Today, nobody doubts technology’s importance in tourism and how it has influenced and continues to shape, the way we travel: from the vacation destination we choose, all the way to what we do once we're there and even in the time after we've come back from our adventure. It is so prevalent, that according to a Google Travel study, 74% of travelers plan their trips on the Internet, while only 13% still use travel agencies to prepare them.
Who hasn’t gone somewhere just because Ryanair was offering round-trip tickets for 30 euros? If we merely feel like going somewhere, we go online and look for what the budget airlines are providing, we see what destination will be the cheapest, and voilà, let's go! This scenario, so ubiquitous today, was unthinkable some years ago.
We can find a lot of content online about technology's influence in the tourism industry, but as the Team Leader of the Travel project area at WAM, I couldn't avoid writing a bit about it as well as my personal experience from my latest vacation in Europe. I mainly wanted to focus on when it comes to using my mobile device since we can now freely use our devices because roaming no longer exists in the European Union.
Technology trends in tourism
A few months ago, the Eurecat technology center put on the Forum TurisTIC in Barcelona, where they talked about the technologies making a mark on the industry.
During the event, Eurecat culture and tourism specialist Xavier Cubeles, noted that “the travel industry is in the midst of a deep transformation” where “the Internet and mobile have changed the way people plan and experience their trips and have had an impact on the most highly-demanded professional profiles and the way destinations promote themselves.”
Next, we’ll take a look at some of the technological advances currently leaving their mark on the industry and will, according to various studies, bring significant short-term changes to the sector.
This is undoubtedly the main character in the new ways of travel. The cell phone has become our tour guide, travel agency, best restaurant locator, map, and more. It's by our side during the entire purchase journey. In fact, according to TripAdvisor, 45% of users use their smartphone for everything having to do with their vacations.
This is why there’s a need to adapt corporate services and communications to these devices. KLM, for example, has already created an information service for passengers using Facebook Messenger.
This system, once someone has made a reservation, sends the user information regarding their ticket through Facebook Messenger as well as their boarding pass or updates about the status of their flight. This way, the user has all the pertinent information about their trip in the palm of their hand using an app that they already use, eliminating the need to download anything else.
Augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) have also entered the travel world, and the truth is that it’s a trend due to the all the possibilities they can offer. More and more companies use it to show users a cabin on a cruise ship or transport them, for a few seconds, to the Great Wall of China.
Today, it’s possible to “teleport” ourselves to the most remote corners of the globe without getting off the couch. That’s what you can get using Everest’s EVEREST VR app, that lets you see the top of the world without having to climb to the top. Or, if you would prefer, you can cross the Grand Canyon in a kayak enjoying the landmark’s sights and sounds.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to bring significant updates to the tourism industry. They include integrating sensors connected to the Internet inside items like cars, suitcases, buildings, and more.
In fact, Spain’s Hotel Technology Institute (Instituto Tecnológico Hotelero, or ITH) affirmed that the Internet of Things “is going to be the major transformative factor in the personalization of the customer experience over the next few years.”
Some Virgin Hotel properties offer an app to their clients that lets them interact with the room’s thermostat or control the television in the room. There are also suitcases that have devices that allow users to use their cell phones to follow where their suitcase is at any time to avoid lost baggage at the airport or other public places.
We’re all familiar with Siri and Alexa, the virtual assistants that meet all our needs: what’s the weather like today in my city, turn the radio on, open my email, and more.
Hotels are now starting to enlist this “help” thanks to the arrival of virtual assistants specially-designed for this environment. IBM recently launched Watson Assistant, an AI-powered virtual assistant that creates an interactive and personalized experience for consumers.
This is the open technology that firms can employ and adapt to their needs. This way, the virtual assistant won't be called Watson but instead, have the name that the hotel chooses.
There has been a lot of recent talk about Big Data, but they have yet to show all the opportunities it offers for the travel industry. Nonetheless, many industry players are already using it.
The Meliá hotel chain uses information about their guests to figure out what is the best target for marketing campaigns. Primarily, they examine their database to look at the amount spent, the reason for the trip, the country of origin and cross-checks this information with public data from government sources to develop the most appropriate customer profile and achieve a higher success rate. This way, they make a better segmentation for their campaigns to increase their efficacy and optimize the investment required for these campaigns.
Blockchain is a technology poised to transform the world as we know it. Although it’s mainly associated with finance, it also appears that it can impact travel.
While there has not been that much experimentation with it, it is possible that it will be useful in identifying passengers at the airport, guaranteeing transparency in tourists' opinions, and easy and secure payments.
My personal experience: The techiest Eurotrip
I confess that I am one of those travelers that values the comfort that comes with mobile technology; above all in those “non-stop trips.” That’s why I want to share my experience in how technology has influenced my latest trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Krakow.
Planning: Online reservations
While planning my trip, I made all the hotel reservations online. I've been doing this for years, but this time I found myself with a different surprise: they gave me the option of downloading a free guide about every city I was going to visit. I like to look for more information about the cities I'm going too, but I also recognize that this is an Inbound tactic that motivates people to reserve using that web portal again the future.
All these reservations, for both flights and hotels, stayed inside my inbox avoiding me having to print everything out and then worry about losing anything.
On the road: My cell phone, the best co-pilot
Traveling with a Smartphone and mobile data (thanks to the end of roaming in Europe) has been a revelation. It reminded me of all my journeys and reservations; it was there to guide me when I got lost (more than I could count) in a city, to keep me busy on long travels, or to help me find out interesting facts about the places I was visiting.
Post-Trip: sharing is living
When I come back from a trip, I always like to review the hotels, restaurants, and activities I’ve been in and done to share with others my experience and help them on their upcoming trip. I am a fan of the Internet philosophy: collaborating and sharing knowledge so everyone can find them. I did it all comfortably with my phone and on the couch at home.
The travel industry is one where interaction with the consumer is becoming more critical, and the technological advances are letting corporations get closer and know their customers a bit better.
Steve Jobs said: "technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.”
We have the tools. Now the question is: what are we going to do with them?
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