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Digital Futures: The Tech Transforming Travel

By Tasha Kleeman |

Over the last decade, the experience of travel has transformed dramatically. Gone are the days of getting lost on cobbled backstreets, armed with a map and a French dictionary, hoping to stumble across somewhere decent for dinner. With the advent of global WiFi, AirBnB, Tripadvisor, Google Maps and Google Translate, every aspect of a holiday can be curated, geo-tagged, and, of course, Instagrammed.

As technology continues to advance, travel is going to continue to evolve. Who knows what your holiday will look like in 50 years?

Here’s our round up of some of the most exciting technological advances that are set to revolutionise travel as we know it.

Extended Reality

Virtual and Augmented Reality are no longer just tools for gaming, and are presenting opportunities to enhance the experience of reality across a variety of sectors.

Imagine tourist destinations seen through VR headsets, overlain with historical information or simulations of what they looked like in the past. This is already in place in Paris, where virtual reality ‘timescopes’ allow tourists to experience what The Bastille looked like at various moments throughout history.

The Natural History Museum in London has also been experimenting with VR, developing an app allowing visitors to move and manipulate objects which are usually out of reach behind glass cabinets.

VR also offers the opportunity to enhance your travel experience from the comfort of your own home. Platforms like YouVisit and Ascape provide immersive VR simulations of far flung destinations, designed to inspire and inform your next adventure. In the future, this ‘try before you buy’ model likely to extend to every aspect of the travel journey, enabling you to take a virtual tour of potential accommodation before you book, or explore your aircraft pre-flight to select the best seat.

Virtual Reality also has the potential to upgrade in-flight entertainment, with tech companies like IdeaNova experimenting with immersive on-board 360-video experiences.

Artificial Intelligence

The world’s first hotel to be entirely staffed by robots (Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan), recently fired half its workforce after being inundated with customer complaints.

While the hospitality world might not be ready for a full AI takeover quite yet, things do seem to be moving in that direction, with hotels and travel providers increasingly incorporating machine learning into their customer service operations. All rooms in Marriot’s Aloft Hotels come with customised iPads, on which Siri can be used to control the lighting or to provide tourist information. Carnival Cruises provide their guests with wearable smart sensors, which act as their own personal digital concierge, catering to individual needs and preferences. Amazon is currently developing a new version of Alexa specifically designed for hotels, while French company Destygo has created a chatbot that can function as an airport helper, a travel assistant and a hotel concierge, already in use in airports in Paris and Lyon, and at Disneyland Paris.

AI also has the potential to significantly improve efficiency and passenger experience at airports. Biometric technology in particular, which encompasses everything from facial recognition and fingerprint technology to more complex heartbeat analysis and vein mapping, is likely to feature as part of airport security in the coming years, and may soon make passports redundant.

Tech specialist SITA recently reported that 77% of airports are implementing biometric ID programmes over the next five years, while Acuity Market Intelligence predicts that by 2022, biometric touchpoints will be commonplace at check-in, bag-drop, securing and boarding gates across airports worldwide.

Japan’s Narita Airport recently announced it will be the world’s first airport to allow passengers to board using facial recognition technology without additional document checks. Others are following suit, with AirAsia currently piloting facial recognition technology at Johor’s Senai Airport, and Hong Kong Airport planning to launch its own facial recognition-based single token identity system by early 2020.

Space Tourism

Space travel may not be as remote a possibility as we think, as private companies compete to become the first to tap into this lucrative sector. A recently published UBS report predicted that in ten years’ time, space tourism will represent an annual market of $20 billion, competing with long-distance airline flights.

Consumer space travel is certainly big business: Virgin Galactic has already sold around 700 tickets to space, coming in at a hefty $250,000 apiece, and Blue Origin (the Jeff Bezos-owned space exploration company) is rumoured to be releasing their own tickets soon.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk also has lofty ambitions for human space exploration, and announced in September that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be among the first passengers to fly around the room on SpaceX’s Starship in 2023.

Whether any of this becomes a reality for the average traveller, only time will tell. However, with increasing sums of money being pumped into the industry, we are likely to see exciting developments in the possibilities of space exploration in the coming decades.

The Future of Travel Money

The proliferation of digital payment options is already changing the way we spend abroad. In most parts of the world, you can now pay using a debit or travel card, your phone or even your watch. As increasingly sophisticated payment technologies, like biometric authentication and microchipping, are developed, this is only going to grow.

However, don’t expect to see the total demise of cash anytime soon. The latest G4S Cash Report found that despite the increasing popularity of digital payments, cash continues to be the most widely used payment method across the world, with an increase in cash circulation since 2011.

Many countries still rely on cash as a primary means of payment, either lacking the technological infrastructure for digital alternatives, or simply still culturally and psychologically tied to cash.

So while it’s likely that eventually cash will become redundant, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

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