UK Government Highlights Risks of Celebrity-Inspired Travel

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

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

The role of influencers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UK Government is #Concerned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different countries have different rules: Really?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Longbottom, FCO Consular Director said:

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

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

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

Social media, celebrity influencers and the information vacuum

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

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

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

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

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

Having a community to fill the vacuum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report Digs in to Travel Technology Trends for 2018

Technology is already changing every aspect of travel.

Tourism no longer starts with a trip to a physical travel agent, but through a search engine or social media platform. Research and bookings are now almost exclusively carried out online. We’re even starting to move beyond booking through conventional computers and towards the convenience of smartphones and other mobile devices.

And that’s before a trip has even started. That’s not even encompassing the travel part of travel, or everything that’s going on behind the scenes that travel companies are working on to make every part of the experience smoother, safer and more reliable.

Changing the way we OTAs interact with customers

Chief among these transformations is the way that technology has changed the way companies interact with their customers – something that isn’t exclusive to travel of course.

In part that’s because travel companies are working hard to meet their customers’ evolving expectations. But it’s also the case that different technologies are helping to take operational efficiencies to the next level (which is conveniently where our own software solution comes in).

‘Customer interactions’ is a pretty broad term. We can take it to mean any point in the travel experience that companies and their products or service come into contact with travellers.

Here are a few ways that 2018’s technology trends are going to shape those interactions.

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

According to a report from GlobalData – ‘Technology Trends in Travel & Tourism’ – there are six foundational trends that look set to keep travellers engaged, informed, enthused and loyal over the next 12 months.

The headline statement is that travel remains an industry reliant on authenticity, from trips themselves to the human interactions that shape them.

Elena Mogoş, an Associate Analyst for Digital Travel & Tourism at GlobalData, said, “Travel still revolves around meaningful human interactions. However, to be successful, companies need to create a balance between the technological innovations and the human element. Improving the customer experience must always be on the back of travel and tourism companies’ minds when investing in technology.”

So let’s delve into these trends and talk about why they are so important.

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR)

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

First up are the closely associated technologies of Virtual and Augmented reality. Both of these are a good example of technology being adapted to fit a problem, rather than being developed specifically to fix one.

There’s no doubt that the ability to overlay images onto our view of the world is an exciting one. The same goes for being able to step into another world entirely using VR. But figuring out useful ways to apply these to travel industry problems has been a challenge for travel companies.

but we’re getting there. In the past few years AR and VR adoption in travel has slowly been on the rise. As the technologies develop, there’s no reason why that trend won’t continue.

Currently, AR and VR are mainly used for marketing purposes. Because travel choices are driven by our perceptions and are always visually orientated, immersive VR and AR content marketing is the most obvious application. That’s including showing off hotel rooms in advance, taking a virtual walk through a ski resort before booking or even exploring whole national parks from your own home.

These are niche applications in VR might help boost ticket sales and booking numbers, but there’s no reason to think that these technologies will revolutionise the travel experience in the same way that, say, wearables could and will.

The one argument would be that eventually, VR will become so realistic that travel is rendered obsolete. But that’s an awfully long way off, both in terms of the technology and in terms of the authenticity travellers are always striving to achieve.

Augmented reality, when combined with wearables, could have many more practical applications for travellers. To an extent, Google’s translation of text is already an example of that. It’s easy to imagine smartphones becoming a platform for more of these kinds of uses. Live translation is one, but what about augmented directions, opening times and closing times overlaid onto your view of the world as you walk past a restaurant, or tourist information that pops up on your smart glasses as you wander through a historical site?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence is probably the biggest buzz word in the world of tech. It’s thrown around all the time by companies wanting to appear on the cutting edge, even if most people struggle to define what it really means.

But, t give credit where it is due, AI is behind many evolving technologies and innovations in the travel and tourism sector.

We can subdivide AI into a few categories to get a better idea of how it’s being applied in travel. The first is machine learning, which can be applied to all sorts of things to automate tedious processes and speed up bookings, check-ins, customer service and more.

Read more: Artificial Intelligence Will Change the Travel Industry Forever

AI promises to speed up processing times, make fewer mistakes than humans and decrease costs for travel companies. Good examples of that might be automatic recommendations based on where you’re flight is heading or what hotel you are staying in, dynamic pricing systems that react to the market or sentiment analysis on social media.

