People have never travelled as much as they do today. More than four billion of us whizzed through the air in 2017. At the same time, travellers have never been so demanding. We want it all and we want it now. We expect speed, authenticity, personalization, seamlessness and security.
To deliver on these high expectations, technology is a must. It has already reshaped the way we work, live and behave, and will continue to do so. It has revolutionized how we search, review, select and experience travel. Consider the shift to mobile and your digital boarding pass.
Here are three megatrends in technology and travel which could transform the industry:
1) Done For You (DFY)
As automation rises, how much you Do It Yourself (DIY) compared to how much is Done For You (DFY) will change. Thanks to advances in AI, automation is no longer limited to physical tasks. We are automating mental ones. While automation has already happened in the back end of travel, from inventory to reservation and staffing to transactions, AI will not stop there. Consider the potential in travel for automated personalization of the kind we experience on Amazon. We could have digital concierges like Siri and Alexa, but for travel or even self-driving cars.
As AI and automation transform society and become ever more pervasive, we need to consider the potential benefits and pitfalls, so we can proactively address the latter. For instance, how will autonomous cars reshape transport infrastructure? What will this shift mean for the airports that rely on parking for more than 40% of their revenues? Similarly, as certain tasks are automated, how will the travel industry identify those workers in the most "at risk" jobs and ease their transition to new, quality jobs by retraining them with different skill sets?
I believe that the industry will continue to drive job creation, and that automation will precipitate a shift from data-centred tasks to more roles involving human interaction, creating unique and memorable experiences for customers.
2) #nofilter experiences
In a world overflowing with information, much of which is difficult to trust, people want unfiltered experiences that will inspire them.
Today, we are seeing entirely new trips, from expedition-style vessels to discover the Arctic, to boutique agencies offering "surprise" vacations, to space tourism, with Virgin Galactic planning to start flights by late 2018.
Paradoxically, virtual and augmented reality content can widen access to these exclusive and unique experiences. It can offer customers a test-drive, before they pay a premium price.
Most people can’t afford front-row seats to the Super Bowl or fly inside an active volcano. But VR can recreate these experiences at virtually no cost. By creating 3D 360-degree content, to showcase an experience or a brand, users are more willing to trust and believe in that product's authenticity.
Just as video teleconferencing was no substitute for face-to-face contact in the 1990s, I do not believe that VR will replace travel. Rather, it will inspire people to discover the world, or even help them to discover places that no longer exist, such as Egypt at the time of the pharaohs. But I do think that VR will force brands and destinations alike to be truthful about their value proposition, because travellers will continue sharing their experiences with their network on social media.
Blockchain, and specifically crypto-currencies, were all the rage in 2017. This nascent technology, which allows for decentralized and secure storage and sharing of information, has the potential to increase trust while minimizing friction and corruption. Beyond finance, blockchain - or distributed ledger technology - has the potential to be applied across a variety of other fields.
One such area is travel security, and more specifically biometrics, given the need to verify individuals' identity as they cross international borders. While biometrics are only one piece of the puzzle in achieving secure and seamless cross-border travel, this technology could make a real difference. Establishing inclusivity, interoperability, scalability and financing will be essential.
If the travel and tourism industry plans to achieve its targets of nearly doubling air passengers to 7.8 billion by 2036, it must integrate enabling technologies to support its growth. These will create a speedy, authentic, personalized, seamless and secure experience for tomorrow’s travellers.