Millennials Turn to Travel Amid Home Ownership Woes

The travel industry does not exist in a bubble. It is not independent of the social and economic factors pushing society one way and another. And neither should we expect it to be. Although a huge driver of travel is to escape the reality of our day to day lives, our ability to do so depends on a few fundamental factors.

One of those is, obviously, money. The higher the amount of disposable income a person has, the more you’d expect them to travel. At which point we come to an interesting dynamic unfolding among one particular generation: millennials. As much as we hate using the label, hear us out…

Many current millennials (roughly people aged between 20 and 35 right now) are facing a battle of priorities, a dilemma that their parents never had to consider: A choice between home ownership and travel.

Are millennials forgoing home ownership for travel?

In many countries around the world (and particularly in major capitals) home ownership is a distant dream for members of the millennial generation. Take London as an admittedly extreme example: First-time buyers currently have to come up with on average £90,000 ($120,000) for a deposit on a home in the UK capital. The competitive rental sector, rising student debt and a difficult jobs market are forcing long-term plans to take a back seat.

So with owning their own place becoming less likely with each passing day, it appears as though many millennials are making an active choice to live for now and to concentrate on the moment. And that’s fair enough. Why not spend on travel? Especially when putting down roots somewhere is so far in the financial distance.

calm explore freedom tranquil scene travel recreation girl nature road trip woman smiling grassland peaceful grass recess hobby journey leisure tourism relaxation chill young sunglasses holiday enjoyment vacation traveling

The numbers

We can’t say for sure that millennials are putting off home ownership to travel. But we can say that they are spending more on travel in spite of the home ownership issue. In fact, millennials globally are fast becoming the most influential spending power in the world of travel.

According to Donna Jeavons, sales & marketing director for millennial travel specialists Contiki, there’s been an upward trend in younger people spending money on travel. This year, Contiki saw a 10 percent rise in the average spend of clients aged 18 to 35. That could be because saving for something significant like a property seems so futile in the current climate.

“Instead, young people are choosing to live in the moment – we’re seeing many millennials investing in experiences over bricks and mortar.”

Also speaking to The Independent was Chris Townson, managing director of U by Uniworld, the company behind the “millennial cruise” launching in April 2018. He said that the trend is an understandable result of a broken housing market – in many ways, it’s millennials putting two fingers up to the system they find themselves in, a refusal to not enjoy themselves despite the circumstances.

 “Property ownership is out of reach for many young people at this stage in their lives, so we are seeing more investment in travel and life experiences as a definite trend,” he said.

“With home ownership out of reach for many young people, this money is being invested in taking more, and better quality travel experiences.

“Our customers are spending significantly more on travel than previous generations. It’s not uncommon to see young people spending €100 for access to beach clubs, such as Nikki Beach, as they want to have quality experiences when they travel.”

The economics are tough, but what else has changed?

The shift in millennials’ attitudes towards travel is about more than just the struggle for home ownership. What other factors are driving the increase?

Travel as a necessity, not a luxury

To understand why travel has become an essential part of most millennials’ lives, you need to understand the mindset. This is arguably the most globally minded generation ever. It’s also grown up in the most connected period of human history.

The other side of the world is no longer far away from a digital perspective, so millennials are less likely to see barriers where their parents might have. They are also far more likely to be influenced and inspired by their peers. Ninety-seven percent will post their travel experiences on social media, according to Internet Marketing Inc research

Adventure tour operator G Adventures recently conducted a survey of their millennial travellers in order to study their habits.

“Travel for millennials has become a necessity,” managing director Brian Young told The Independent. “So while they may also wish to save for a home, they aren’t going to do this at the expense of travelling. People are waiting later to settle down, buy homes, get married and have children, so they are able to prioritise travel while they are younger. They are setting aside budgets, and making it part of their life.”

In the eyes of millennials, travel is not seen as an indulgence. “Today, it’s acceptable to go out and see the world before settling down – in fact, it’s very much encouraged as it helps you develop a lot of life and work skills,” said Jeavons.

“I think young people are more savvy than they are given credit for, and will look to travel whilst saving something, even if it’s just a small amount,” she said. “It’s just that they are choosing to spend their earnings in a different way to previous generations on travel and adventures, instead of taking the more traditional path to home ownership.”

millennials home ownership and the travel industry

Moving away from the material

If we break down the choice between saving for a house and going on an adventure, what are we left with? Clearly this is a question of the material versus the experience.

We already know that millennial travellers are more interested in authentic, memorable experiences than 5-star hotels and home comforts. Perhaps it’s just a logical step that a week or month long adventure on the other side of the world would be more appealing than setting money aside for a deposit.

The falling cost of travel

There’s no doubt about it: part of the reason that travel these days is seen as less of a luxury is because it’s now affordable for the majority of people. The cost of travel is falling with the rise of no-frills airlines, package holidays and last minute deals.

There is also a huge range of trips emerging to cater for every possible taste and niche market, from foodie travel to spa getaways and romantic city breaks. With lower prices and more personalised trips available, millennials’ addiction to travel is being encouraged.

