stricter laws and customs than the UK. Visits to Sri Lanka are up more than a fifth (22%) and the UAE up more than a sixth (17%).”

Different countries have different rules: Really?!

In an effort to appeal to the young demographic which has probably never visited its website, the FCO appears to have roped in Jack White, celeb content director at Now magazine.

He said, taking the patronising tone of the announcement one step further, “We’ve all felt the pang of envy that comes from scrolling through a celebrity’s luxury holiday snaps on social media, but if you’re ever lucky enough to end up in Dubai or St Lucia it’s worth remembering different countries have different rules – and sometimes even the stars seem unaware of this.”

“It’s easy to get caught up the moment on holiday, so it’s worth researching the local laws beforehand to make sure your dream trip doesn’t end in disaster. After all, there’s definitely nothing glamorous about ending up behind bars!”

Now, it’s easy to sit here and criticise the British Government’s clumsy attempt to offer young people travel advice. We’ve done enough of that. The truth is that this guidance has been issued for a reason: politicians are worried that travellers are not as informed as they need to be and are getting into problems as a result.

Let’s look at some of the local laws and customs covered in the FCO’s most recent travel advice:

  1. UAE: Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported.
  2. Thailand: You can’t bring vaporisers, such as e-cigarettes, e-baraku or refills into Thailand. These items are likely to be confiscated and you could be fined or sent to prison for up to ten years if convicted.
  3. Greece: Indecent behaviour, including mooning, isn’t tolerated and could result in arrest and a fine or a prison sentence.
  4. Sri Lanka: The mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is a serious offence and tourists have been convicted for this. British nationals have been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha. Don’t pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha.
  5. Japan: The use or possession of some medicines like Vicks Inhalers or painkillers containing Codeine is banned in Japan and can result in detention and deportation
  6. Turkey: It is an offence to insult the Turkish nation or the national flag, or to deface or tear up currency. If you are convicted of any of these offences, you could face a prison sentence of between six months and three years.
  7. Caribbean: Many Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia ban the wearing of camouflage clothing, including by children.
  8. Spain: Causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Spain even if unintentional.
  9. Australia: Australia has strict quarantine rules to keep out pests and diseases that could affect plant, animal and human health. Breaches of quarantine regulations can result in large fines.
  10. Ukraine: Smoking and drinking alcoholic drinks in public places (including transport, bus stops, underground crossings, sports and government establishments, playgrounds and parks) is officially banned.

Julia Longbottom, FCO Consular Director said:

It’s great to see the British people being inspired to travel to new and exciting places. This makes it all the more important to follow our Travel Advice and respect local laws and customs to avoid unnecessary trouble. For instance, e-cigarettes are banned in Thailand and can result in a prison sentence of up to ten years.

Even in places closer to home, disrespecting local laws can have serious consequences – in Greece indecent behaviour, such as mooning, can be punishable with a fine or even a prison sentence. We see many cases each year of people breaking local laws and customs.

It is important that our travellers understand that the UK Government can’t give legal advice or get them out of prison. Instead, we want to do all we can to help British people stay safe when they are travelling, and avoid ending up in these difficult situations.

Social media, celebrity influencers and the information vacuum

There’s no doubt that people, particularly younger travellers, are increasingly making booking decisions based on celebrity influencers. This isn’t inherently a bad thing: it gives people the opportunity to explore destinations they might otherwise have overlooked.

But decisions based on the filtered world of social media could also lead to travellers being more uninformed than they should be. In the vast majority of cases, this won’t make a difference. Tourism is a booming industry for many countries around the world, and local guides and agencies provide information as well as excursions once customers arrive. It’s their job to keep travellers safe and happy.

However, there does seem to have been a rise in cases, as pointed out by the British Government, of travellers falling foul of the law purely out of ignorance.

This isn’t ideal, but it’s a natural result of the way that travel bookings are changing. We no longer walk into a travel agency and discuss our trip with an advisor. Young travellers are also perhaps more impulsive, spontaneous, plan as they go and don’t do as much practical research before jetting off.

Less than two fifths of young people (38%) currently check the UK Foreign Office’s travel advice before leaving the country, although that probably says more about the Foreign Office and its output than it does about the state of young travellers. At this point it’s important to recognise that the information will never be found if the medium hasn’t kept up with the times.

Having a community to fill the vacuum

So how can we fill that information vacuum and keep travellers above the law and informed about new destinations?

On the one hand, travel companies have to do more. With the help of AI, automated suggestions, tips and guides can be provided during the booking process. Travel operators could also do more in real-time, as we’ve seen with the advent of instant messaging-based customer service. 

No doubt there are gaps in every travel sector for an agency that provides practical information in as much abundance as it does deals and inspiration.

Here at Travelshift, this is a trend that we have recognised. In fact, you could say that our marketplace technology is perfectly placed to fill that information vacuum. How did we manage it? Well, we harness the power of a community.

Our marketplace solution has built-in blogging a community features that enable everyone – local travel operators, tourists and locals – to share tips and important information.

It means that as well as producing an enormous amount of content and massive traffic, travellers booking trips through a Travelshift marketplace are informed, educated and inspired in equal measure.

Want to find out more about how our marketplace platform works? Check out our case study or contact us today.

Report Digs in to Travel Technology Trends for 2018

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.

Changing the way we OTAs interact with customers

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.

So what types of technology look set to change the travel landscape in 2018?

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.

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR)

Read more – Survey: Virtual Reality Tech Not a Threat to Travel Industry (Yet)

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 (AI)

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.

Read more: Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Travel Industry Forever

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.

Read more: Are Robots the Future of the Travel Industry?

Internet of Things (IoT)

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.

Voice Technology

Read more: The Growing Influence of Voice Tech in the Travel Industry

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.

Wi-Fi connectivity

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 devices

Read more: How the Travel Industry is Using Wearable Technology

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?

Technology trends in 2018

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.

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