Traveling used to be finding out about yourself, and getting lost in the adventure. Enjoying the mystery of the unknown. But when information is available instantly at your fingertips, it’s easy to let the mystique go and focus on all the useful things you can do with the technology in your pocket.
Several new technologies are changing the travel and hospitality landscape. Some brands are getting ahead of the game by adopting new tech early, and are even setting up their own development studios. It’s a positive sign of how seriously the industry as a whole is embracing technology.
Here are the top six technologies that we see making a serious impact on the travel business.
1. Mobile technology
Without a doubt, mobile has been a game-changer across the board, and the hospitality and travel industry is no exception. The impact of mobile technology can be seen in traveler behavior, from the pre-trip planning stage all the way to in-destination. According to the Millennial Travel brief report, 90% of millennials do research on their laptops, while 62% have used a smartphone to do so.
The Global World Index indicates that 80% of internet users have owned a smartphone. Take the US for example, where 97% of smartphone owners use their device to enhance their travel experiences according to new research by the Consumer Technology Association.
Mobile travel technology has also disrupted the industry by influencing the costs of flights and hotel rates. One of the major reasons for this is that consumer behavior has shifted to mobile searches on sites like Google, Yahoo,
"97% of smartphone owners in the US use their device to enhance their travel experiences"
2. Virtual and augmented reality
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are poised to provide the travel industry with opportunities to transform the way it markets itself and engages with guests.
In 2016, big brand hotels such as Marriott, Best Western, Holiday Inn Express & Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group all incorporated VR into their guest experience. We see some brands taking a lead in offering guest services, such as VR room service in collaboration with Samsung Gear VR. Some hotels have also released VR postcards, with a series of 360-degree travel experiences viewed in 3D through a VR headset.
As EyeforTravel explains in this whitepaper, “Experiences are the currency of the travel industry, but giving travelers a genuine and personalized idea of what their leisure trip will look like has been elusive.”
EyeforTravel’s report also shows the travel industry as an early adopter and key driver for VR technology. Travel companies are seen to be offering customers novel ways to research their destinations have grown in popularity. Lufthansa, for example, organized an in-flight experience called FlyingLab. Using Samsung Gear glasses, guests can experience onboard presentations.
Interestingly, the report references a 2015 consumer survey that shows the gaming industry as the most interested in VR in the US. However, by mid-2016, the travel, tourism and adventure industry had shifted ahead of both gaming and education by 73%.
"In 2016, Marriott, Best Western, Holiday Inn Express and Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group all incorporated VR into their guest experience"
According to brand experience agency CRAMER, VR and AR are related but different. While VR transports users to different realities, “augmented reality takes our current reality and adds something to it.”
Hub by Premier Inn has incorporated AR into each guest room by including a stylized map of the neighborhood. With their smartphone, guests can scan the map and see more useful information about interests spots nearby. This not only allows the hotel to leverage more of their local neighborhood, it’s also a more exciting way to keep guests informed and engaged.
Evidently, the impact both VR and AR can make on hotels is positive, and with constant developments unfolding in this burgeoning tech, it’s not hard to imagine more creative use cases being implemented across the traveler journey.
"Hub by Premier Inn has incorporated AR into each guest room, helping guests see more information about the area through their smartphone"
Bots are artificial intelligence platforms that take advantage of instant messaging their main area of operations. In such platforms, consumers are communicating with a program or database that can respond to inquiries, rather than to a human.
Hyatt Hotels has used this method via the Facebook Messenger Platform since November 2015, with the system capable of answering guests’ queries, checking room availability and making reservations.
By late 2016, Expedia was already engaging with bots in earnest, rolling out the one of the industry’s first travel bot integration with Skype for bookings. A survey by Oracle reported by Business Insider indicates that 80% of respondents have used or plan to use chatbots by 2020.
Still, in testing and infinite stages for many, it will be interesting to see how guests behave or react to a bot in a conversation rather than a human. Automation is great for efficiency, but how well it can handle common sense human situations is still a bit of a question mark. Nevertheless, should bots prove to be an effective approach to guest communications, it will surely impact operations for both hotels and OTAs.
"A survey by Oracle reported by Business Insider indicates that 80% of respondents have used or plan to use chatbots by 2020"
Smart travel technology products by tech giants and startups alike are gearing up to revolutionize the modern day travel experience. Wearables have been on the rise since 2014 and enjoyed an extra boost after Apple Watch and Samsung Android Wear hit highs of 8.2 million sales in the last three months of December 2016.
Starwood’s Aloft, Element and W hotels have all found ways that allow guests to use their wearable tech as an in-room amenity. According to Starwood, its features are most popular in destination cities in the US, China, Canada, UK and Hong Kong.
As hotels continue to innovate and re-imagine the experience for guests, numerous up-and-coming startups and companies are giving serious thought to how this can enhance convenience for travelers.
Classified as travel gadgets, the number of products are endless and you only need to check out Travel Away or Mashable for the latest and coolest products. Our favorites are pocket-sized washing machines, selfie-drones, voice translators and water purifying bottles, just to name a few.
"Starwood's Aloft, Element and W Hotels have all found ways to allow guests to use their wearable tech as an in-room amenity"
5.Voice Interfaces (VI)
(image courtesy of Amazon Echo press images)
Talking to machines is no longer a sign that you might be crazy. Google Android smartphones let you search using your voice, and iPhone’s Siri will do its best to perform a variety of tasks when asked verbally.
These are examples of voice interfaces (VI), and they offer a lot of potential uses. In the travel space, for example, Sabre Hospitality is leveraging Sabre Dev Studio’s APIs to bring voice-activated flight search capabilities to Google Glass. Sabre Labs’ activity in this space shows how seriously top travel reservation companies are moving ahead and working with developers to test out Amazon Echo API and how Alexa can be incorporated to enhance the travel experience (more on that below).
While this technology is still very much emerging, it has the potential to completely change the way consumers book flights and hotels.
"Sabre Hospitality are leveraging Sabre Dev Studio's APIs to bring flight search capabilities to Google Glass"
6.Internet of Things (IoT)
Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the interconnectedness of computing devices and the ability to send and receive data with everyday objects. Like using your iPad to control the lighting in your living room, for example.
Ericsson Mobility report states IoT sensors and devices are expected to exceed mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018. And adding to the element of VI, Wynn and Amazon announced that 4,718 hotel rooms at the Wynn Las Vegas would be equipped with the Amazon Echo in 2017.
What's most interesting about this deployment is Alexa (the voice command personal assistant of Amazon Echo) will be able to control the room’s temperature, TV, lights and drapery through voice command. This wouldn't be possible without IoT technologies. Other use cases of IoT enablement with hotels is personalization message by greeting a repeat guest to a chain hotel.
"IoT sensors and devices are expected to exceed mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices in 2018, according to an Ericsson Mobility report."
With no sign of slowing down, technologies will remain an enabler of enhanced experiences for the modern traveler throughout their travel journey. It has become a necessity for both hotels and travel companies to be early adopters of technology and provide personalized experiences.
This has also led to the emergence of startups and tech companies creating innovative products to fill the void, in terms of what the modern traveler will come to expect as part of their travel experience.
Keep in mind that the nature of emergent technology means we don’t have all the answers yet. It’s much too early to fathom all the potential uses, how well they will enhance experiences and how willingly guests will engage with them.
But the building blocks are there, with unlimited potential. The industry is limited only by its creativity and innovation – if it can be dreamed, the technology can probably make it a reality.