How Travelshift can help you appeal to millennials

travelshift software for maketplaces

Let’s face it: A generation of monied millennials willing to spend on travel is a wonderful thing for OTAs and travel service providers.

Here at Travelshift we pride ourselves on powering marketplaces that are different. Our partners don’t simply list travel operators and hope for the best. They are empowered to build a thriving community of travellers, locals and guides – all of whom come together to ensure that trips are as authentic and memorable as possible.

Our marketplace solution is scalable, with a mass of embedded features to help you entice travel operators and quickly gain a foothold in your target niche. Want to look closer at our track record? Check out our Iceland case study today.

Having community-driven content as a built-in feature of our travel marketplaces enables our partners to provide the authenticity millennials are seeking. What are you waiting for?

Contact us about setting up your own travel marketplace today.

Google Street View Expands to South African National Parks

One of the reasons we love technology is its ability to revolutionise the travel experience. And that goes for every step of the journey, from searching for a trip to booking, checking in and all of your transport in between. Sure, there are times when we worry that technology is becoming too central, that it risks diminishing our relationship with travel, not improving it. But that’s one of the reasons why we’re always on the lookout for new and exciting use cases: to make sure they are applied in the best way possible.

This week an interesting application of technology from a company we all know, Google, caught our attention. One of Google’s biggest, shall we say, ‘accomplishments’, is Street View. Google Street View is arguably one of the travel industry’s earliest game changers. Maps, used and relied upon for hundreds of years, were suddenly pushed towards obsolescence. Why look at a 2D, birds-eye interpretation when you can wander around street by street and look around the real thing?

Google Street View has since become of those fundamental applications that we all take for granted. Want to know what a particular road looks like? It will just take a second. Keen to get a sense of an area from the comfort of your sofa? It only takes a click.

google street view travel technology

Taking Google Street View One Step Further

Since the dawn of Street View, it’s been clear that what began as a navigation tool could quickly become an exploratory one; a way to map every single road in the world, leaving no single corner untouched or inaccessible.

That’s an interesting concept and a philosophical discussion to be had, for sure. Do we want every single road and track documented? Do we want every possible path accessible with an easy internet search? On one hand, it would provide people without the means to visit a place in person a way to explore the other side of the world.

But on the other hand, there’s no doubt that a Street View mapping exercise on this scale has the potential to render untouched gems anything but. Is the special-ness, that unquantifiable, intangible magic of a hidden destination, tarnished by the knowledge that you can just as easily walk around it from your bedroom in West London?

An important point to note is the fact that Google Street View is not an adequate substitute for the real thing. You don’t get the smells or the sounds (although who knows, that might be included one day). You don’t get the sensual immersion of actually being there. Yet.

At which point we come to an interesting project that has just come to a conclusion in South Africa. Working in tandem with Google Street View, a team of enthusiastic South Africans have mapped out all 19 of the country’s National Parks.

The huge collection of 360-degree imagery of the country’s wildest areas includes 170 new trails in South Africa’s national parks and reserves and prominent tourist attractions such as Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Cape Point.

Understandably, this was a pretty big undertaking. Here are a few statistics from the project…

  • 170 new trails
  • 900km trekked on foot
  • 50,000 km travelled over the 12-month project duration
  • 232 points of interest recorded
  • 206 South African volunteers
  • 9 Provinces of South Africa
  • All 19 National Parks, 17 nature reserves and many other tourist attractions
  • Lion, cheetah, elephant and other wildlife encountered on foot (guided by rangers)
  • 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • First time Google has partnered with a third-party in South Africa via the Street View Camera Loan Program

Since the epic project’s completion, Google Street View users can visit some of South Africa’s most iconic sights from the comfort of their living rooms. Whether it’s walking in the footsteps of icon Nelson Mandela, climbing seven new trails to the top of Table Mountain, hiking the famous five-day Otter Trail, tracking cheetah on foot or walking with elephants… many things on the tourist to-do list of the nation are now open to people all over the world.

Where Virtual Reality Comes In

To showcase the launch of South Africa’s new Street View imagery, Drive South Africa has launched a microsite that gives would-be travellers a virtual experience of South Africa.

The site – South Africa in 360 – which has been inspired by a similar project showcasing the US National Parks – is an immersive VR-adventure through South Africa’s four top tourist destinations and a collection of its lesser-known gems. The site is a culmination of Street View imagery with video, photos and stories from the trail, offering viewers unique perspectives.

This is a fantastic example of how Virtual Reality can be used in the travel industry. Just imagine the pulling power that an immersive walk through a national park could have for would-be tourists. Imagine its potential for travel agents and tour operators. Photos and videos that don’t do a destination justice could now be replaced and enhanced just by throwing on a pair of VR goggles.

We’ve written before about the possible applications of VR in the travel industry. Giving tourists a taste of the real thing is certainly the most obvious one.

