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.

The Trump Effect is Real: US Travel Industry Slump in Numbers

When Donald Trump became president of the United States back in January 2017, plenty in the travel industry were making predictions about how the radical shift in American politics would impact upon tourism to the country. This was due to a number of factors. Not least the new president’s xenophobic rhetoric and his intention to adopt policies restricting the rights of people depending on their country of origin and religion.

This, as we’ve pointed out in previous posts, is an example of just how incongruous Trump is with the modern travel industry. It was always going to be fascinating to observe how an industry based on openness, tolerance and community would respond to the new America.

And now we have some data to work with. It appears as though there’s been a significant Trump slump. Since the reality TV star came into office, international tourism to the States has dropped. Here are the details…

The Trump Slump?

Despite some positive noises coming out of the U.S. Travel Association in recent months concerning the expected number of tourists into the States from abroad, they have now put forward a “substantially more pessimistic assessment” of travel into the US. They’ve gone so far as to put out a warning of “major storm clouds for the inbound international travel market.”

According to the latest Travel Trends Index, a revised analysis of recent inbound travel suggests that “international visitation—initially found to have grown consistently this year—actually declined in four of the seven months for which data is so far available.”

The contractions were most apparent in February (-6.8 percent) and March (-8.2 percent). Travel economists have suggested that even the slight uptick in April is likely down to the Easter holiday falling in that month this year.

 

For the TTI, as in many similar indices, a score above 50 indicates growth while a score under 50 indicates a decline.

 

U.S. Travel Association Senior Vice President for Research David Huether said the results were in line with what the organisation expected.

Read more: Trump Travel Ban Hits USA Tourism Industry Hard

“We kept projecting drops in international visitation, and they kept not materializing,” Huether said. “However, we recently were able to access new data inputs for the TTI to give us an even more comprehensive picture, and sure enough, the international travel segment has been far weaker than what was initially shown.”

In case you’re wondering how accurate the data is, the TTI is prepared for US. Travel by the research firm Oxford Economics. ‘U.S. Travel and Oxford routinely seek to identify available data sources that add to the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the index. The data sets added to the latest TTI calculations came from IATA, OAG and other tabulations of international inbound travel to the U.S., and resulted in the downward revision of TTI results from earlier in the year.’

Currently, travel and tourism are responsible for one in nine American jobs. Inbound international travel is actually the No. 2 overall U.S. export. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the head of US Travel believes the American economy can’t afford this troubling downward trend to continue.

“The international travel market is ultra-competitive, and the U.S. is falling behind,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “Fortunately, there are levers the Trump administration can pull to help right the ship—continue the Brand USA tourism marketing organization, and protect policies that enable international travel to the U.S., such as Open Skies aviation agreements and the Visa Waiver Program.

“Inbound travel to the U.S. already went through one ‘lost decade’ after 9/11,” Dow said. “It took a sustained national policy effort to return to the pre-9/11 level of travel exports, which only happened last year. If we don’t want to give back all of that progress, the time to act is now.”

In the statement from the U.S. Travel Association there is no mention of the reason for the declines in international visitors.

Interestingly, domestic markets for business and leisure travel are performing well and seeing growth from last year.

Read moreHow Will President Trump Affect The Travel Industry?

“Upbeat consumer attitudes and solid labor market conditions continue to support the domestic travel market,” said Adam Sacks, president of Oxford Economics’ Tourism Economics group.

“However, stagnant wages and the recalibration of expectations regarding the Trump administration’s campaign pledges pose risks to consumer and business sentiment. Additionally, the President’s continued rhetoric and policies weigh heavily on the international inbound market outlook.”

donald trump usa travel decline

It seems as though international travelers don’t identify well with Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric – much like plenty of his own citizens.

International Tourism into US in Decline: In Numbers

According to USA Today, it’s estimated that 700,000 fewer international tourists arrived in the U.S. during the January 2017- March 2017 period compared to same period last year.

As you might expect given Trump’s rhetoric and attempts to enforce a Muslim ban, the steepest drops were from the Middle East and Africa, regions that sent almost 25% fewer visitors than just twelve months before.

European arrivals were also down by around 10%, with 2.6 million visitors representing a 300,000 decline during the first three months of 2017. Again unsurprisingly, arrivals from Mexico were down 7% -nearly 300,000.

Overall, the 15.8 million international tourists during the first quarter were down 4%, or 697,791 visitors.

This decline has hit US business, too. That many lost tourists represent a $2.7 billion reduction in spending, according to an estimate by Tourism Economics of Wayne.

