We have entered the era of “the connected traveller”. UK Smartphone and tablet penetration continue to grow and by 2025 will be close to 100%. Add to this the uptake of wearables such as the Apple Watch and it is clear that tech that once seemed distant is verging on mainstream.
So, what are the travel players and legacy leaders going to focus on to win the hearts, minds and wallets of this new breed of traveller? Here are my 6 areas to watch for:
Seamless, easy travel, driven by technology
By 2025 the days of lengthy online research will be behind us, driven by mass-market conversion to semantic, location-aware and Big Data applications.
Transit will be paperless and queue-less. We’ll be checked in via biometric security, using laser molecular body scanners, already being introduced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Luggage will be digitally tagged and easy to drop off, and meanwhile our connected appliances will be ordering in necessities to make our stay and return home as simple and pleasing as possible.
Planes, trains and automobiles will know us better as individuals, with wifi and mobile enabled everywhere and seats that morph to our bodies.
Our individual ‘e-agent’ will go everywhere with us, knowing our verbal commands, gestures and facial expressions, and will personalise all our travel experiences, planning itineraries and acting as a tour guide. Today, big companies like TUI have achieved over 1m downloads and 125k active users of their mythompson and Digital Assistant apps, offering holiday countdown, excursion booking and social tips. Other apps are already being developed using Intel’s RealSense 3D technology and it’s clear that these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Our hotel will hyper-personalised and touch-activated. Hotel rooms will be transformed into digital spaces in which even the pillows will be embedded with electronics to relax us at night and wake us up in the morning. Back in the physical world our favourite products will be waiting for us in the bathroom.
More people going further than ever before
Haptic touch technologies like Disney REVEL will open the door already held ajar by VR, giving tactile feedback so we can travel without leaving our living rooms.
But I think rumours of travel’s demise are greatly exaggerated. On the contrary, sensory experiences will only awaken people’s interest, while travel obstacles fall away. Forecasts suggest 65 billion people will fly in the next 15 years. This is the same number who have flown in the last 100 years. Roaming charges are under scrutiny and remote working unchains legions of workers from their desks.
Language barriers are disappearing with ever-smarter instant translation apps supporting trips to previously un-visitable places. There’s also likely to be a trend towards niche, once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities.
And what about space travel? We’ve all followed the Virgin Galactic saga; then there’s architects Foster + Partners, who are currently working with the European Space Agency exploring ways to 3D print structures on the moon – perhaps a hotel one day.
More attainable and, dare I say it, desirable, is the sub-aquatic opportunity. Underwater hotels already exist and will be a far more mainstream proposition over the next decade. And there’s a potentially a lot more to see down there than up above!
Peer-to-peer collaboration and the sharing economy
It’s estimated that within the next decade 5%-10% of people could be renting out their homes to travellers.
“Social travel” is growing exponentially and this new channel – covering accommodation to supper clubs and other experiences – is already becoming part of the mainstream travel industry. A generation of entrepreneurs are exploring ways to build on Airbnb’s success and create new, exciting cottage-industry-style connections between tourists and natives anywhere, anytime.
As well as disruptive startups looking to change the way we choose, book and experience our holidays, the big, traditional brands will inevitably fight back with high investment travel-focused apps and the sort of ultra-personalised differentiated experiences that only hotels with data, history and resources can deliver.
Better use of data
The next 10 years will see an aggressive shift towards really understanding how to use Big Data. More than that, Smart Data. Brands and businesses that can adapt to a market demanding openness between third parties to put together truly customer-centric packages will succeed. Those that don’t will be under threat.
And when travellers begin to believe in the customer-centricity of brands’ behaviour, skepticism towards giving up data will soften. Could this be the decade of the data trade off?
Experience, experience, experience
Many organisations are appointing a Chief Customer Officer, positioned to influence policy, behaviour and cultural direction. This is where the long-term payoff in customer engagement will come.
Virtual reality means the possibility of pre-experiencing destinations. Holidays from hell should become inconceivable – simply pop on your next gen VR headset headset and go for a stroll around your destination. If something’s not right, vote with your feet or sort out the problem in advance.
Disney have invested millions in their MyMagic+ wristband, reducing queuing, allowing for more efficient and enjoyable trips and higher spend per visitor. For the opening of their new Shanghai park, the same tech will be integrated into an app that any visitor can download onto their mobile.
For economy fliers experience is once again becoming the battleground. Even now progressive airlines such as Norwegian Air offer free on-board wifi and Air New Zealand have introduced Skycouch allowing more relaxed seating for families.
High street travel retail is still finding its feet, but smart retailers are finding ways for their physical stores to be unique again.
Virgin V-lounges have launched in places like Westfield, adopting some of the principles of their airport lounges and delivering a much more relaxed, engaging and less sales-driven experience. There you can actually sit in plane seats to experience what the premium priced extra legroom feels like. This has led to huge increases in upsell of these seats vs. online.
Likewise, TUI’s Bluewater concept store, taking the focus away from sales and towards seamless digital engagement with personal advice has seen a 3 x sales increase and higher average spend per visitor. They have a rollout plan of 120 stores over 2016.
A recent poll suggested that 70% of travellers expect companies to demonstrate commitment to preserving the natural environment, placing hotels, tour operators, airlines and restaurants under scrutiny and prompting a boom in ecotourism. Something for travel businesses to think long and hard about in the future.
As for me, I’m off today to Hong Kong and Vietnam with my wife and three kids. We’ll be laden with tech to keep them entertained, and let’s hope it can give us a more enriching experience while we’re there too. Who knows, I might even come back with a smartwatch.