Going Off-Road With Google Street View

More than 200 South African volunteers from across the country were involved in the 12-month long project, mapping out the parts of South Africa that they call home. Many were SANParks, CapeNature and KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife rangers and guides. Others were avid hikers, nature-lovers and tech enthusiasts.

“The hundreds of volunteers who helped along the way proved to be truly passionate about showing the best of South Africa through their participation in the loan program,” says Magdalena Filak, Program Manager for Google.

The project forms part of Google’s Street View Camera Loan Program, which encourages anyone to apply to borrow the 360-degree camera technology and help map the planet.

The team of volunteers was coordinated by loan program partner Drive South Africa. Andre Van Kets, outdoor enthusiast and founder of the Cape Town-based travel company, saw the potential in this technology to showcase South Africa to travellers around the globe, when applying to the program.

“The Trekker camera is a 22kg custom-made backpack fitted with 15 cameras pointing in all directions. The onboard technology plots the camera’s exact location on the trail. While recording, the camera takes a 360-degree photo every two seconds. It’s basically the off-road equivalent of Google’s Street View cars,” says Van Kets.

“For the first time, travellers and wildlife lovers from across the globe, can explore the full spectrum of South Africa’s diverse wilderness areas on Google Maps and Street View,” he added.

Google street view goes off road in south africa

Travel is About Sharing

As mentioned in the introduction to this article and in recent pieces, the travel experience is fragile and unique. That means it can easily be ruined or diminished by the addition of unnecessary tech. Everyone in the travel industry should be seeking to preserve that special experience, not spoil it with gimmicks.

That’s why we work so diligently on our marketplace software: we want to improve the experience of travellers all over the world by building platforms that serve them better. Part of that process is sharing. In the case of Travelshift software, our marketplaces are a place where tourism information and expertise is willingly shared with the public through community-driven content. That’s how our marketplaces are discovered and its a big part of the reason that people keep coming back.

hat approach explains why we have been inspired by the way that Google Street View and its partners in South Africa have opened up the country in new, exciting ways. Now anybody in the world can witness magnificent wildlife and spectacular landscapes at the touch of a button. And once they’ve had a taste, you can bet they will want to come and explore the real thing. And that can only be a positive in this case.

An appreciation of the natural world is a necessary step toward admitting that it’s our shared responsibility to protect it, after all.

How Blockchain Could Transform the Travel Industry

When we hear the word Blockchain most of us will react in two ways. The first is by drawing some vague connection to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The second is simply a knowing shrug: it’s important but pretty complicated so we just smile and nod! So today we’re going to try to untangle the complicated mess that is Blockchain. Then we’ll move on to discover how the technology could potentially impact the travel industry.

Beginning with Bitcoin

Blockchain technology rose to prominence in 2011 as more people became aware of Bitcoin, a digital currency based on the technology. After a huge spike in the price of Bitcoin, the public sat up and took notice. The promise of Bitcoin was that through using Blockchain technology, its users could take advantage of a new type of payment mechanism: Truly anonymous, free and secure purchases.

The excitement in Bitcoin was partly driven by the interest in something completely new, as well as the opportunity available for early adopters to ‘mine’ their own Bitcoins – perhaps the digital equivalent of printing money. But how exactly are Bitcoin and Blockchain related?

Put simply, Blockchain is the technology and methodology underpinning Bitcoin. Blockchain can be understood as a database. But it’s no ordinary database. It’s decentralized and encrypted by design and shared across a network of stakeholders. The result is a distributed ledger that can record transactions across multiple computers. This distribution ensures that all transactions are verified by consensus, allowing the flow of digital value to be stored, organized and certified in a transparent and secure way.

Take a look at the video below from Amadeus:

What makes Blockchain unique?

There are a number of factors that come together to make Blockchain a unique and exciting technology. And they go way beyond digital currencies.

Transparency and immutability

We’re living in strange times and there are plenty of people out there talking about alternative facts and half-truths. With Blockchain, there’s no room for misinformation. Once an entry is registered on a public blockchain, it’s there for the world to see. Because it needs the consensus of users to get onto the public ledger and cannot subsequently be altered, everyone can see a time-stamped version of ‘the truth’.

For this reason, plenty of people out there believe that Blockchain technology is ideal for registering ownership of assets such as houses, cars or financial holdings.

Security

Security is built into the Blockchain process. The consensus mechanism has a very high threshold for cryptographic security. Without this, it would be impossible to maintain the integrity of a ledger shared between multiple parties. This level of security is key when sensitive information and transactions are being sent around the world

Blockchain is decentralised

It’s difficult to say how important blockchain’s decentralised nature really is. In terms of payments, the idea is that middle men – those who take a commission off the top of financial transactions such as Paypal – can be avoided.  However, in certain industries, private Blockchains with a more centralised structure can work. The main advantage to having a decentralised database is that there is no single point of failure. If the network is attacked, it’s much more resilient.

Data integrity

If there’s one point about Blockchain that we need to hit home, it’s about this idea of consensus. Because a transaction is processed on all computers in the blockchain, the algorithm ensures that there is a consensus regarding the validity of every transaction. This means that Blockchain data is always complete, accurate, trustworthy and widely available. It’s a shared record of the truth.