Read more: Why Tourism and Politics Go Hand in Hand

This is About Atmosphere, Not Just Legislation

It’s impossible to pinpoint how much the decline in international visitors to the USA is because of President Trump. But we can safely assume that his rhetoric and actions have played a part in the market contractions.

Some of the President’s attempted legislation, such as the Muslim ban, had a marked impact on business travel into the US, as we reported back in February. However, consistent decreases in international tourist numbers are likely to be the result of atmosphere, not failed legislation.

Trump led a divisive campaign that caused controversy among liberal Americans, minorities, and travelers the world over, including smears at Mexicans and disabled people. And his actions in office have done little to repair the damage. The USA is as divided as it has been for decades, and the resulting atmosphere is not one that international tourists are keen to engage with.

The sense of a nation in turmoil has similarities with scenes in the UK, where the Brexit vote has led to a change in tourist attitudes on the European continent. According to research published by Travelzoo, a third of travelers from Germany, Italy and Spain – and a quarter from France – confirmed that they would be less inclined to travel to the UK in the event of a Leave vote. Four in 10 respondents from EU countries also worry that Brexit could make UK holidays more expensive.

The latter has not quite turned out to be true, since the plummeting pound has actually caused a boost to the UK tourism market. However, the feelings of Europeans is clear: Brexit, just like Trump, suddenly made the UK seem like a destination that was unwelcoming and less appealing.

When Travel Goes Wrong: What We Can Learn From 3 PR Mistakes

Travel is an industry of unknowns and unpredictability. Over the course of a single trip, one traveller might be dealing with or served by countless different operators. Whether it’s booking a trip through a travel marketplace, getting an Uber to the airport or complaining about your hotel, there are always opportunities for an established brand to slip up. PR mistakes occur, by definition, in the public domain. Here are a few of the most high profile in recent times, along with what travel operators can hope to learn from them.

British Airways’ Computer System Failure

Back in May 2017, British Airways had the nightmare of all nightmares, the situation that no airline ever wants to deal with: a power outage that left its IT system crippled. The result was thousands of stranded passengers, hundreds of cancelled flights and an embarrassing ordeal for a brand that prides itself on quality and reliability.

Rumours began to circulate that it was some kind of cyber attack, that BA’s systems had been compromised. The company was understandably cautious about giving too much detail over what had happened. On the ground, airport staff struggled to deal with the hordes of frustrated holidaymakers. It was a recipe for a PR disaster.

The Lesson: Apologise, front-up and reassure

There is only so much that an operator can do when fundamental systems, such as those handling bookings, are wiped out. Although staff on the ground were reportedly less than informed about what was going on, British Airways was relatively quick to issue the following statement on its Twitter account, from CEO Alex Cruz.

With a problem this unavoidable, the only possible PR move was to issue a public statement like this and front up to the problem. The message had clear instructions, an apology, reassurance concerning refunds and a partial explanation. There wasn’t much more that British Airways could do given the circumstances.

United Airlines: The Perils of Social Media, Greed & Repeating the Same Mistakes

In the first example, British Airways used social media to their advantage. They quickly spread a clear message to worried travellers, reassuring them, apologising and going some way to explaining what was happening. The company was able to do this because of the popularity of platforms just like Twitter – Once it’s on Twitter, it’s open to the world.

Read more: Social Media Tips for Travel Industry Professionals

That same level of transparency and potential virility can also be the fuel for a total PR nightmare. That much was confirmed after this disgraceful incident was caught on camera before the departure of a United Airlines flight…

The video shows a paying passenger being forcibly removed from flight 3411 on April 9th, because United Airlines deliberately overbooked its flight and needed to make room for cabin crew. Staff asked for volunteers to leave the plane, and when nobody stepped forward, one unfortunate gentleman was dragged off, literally kicking and screaming.

Understandably, this outrageous treatment caused a stir online and rapidly became a global story. In itself, a complete PR disaster, highlighting all of the traits that travellers despise in industry giants: greed, indifference, disregard and a total lack of empathy.

But the blunders didn’t stop there. In the following days, everybody involved with the airline, from the social media team to its CEO, appeared to make things worse with poorly thought out statements. These only added fuel to the fire. CEO Oscar Munoz referred to the clear assault that had taken place aboard one of his airline’s planes as ‘re-accommodating a customer’.

And it got worse. The social media team appeared to be doing everything possible to keep the fire burning. Here they are explaining how a lack of volunteers justified the passenger in question being forcibly removed:

The Lesson: Sincere PR is the best way to brace for impact when things go wrong

Aside from the initial incident, which was always going to be impossible to explain away, the United Airlines saga went from bad to worse because of how the emerging situation was mishandled. Everyone from the social media team to the CEO badly misread public sentiment and failed to respond accordingly.