Aside from those kinds of intelligent, automated systems, two other aspects of AI being applied in travel are robotics and virtual assistants.

Robot concierge and check-in services are a little creepy, but they definitely represent a potential future. Given that hotel chains are always looking to cut costs and provide a more efficient service, robotic room service might not be so far away.

The real potential though, lies in virtual assistants. Home assistants from Google, Amazon and Microsoft are growing in popularity. Taking them with us on our travels is the next logical step, one that’s made easy by their easy integration with smartphones.

These virtual assistants could also end up being the link between us and many of the other technological trends listed here. Perhaps they could one day make booking decisions, search for the cheapest flights, control our wearables, optimise our journeys and more.

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

Internet of Things (IoT)

The burgeoning Internet of Things is a phrase used to describe a world connected devices, where sensors, computers and systems are increasingly integrated, operating with minimal supervision and generally making things better and efficient place.

IoT technology encapsulates many of the technologies on this list, from robotics to smart assistants to VR.

But at its foundation IoT is about connecting devices to networks in a way that previously hasn’t been possible. One great example is Lufthansa’s smart baggage tracking solution. With a few connected tags, passengers can track their baggage via a link found on their mobile boarding pass in the Lufthansa app.

All of the stress and confusion that comes with lost luggage, gone.

Voice Technology

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

We’ve written before on the emerging influence of voice search and voice-enabled assistants in the world of travel. As well as being a novel way to get help on the go, voice tech will also soon shape our lives outside of travel.

Intrinsically linked to the rise of virtual assistants, voice tech could shape the way we interact with the Internet of Things in the future. Our voices will always be a more convenient and effective way to communicate with machines, devices and, of course, travel agencies. It’s just a case of making those receptacles smart enough to understand and engage with the quirks of natural language.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that more and more hotels have started experimenting with voice-activated devices. Among them are W Austin of Marriott International, Kimpton Alexis Hotel, and Westin Buffalo.

Wi-Fi connectivity

It’s certainly not the most advanced technology on our list, but Wi-Fi connectivity is fast becoming a must for travellers – even those in search of remote adventure still want to be connected to home and social media.

Wi-Fi is also the foundation that allows travellers to connect to other useful technologies, whether that’s voice searching Google maps for a nearby site, getting directions or translating a menu.

Until 5G comes along and takes the travel experience to a whole new connected dimension, Wi-Fi is the way forward.

Wearable devices

Read more: How the Travel Industry is Using Wearable Technology

Wearable technology is yet another way that travel companies can streamline and improve the experience of their customers.

On the one hand, RFID tags allow companies from Disney to cruise liners to personalise customers’ experience. For example, connected bands can be used on theme park infrastructure, hotel rooms and as payment devices. That kind of deployment can lead to lower waiting times, while tracking guests’ locations and activities to enable smarter decision making.

We’ve also seen the evolution of smartwatches from the likes of Apple and Fitbit – as well as being fitness and GPS trackers, many of these devices can run applications to help travellers on the go.

And finally, there are smart headphones, which could completely turn the travel experience on its head. When merged with voice assistants, smart headphones offer real-time translation, like that of Google’s Pixel Buds.

Some of these wearables have the potential to revolutionise the way we travel, while also posing a threat to the authenticity of that experience. Tools that can translate a foreign language in real time are groundbreaking – but how far will we allow technology to creep into those magical moments that make travel so memorable?

Technology trends in 2018

It’s clear that 2018 has plenty of promise for travel technology. From artificial intelligence to the rise of voice search and travel wearables, the industry is ready to embrace all of the latest gadgets and trends to keep customers happy, loyal and streamline services.

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

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

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

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

Location-based travel insurance from Revolut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Travel and Technology Come Together Again

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

marketplace software

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Growing Influence of Voice Tech in the Travel Industry

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

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

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

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

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

amazon alexa

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

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

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

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

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

So How Common is Voice Search?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how about some travel industry specific numbers?

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

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

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

Starting from small: The rising use of voice search

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

google pixel buds, travel and translation

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

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

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

Problems in the pipeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voice search is a long way from the finished article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies and the Travel Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speed, accessibility, savings and security

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

How Bitcoin and Alts could benefit travel companies and their customers

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

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

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

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

So that’s speed and fees covered.

What about security?

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

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

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

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

What does all of this mean for the travel industry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mainstream adoption in the travel industry is inevitable

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

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

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

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

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.

That 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.