Efficiency and cost reduction

One major advantage of Blockchain technology is the promise to improve efficiency and reduce costs for stakeholders. With it, there’s no need to rely upon bulky, centralised record-keeping entities. Hooray!

So those are a few a few key aspects to Blockchain technology. And it all sounds very interesting, right? But now you’re wondering how exactly this technology links into the travel industry? How can the world of travel use Blockchain?

Blockchain in the travel industry

Before we properly delve into Blockchain and its application in the travel industry, we need to fast forward in time from Bitcoin to the rise of another cryptocurrency and now all-around computing platform, Ethereum. Ethereum is a public Blockchain that came to prominence in 2015. Although it has its own cryptocurrency, Ether, it also provides a platform for businesses to build applications based on Blockchain technology.

Arguably its biggest gift to the world has been the introduction of Smart Contracts. What exactly is a Smart Contract? Well, in this case it’s smartness is all about automation, and it wouldn’t be possible without the Blockchain.

These Smart Contracts can automate a range of business dealings between parties without the need for human intervention. Why is this of interest to the travel industry? Well, consider an industry which has a high amount of commission based business. Market aggregators in travel, for example, could stand to benefit. With Ethereum it’s becoming possible to hardcode the stipulations of an agreement between parties into a self-executing blockchain program. For simplicity’s sake: Let’s say “If I hit X in revenue, automatically send 2.5% of X to Y. In travel, commissions between hotels and aggregators could be settled automatically. No more annoying invoices, no more late payments, no more cash flow worries.

Moving on from smart contracts

In a recent report, consultants Amadeus outlined five ways that Blockchain could impact the travel industry in the near future. At the moment, even while the technology is experiencing plenty of exposure and publicity, it’s at an early stage in its development. There don’t appear to be any Blockchain systems being put to use in the travel industry today. But there’s no doubt that the potential is there. Take a look at these possible use cases.

Improving loyalty schemes

We’ve all had experience with loyalty schemes before. But in the travel industry, you can barely book any kind of trip without being bombarded by them. Hotels, booking websites, airlines, retailers… all have different schemes that are a key part of driving return business and keeping customers engaged.

Some are more successful than others. But all depend on outdated systems and principles, with the majority simply offering points in return for purchases. The problem with this method is that points are often left unspent, with travellers frustrated by the lack of leeway and the restrictions on what those points can be spent on.

Sure, some schemes are more flexible than others and allow a wide range of redeemable goodies. But plenty of points out there are left unspent and may even be listed on a travel company’s balance sheet as a liability. And we don’t want that.

blockchain in the travel industry

Blockchain startup Loyyal.

One great example of how Blockchain could improve this situation is California startup Loyyal. The company’s loyalty and rewards platform was built with blockchain and smart contract technology to reduce fragmentation in the loyalty business and make it easy for businesses to partner. The result is a secure system that gives customers more value from their loyalty schemes, eventually even in real-time.

Read more: How Travel Startups can Compete with Established Marketplaces

Improving baggage tracking

As much as the travel industry has developed in recent years, a few age-old problems still linger. One of these is the worst nightmare of any traveller: lost luggage. Lost or damaged bags cost the travel industry a huge amount every year, not to mention the traveller complaints and damage to reputations that comes with it. And the process of tracking it down can be even tougher than losing it in the first place. In part this is due to responsibility for the luggage shifting throughout your journey, from the airline to the airport to ground handling firms.

That’s where Blockchain comes in. It could offer a shared, distributed ledger used by all those within and between airports that at some point have control over baggage. The system would allow for a bag and its ownership details to be automatically logged. These records could be shared among everyone concerned to improve accountability and, most important of all, track down lost luggage.

Automating and simplifying settlements between operators

Remember when we mentioned Smart Contracts before? We know more than most about how the travel industry is dependant on an intricate mixture of operators, service providers and OTAs. There’s a complex set of relationships between those parties, with money moving between them all of the time.

Read more: Travel Marketplace Pricing Strategy: Where to Start

Smart Contracts based on a Blockchain system could change the way those relationships are managed for the better. For example, let’s think about a traveller booking a hotel room. In the background, there’s an aggregator, perhaps an OTA and the hotel itself. Eventually, they will need to settle cash and commissions based on agreements already in place. With Blockchain this process could be automated and executed in a way that maximises efficiency and cuts costs for everyone involved.

Revolutionising identification

One of the most exciting potential Blockchain uses in travel is in the realm of identification. We have all experienced the endless showing of IDs and passports throughout a travel journey, from booking to boarding to airport security to hotel check-in.

In future, the trustworthy and immutable nature of blockchain could transform the way travellers are identified throughout the course of a journey.  Imagine a trip that didn’t require this at every stage. Blockchain technology could offer travellers a more frictionless experience in the coming years. Startups such as Civic are already pioneering in this space.