Eventually, Oscar Munoz did issue a strong apology. But because this came long after the event and after other statements had served to fan the flames to the extent that United’s stock was plummeting, it wasn’t taken as sincere by the public.

Travel operators need to accept that when things go wrong, they can go viral quickly. As such, teams (particularly on social media) need to be prepared to respond quickly, appropriately and with empathy. Social media teams should also understand that their responses are completely public, and craft messages carefully to avoid further damage to their reputations.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why the footage from that United Airlines flight was so controversial. The company’s inability to see it from the same perspective is what helped the situation escalate to a global news story.

Thomas Cook: What Not to Do When Tragedy Strikes

Often PR situations can escalate because it’s not clear who is to blame, and the parties involved appear unwilling to accept responsibility. This is sometimes the case when a terrible tragedy has unfolded. One example of this is the sad passing of two young children while on holiday with their father in Corfu in 2006. The boy and girl died because of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a boiler leak at their accommodation, which was provided by Thomas Cook through a third party.

Thomas Cook took legal action against the hotel in Greece where the boys died and protested against inquests into the children’s deaths taking place in the UK. The popular tour operator then received £3 million in damages from the hotel and was heavily criticised after the children’s parents were awarded just over 10% of that figure.

It was not until 9 years later after the event that the company’s CEO agreed to meet with the family and issue a formal apology for how the situation had been dealt with. It donated £1.5m to charity and went on to be found guilty after an inquest jury reached a verdict of unlawful killing. The ruling stated that Thomas Cook had breached its duty of care.

The Lesson: Respond to tragedy like a human, not a company

No gesture or words could ever replace the lives lost in a tragic event such as that which occurred in Corfu in 2006.

But in mishandling the situation and its aftermath, Thomas Cook quickly developed a reputation for prioritising the financial cost of the event over the human, lacking empathy and being indifferent to the family and their loss.

For a travel operator whose business is almost exclusively dedicated to family holidays, coming across as a faceless corporation at a time of crisis was the last thing it should have been doing.

When tragedies such as this do occur, instead of shying away from responsibility, travel operators would do well to embrace the situation first and ask question later. Mistakes can be forgiven. Even negligence can be forgiven. But the emotional impact and the damage caused by indifference can linger for years.

Why B2B Travel Technology is Vital to the Industry

Depending on who you speak to, there are different definitions of what constitutes travel technology. As a travel marketplace provider, we certainly see that definition in a different light to a transport company like Uber or an OTA like Expedia. Our job as a (mostly) B2B service is to enable operators to reach as many travellers as possible. We provide the travel technology and work in the space in between operators and customers.

But it makes sense that, as technology becomes more of a feature in our daily lives, travel companies of one sort or another will utilise different aspects and become a part of the ‘travel technology’ family. A case in point is Skift’s Travel Tech 250, which includes everything from deal sites like GroupOn to rental platforms and price comparison websites.

Travel Technology Now Comes In Many Forms

From looking through Skift’s map of ‘250 travel tech companies’ shaping the modern day travel experience, it’s clear to see that travel tech has an extremely broad meaning. It spans marketplaces for travel, transport and accommodation. There are also B2B services covering distribution, booking engines and even travel industry marketing specialists.

As Skift writes, “We recognize that the travel industry is in constant flux, with new brands and disruptors coming on line all of the time. The design we chose for this visualization is exactly that – a snapshot of what the industry looks like today.”

Sure, we might be biased, but we think we deserve a little more recognition here. Not in terms of being included, although that would be nice. But in terms of the significance of what we and other booking engines do. The Skift image is just a snapshot of the industry as a whole, so let’s try to explain why what we do is so vital.

As more and more travellers research and organise their trips online, having a web presence is becoming a prerequisite to winning bookings from international tourists.

But that’s putting it mildly. Having an online presence is a pre-condition to attracting tourists in the same way that having a warm pair of socks is needed if you’re going to climb Mt Everest. There’s a lot more to it than that. There are some serious marketing challenges facing small travel operators that we’ve outlined again and again.

The first – and most important – is being discovered. An online presence is worth nothing unless people can find it. Only once your products are found can you begin actually selling them. This is getting harder by the day for two reasons. First, a small number of B2C travel industry giants dominate search engine results. And by dominate, we mean that you’ll be lucky to get a look in. They’ve got more content than you, more backlinks than you, and you can bet that their marketing budgets far exceed your own.

The second challenge to getting noticed is increased competition from other smaller operators. As they fight to take traffic from the big guys, many smaller travel startups are making life harder for each other.