How Travel Companies Can Kickstart the Blockchain Revolution

Blockchain startups are beginning to spring up in all kinds of industries, and you can bet that travel won’t be far behind. Our is an industry in which innovation is rife and competition drives progression. With that in mind, what should travel companies start doing now in order to ride the inevitable Blockchain wave?

According to Amadeus’ latest report on the matter, there are five steps that should be taken by industry stakeholders.

The first is to appreciate the pace at which decentralised technology is moving. This requires an understanding of what it’s all about and its potential impact on the industry. If senior management is going to buy-in to future projects that involve Blockchain, they need to be educated now, not later.

The second step is to explore Blockchain’s potential even further. Nobody yet knows the extent to which it could impact the travel industry. There are bound to be more innovations and use cases that come to light aside from those mentioned above.

The third step will be new to many in the travel industry: collaboration. By definition, Blockchain is a system that requires collaboration between partners and competitors in order to work.

The fourth step is to, as with any emerging technology, experiment. Opportunities may present themselves to conduct trials and test Blockchain in a real-world scenario. Why not take the initiative and see where it takes you?

The fifth and final step that Amadeus recommends for potential Blockchain adoptees is to recruit with the technology in mind. Understandably there’s a shallow pool of talent out there with the knowledge and skills to turn potential into reality. But working with technology partners and hiring the right people could go a long way towards successful implementation in the future.

 

Google Pixel Buds, Travel & Real-time Translation

Here at Travelshift we like to keep our finger on the pulse of the latest trends and products in the world of technology, particularly if it’s clear they are going to have an impact on the way we travel. Few things define our travel experience like language. In many ways it’s central to culture, a passport of a sort, your ticket into the hearts and minds of the locals who call each destination home…

Translation has always been central to the travel experience

Bilingual dictionaries have been making travellers’ lives easier since Roman times. That might seem far-fetched, but since at least 2,000 years ago, a dictionary existed to help translate between Etruscan and Latin. And the Romans were not the only ones. The Tibetans and Medieval Jews were at it too.

Clearly we humans have not yet refined the process sufficiently enough because there is still a palpable (and deserved) buzz around Google’s latest iteration of real-time translation technology – the Pixel Bud, which goes on sale this November.

Wait, we hear you say, haven’t we been here before? Well, kind of. Ever since Douglas Adams ushered the idea forth in his seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the notion of real-time language translation has been on the radar for tech companies. Indeed, readers might already be familiar with the Bragi Dash Pro, Skype Translator or Fujitsu – earlier attempts to do the same thing as Google, but different. So how does Google’s latest gadget compare and what, if anything, might this mean for the casual traveller?

Introducing the Pixel Bud

First things first, what is the Pixel Bud and why should you care? According to Google’s blog, these really are earphones with a difference:

Pixel Buds bring Google smarts right to your ears, with answers and intel that would make James Bond jealous. Touch and hold the right earbud to ask your Assistant to play music, make a phone call, or get directions, all without pulling out your phone.”

The Pixel Buds weigh 14g, cost $159, and are semi-wireless (they connect to one another via a short cord). As a Google product, they are designed to pair automatically with your other devices via Bluetooth, but if you already own one of Google’s Pixel smartphones, the pairing becomes that much smoother.  They are very much designed to work in tandem with Google Assistant, presumably with the ultimate aim of eventually integrating and syncing one’s entire psycho-social-professional world with the Google-sphere. They come in a compact case, which doubles as their battery charging cocoon when they are not helping you organise your entire life – and the fully charged battery should last a healthy 5 hours, with the charging case storing an additional 19 hours before needing to re-juice. They look quite different from Apple’s truly wireless Airpods, but satisfyingly futuristic nonetheless. At the very least they demonstrate a clear trend amongst tech companies for this new type of hardware.

So far, so cool. But the bit we really care about is their much-feted capacity to instantaneously and accurately translate between 40 different languages on command. Practically, it works like this: whilst wearing the device, you hold down a button on the right earbud and inform Google Assistant of which language you would like to ‘speak.’ As you talk the Pixel phone’s speaker translates your words and plays them out loud. When your interlocutor replies, you immediately hear the translation through your earphones. You can watch them in action at Google’s launch here:

This is what we’ve all been waiting for…isn’t it?

Without a shadow of doubt, this is an exciting technology. The idea of carrying it around and using it to communicate in different languages is a breakthrough of sorts. Moreover, with the recent improvement in Google translate algorithms, it appears that it could genuinely provide a handy service for anybody who finds themselves out of their linguistic comfort zone.

This will be especially useful for translations between languages with different alphabets or complex phonetics; in other words, languages for which a bilingual dictionary is of limited value. Indeed, compared to a bilingual dictionary, the Pixel Buds appear to have numerous other advantages too. They can translate back and forth with equal efficacy; they model good pronunciation – and they are hands-free – not to mention being quicker to use. All in all, they have the makings of an appealing package for the modern traveller. But hold up there for one second. Before you place the Pixel Buds at the top of your packing list, there is another side. There is always another side.

As with any breakthrough technology, there are the predictable results and there are the unintended consequences. For one, as we all know, communication is only ever partly linguistic. How the buds fare with translating idiomatic expressions and culturally sensitive issues remains a one big unknown. Our favourite example illustrating the pitfalls of literal translation is the apocryphal story of a young politco in Brussels who faithfully translated from French, “en ces temps difficiles, il faut compter sur la sagesse normande”, into the semantically correct English. “in these difficult times, we must count on Norman Wisdom.” We speculate that the British comedian would have been flattered if not a little perplexed to discover how indispensable his talents were considered in times of continental political meltdown.  

Needless to say, a perfect semantic translation is not always the same as a perfect translation. So, linguistic and cultural relativism will continue to bedevil the unwary traveller, but ordering a pint of bia hoi on the streets of Saigon may just have gotten a fraction easier.

The second consideration: Do Google’s new buds actually offer anything radically different to what is already on offer by having the google translate app on your phone? Many people still remain ignorant that you can already use your phone camera to capture foreign text and have google translate convert it into your mother tongue simultaneously – or that you can already record live using your phone mic and use the app for real-time translation.

Instead of something radically new then, might this be more of a case of same-but-different? Perhaps, but certainly it also represents a pretty exciting development. The more important question for us is whether it can help enhance the travel experience, and the simple answer is: sure, why not? Anything that helps you to immerse in a new culture must be seen as an asset, right? Communication fosters relationships, and relationships are a way of getting deeper into the place you are visiting. Undoubtedly, the hands-down best way to immerse yourself culturally is to actually learn the language of course, but the Pixel Buds need not replace the need to learn and master other tongues. In fact, there is no reason why it can’t be used as a valuable learning aid too.

Something gained and something lost?

So how is the Pixel Bud set to redefine one’s travel experience? For all their usefulness, could this be one more thing that paradoxically makes travellers less self-sufficient? Imagine having yourself a wild time in rural Lapland, drinking salmon soup and chin-wagging with the locals – when suddenly the battery gives out or your connection goes down. With your single line of communication cut, you find yourself very much alone without so much as a syllable in common. That is of course, if the Pixel Bud can translate any of the indigenous Sami languages in the first place. To be sure, the 40 languages that Google can translate is a lot, but how far off the beaten track will it really take you?

Perhaps the biggest impact to consider, however, has nothing to do with the software inside the Pixel Buds themselves, but is the hardware itself. It is already getting harder and harder to leave the tech behind when travelling and really immerse oneself in a completely foreign, new environment, but with something that threatens to become so essential permanently nestled in your ears, it is going to be that much harder to simply be in a foreign place.

This new species of wearable tech we are being served is bordering on the line between wearability and insertability. In short, we are entering a phase of technology in which our devices are not necessarily designed to be taken out. Ever. They are a way of being able to be permanently on your phone without having to constantly take it out of your pocket. We think that this is probably the greatest consideration presented by the Pixel Buds, and one that travellers should think about deeply when weighing up the pros and cons of purchase.

Travellers will always search for ways to redefine and enhance their experience. The camera made the sketchpad obsolete; electronic money removed the need for travellers cheques; and aeroplanes made long distance land travel a choice rather than a necessity. Ultimately it all comes down to what kind of travelling interests you most. There is every gadget out there promising to ease your way, but you’d do well to remember that sometimes the obstacles are also what make the adventure worthwhile.

Harnessing technology to improve the travel experience

If there’s one thing we know about at Travelshift, it’s how to harness technology to improve the experience of travel service providers and their customers. Not only do we make travel agent’s lives easier by providing a comprehensive marketplace platform that removes the headaches from starting up in the travel industry. We also encourage our partners to build platforms founded on community-driven content.

This technique allows travellers to get to know a destination and its locals before they arrive, and has a huge impact on driving loyalty and repeat business in an industry not known for either.

Another technology we’ve harnessed is seamless localisation, an element of our marketplace platform which allows our partners to easily integrate products and services into new international markets.

It’s clear that Google’s latest innovation has the potential to make the travel experience even more seamless with real-time translation. There are positives and negatives to that, as we’ve discussed above. One thing we know for sure is that technology, when harnessed in the right way, can have a transformative impact on travellers and service providers.

Elon Musk’s Plan to Revolutionize Travel (It Involves Rockets)

Many things have changed in the travel industry over the years. More than anything else, technology has been the driver behind those changes. Every step of the customer journey has been innovated to an extent, from booking to check-out to marketing and everything in between. But one area that hasn’t changed all that much is the method of travel. Sure, the planes, cars and boats these days are a little faster, a little more connected and much more comfortable than they used to be. But they are essentially the same nonetheless. Now, it looks like Elon Musk is ready to revolutionize the way we travel, quite literally.

Elon Musk isn’t a man who does things by halves. It’s fair to say that his two main projects, SpaceX and Tesla, have genuinely disrupted the way we think about space travel and cars. He’s also spoken of his mission to send a manned mission to Mars and even has plans to colonize the red planet. So it’s not so surprising that he wants to change the way we travel between countries, too.