But it’s not all bad…

But there is a silver lining. There are two, in fact. The first is that once they get over the hurdle of being heard, smaller operators are in a unique position to concentrate on a single niche. They can then easily build brand awareness and customer loyalty around that target market. By definition, smaller travel operators can be lean, more flexible and highly specialised. That’s the personal touch that many travellers want, not a mass tourism package trip churned out by an industry giant.

With specialised knowledge comes a specialised service. And with that comes a trip that travellers remember for all the right reasons.

travel technology - our marketplace platform

Why True Travel Technology is an Enabler

In our view, true B2B travel technology is tech that helps startups in the industry overcome the challenges mentioned above. True travel technology is empowering, breaks down conventional barriers and gives the small guys a fighting chance against established dominance.

Sure: all of the companies listed above under ‘Travel technology’ are, according to Skift, “shaping the modern-day travel experience”. We don’t deny that Uber, Secret Escapes and Trivago are all offering valuable services that the industry couldn’t do without. Yet the key word for us in that Skift definition is ‘experience’.

Shaping the Travel Experience for the Better

Here at Travelshift, we firmly believe that smaller operators are in a much better position to give 21st century travellers the immersive trips and personalised service they’re looking for.

As we’ve mentioned before, there is a fear that the combining forces of big data and seamless integration will leave the largest technology companies in the best position to dominate the travel industry – even more so than the current industry giants. There is no telling what kind of impact even more dominance in the hands of a few major players will have on the traveller experience.

That’s why we are remaining firmly in the corner of the little guys, enabling them to compete with travel industry giants with our unique, feature-packed marketplace software. We hope that the result will be a greater number of specialised marketplaces, catering to their chosen niche and providing the best possible experience to travellers – right the way through from booking to returning home.

Our Travel Technology Gives Smaller Operators The Platform They Deserve

As we’ve mentioned, setting up in the travel industry and offering your expertise to tourists is only the first step on a long, difficult journey. Many fall at the opening hurdles, and many more follow suit soon after that.

That’s why we put our heads together before launching our first platform in 2014 to produce the perfect solution: A travel marketplace that brings together small operators and allows them to reach a larger audience than they could ever imagine when working as individual suppliers.

Take a look at the impact our platform had in its opening few years when combined with the Iceland tourism boom.

Guide to Iceland growth timeline, proving our travel technologyThis goes to show that a small but dedicated (and talented) team can achieve great things with the right travel technology in place. Our aim is for the same platform solution and techniques to be used to develop partnerships and niche marketplaces all over the world.

The result will be the growth of smaller travel operators, as they each benefit from the support and association of a marketplace that’s purpose-built to drive traffic and sales for niche travel sectors. More success among smaller operators promises to shift the travel landscape, provide tourists with more authentic experiences and bring back the concept of ‘loyalty’ to an industry that has lost its personal touch.

All of this takes us back to the title of this post. So why are B2B travel technology suppliers so vital to the industry? Simply put, we support startups and breed innovation. We make things happen.

More Than Just Another Booking Engine

Earlier in this post we compared having an online presence in the travel industry to having a pair of socks at the base of Mount Everest: It’s only the beginning. And the same can be said for having a travel marketplace that aggregates operators in your chosen niche.

Building a marketplace is only half of the challenge. You still need to market it properly, to streamline its systems and drive as many sales as possible.

That’s where Travelshift’s technology comes in. Our marketplace solution has been honed over time and proven in practice. It’s complete with localisation features, built-in SEO tools, flexible inventory systems and much more besides. Most important of all, the Travelshift platform was built and designed to bring in as much relevant traffic as possible.

To do that, we’ve combined a smart, flexible SaaS travel marketplace solution with unparalleled content marketing capabilities. But the key is where that content comes from: The community. By encouraging locals and tour guides to contribute article and blog posts, our platform allows you to amass a huge social media following and drive significantly more traffic into the marketplace than operators can manage independently. With our tools and no shortage of hard work, you can quickly become the leading producer of content in your field.

Community-driven content is a foundation of our success, and we’re convinced that the model can be applied to any number of travel niches.

Trvaelshift marketplace software

Feeling Inspired?

We’re always on the lookout for new partners, exciting startups and talented individuals to work with. If you’d like to be considered, all we need from you is a discovery letter. In the letter, you should indicate as concisely as possible the following elements of your proposal:

  • Define the market. What are you trying to aggregate?
  • How do you plan to bring in suppliers and/or access inventory?
  • What is your preferred form of partnership (joint venture, revenue sharing agreement, etc)?

You can send your discovery letters to info@travelshift.com.

The travel industry is an exciting and thriving sector with a seemingly endless amount of business opportunities and prospective ventures. We love to team up with intelligent and creative people and enjoy receiving new proposals. Get in touch with us today!