Intercity rocket-propelled travel: Anywhere on Earth in Under an Hour

Last week, Musk unveiled a futuristic vision of intercity rocket-propelled travel, where flights to anywhere in the world would take under an hour. Wow.

Sure, it’s a bold vision. But Musk tends to deliver on his visions. His electric car business is going from strength to strength, and SpaceX conducts regular missions to the International Space Station with re-usable rockets.

While it’s just a concept at the moment, we thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the implications of Musk’s BFR (Big F*****g Rocket). How could it impact the travel industry and what kind of new products and services could it enable?

If you thought the prospect of a 30-minute flight to the other side of the world was exciting, you’ll definitely be sold on the idea when you discover how much Musk thinks the cost would be for passengers.

The entrepreneur, who has also put forward plans for a ‘Hyperloop’ transport system to speed up travel between cities, tweeted: “Fly to most places on Earth in under 30 mins and anywhere in under 60. Cost per seat should be about the same as full fare economy in an aircraft.”

That’s right: About the same price as full fare economy in an aircraft.

Before we go any further, we should say that the proposal has come in for criticism…

Most notably from The Verge:

“You can’t fly humans on that same kind of orbit,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, told The Verge. “For one, the acceleration and the G-forces for both the launch and the reentry would kill people. I don’t have it right in front of me, but it’s a lot more than the G-forces on an astronaut we see today going up into space and coming back down, and that’s not inconsiderable.”

Well being killed on re-entry doesn’t sound so appealing, does it? But there are more reasons that suggest Musk’s latest vision is some way off:

Another problem with ballistic trajectory is radiation exposure in the vacuum of space, Weeden added. To be sure, astronauts on the International Space Station are largely shielded from this radiation, thanks to Earth’s magnetic field, which deflects most of the deep-space particles. But his indifference toward the impact that these interstellar concepts would have on human bodies is classic Musk.

Cost is another huge hurdle. Musk claimed these rocket trips would be as inexpensive as commercial air travel. But that assumes a level of scale that is particularly hard to fathom. A recent study by the US Air Force found that reusable rockets were good for about 100 flights, while commercial airplanes could stay in operation for up to 10,000 flights. As such, Musk’s point-to-point rockets are “probably going to be 10 times the cost per-seat,” said Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space LLC. “He may be 1-in-10,000 [for] loss of vehicle, but it’s nowhere near the 3-and-10 million reliability of airlines.”

While the idea of a $10,000 ticket for a 30-minute flight from New York to Shanghai sounds strangely reasonable, it won’t help Musk sell the concept as travel that’s accessible to everybody. Instead, we find ourselves in familiar territory: Silicon Valley proposing a revolutionary idea that will most likely benefit wealthy VCs, billionaire industrialists, and no one else.

But let’s imagine that it could happen

elon musk rocket travel

Musk’s ballistic travel concept relies on several technologies that SpaceEx hasn’t yet produced or perfected. But let’s say that his ambitions did come to fruition. How would the ability to get to the other side of the world in half an hour change the travel experience?

Perhaps it would make things better for those who hate being crammed into a flying tube for 24 hours. There’s no doubting that many people view airports and flights as the worst part of any trip, the part that you just have to get on with and get through.

But perhaps near-instantaneous travel would take something away from the experience that we don’t want to lose. The journey, after all, is all part of the adventure. Right? Would it lessen the awe? Would it tone down the wonder if we were able to pop over to New York or Shanghai or Cape Town or Sydney in less time than it takes to make a decent sandwich?

On a more philosophical level, does a more connected world devalue travel at all? Or does having every potential destination within easy reach open up travel to more people in a way that can only be positive?

Who would be the winners and losers?

In a world in which travel times were dramatically cut, the obvious winners would be travellers. But hotels and destinations also stand to benefit. Tourists will have more time to spend money locally as travel times are greatly reduced. They’re also likely to arrive fresh and in high spirits, which counts for a lot when many long-haul flights need to be recovered from before a vacation can really begin.

In terms of losers, that’s hard to say at this point. Who in the industry benefits from having a captive audience for hours on end? Possibly the catering companies that supply passenger aircraft, or the laundry services that clean used blankets and pillows. You won’t have time to have a nap or a sandwich if it only takes 30 minutes to get from London to New York, after all.

Transforming travel without rockets

As fun as rockets sound, there are plenty of easier (and less dangerous) to transform the customer experience. One of those is the rising popularity of community-driven planning, travel guides and feedback. As well as utilising community-driven content to help you build a thriving marketplace loved by search engines, our software gives travellers the unique and genuine experience they are searching for. That’s because our platform allows for locals and sellers to blog at will, discussing their favourite destinations, tours and travel tips – all under one roof: Travellers get the information and insider tips they crave, while your marketplace grows thanks to bundles of organic traffic.

Want to find out more? Get in touch today or read about our software’s success in Iceland.

Instagram Algorithm Raises Questions Over Travel Authenticity

If there’s one thing that all travellers want to do, it’s fit in. Nobody wants to be the tourist, to feel like an outsider in a new place. Instead, the desire is to blend in with those surroundings, to be one of the locals. Part of being a local is doing as the locals do, skipping the tourist traps and finding the hidden gems that only people who know the city well will have discovered.

If this need for a genuine experience is one of the permanent threads running through the narrative of the modern travel industry, others include the need to remember, record and share our experiences. We all want to have memories to look back on, even if it’s a postcard, a few old photographs or a 10-second video. And we all seem to want to publicize these trip highlights and share them with friends and family.

So blending in with the locals and sharing memories are two things that modern tourists seek. It’s about time that someone ties these two desires together, right?

New Tech Detects Attractions By Tracking Locals’ Instagram Activity

Programmers from ITMO University, Russia, have come up with an ingenious, indirect way for locals to give advice to tourists. The research team has developed an algorithm that scans local Instagram accounts to come up with a list of the most popular museums, cafes, streets and parks. By using data from locals, tourists can be sure they are getting as authentic an experience as possible.

Results of the research were presented at The International Conference on Computational Science and published in the peer-reviewed journal Procedia Computer Science.

Clearly, this is an interesting combination of social media, artificial intelligence and travel software. It merges the popular platform used to store and share memories, Instagram, with the desire many tourists have to get off the beaten track.

Let’s go back to the craving many of us have to capture and share our favourite holiday moments. Social networks like Instagram are becoming increasingly popular for that exact reason. The platform currently has over 700 million monthly active users around the world. 14.4 million of those are in Russia, where this study was conducted. There are two examples of why people would post an update about a specific place: because it’s their first time there or because they visit often.

You might be thinking that the algorithm might have an obvious flaw: tracking both locals’ and tourists’ Instagram activity instead of just locals. But the team at ITMO (Or more specifically from the Uni’s eScience Research Institute) found a way to distinguish between Instagram users living in St. Petersburg and visiting tourists based on how they use social media. By doing this, they were able to provide off-the-beaten-track locations that were most loved by St. Petersburg locals.

Of course, popular locations for locals and for tourists differ, but it was important for us to know just how they differ. Guides usually offer tourists a list of 10-15 attractions. However, locals usually know more. By identifying their favorite places, we can significantly diversify such guide books” – Alexander Visheratin, engineer and Head of Research at eScience Institute at ITMO University.

An important thing to factor into any tourism guide is that sites, scenes and destinations change over time. What’s popular today may not be popular tomorrow. As such, a service that works in real time and offers tourists an insight into recent trends could be invaluable.

“Instagram is a dynamically changing environment. Some places gain popularity while others lose it. Sometimes new restaurants or cafés open. Therefore, the creation of a recommendation service which follows photographs of interesting places in real time is a logical continuation of the current results. This is what we are currently working on”. – Ksenia Mukhina, lead author of the study.

ITMO University instagram travel technology

Visualisation of Saint Petersburg residents’ favourite places, according to analysis of public and geotagged Instagram posts, versus those of tourists. Photograph: Ksenia Mukhina et al/ITMO University

Is Authenticity Permanent?

Travellers’ quest for authenticity brings about an interesting philosophical question. At what point does a sight or destination lose its authenticity? The whole notion of ‘off the beaten track’ is that it’s a tourist-free zone, a place where locals get together and do locals things. Do technologies such as the one developed in St Petersburg threaten to undermine the authenticity it helps tourists to discover?

The answer is not straightforward. Take a quiet church or a secluded park. Part of the magic of these little-known destinations is their secrecy and their atmosphere. A horde of tourists would quickly see both of those things dissipate.

And this kind of phenomena could happen on a much bigger scale. We’ve recently written about issues with over-tourism in cities such as Barcelona and countries like Iceland. Although there are many factors at work in both examples, part of the issue is that locals feel like they are being crowded out, like their usual places are being overrun with tourists.

It’s a fact that authenticity can be damaged, if not lost completely, by too much tourism. A key for technologies such as that developed in Russia is to find the right balance: to give travellers the local experience they seek without putting locals off themselves. Arguably this is just a case of simple numbers. But it’s also about education. These technologies don’t only have to locate secluded spots. Maybe they can also advise on how to behave like a local. Maybe don’t take selfies in that peaceful church? Or don’t play music out loud in that pretty park only the locals know about?

After all, blending in is as much about how you behave as the language you speak.

The Power of Community-Driven Content

We’re big fans of community-driven content here at Travelshift. But the technology described above is slightly different to what we usually specialise in. Our marketplace platform gives sellers the ability to invite locals with expert knowledge to blog and contribute to a thriving community of influencers.  As well as boosting SEO with bundles of unique, informative content, travellers can learn from authentic stories, hints and tips.

The notion of passively filtering Instagram data is not one we have considered before. But this study shows how it can be done to effectively make every Instagram user a participant in one enormous content community. By tracking hubs of activity in real time, tourists will never be far behind the latest trends and popular locations.