Four megatrends for Travel & Tourism and how they could affect us

The pace of technological change is increasing exponentially. A once distant sci-fi future of driverless cars, artificial reality and robot assistants is now very close.

Megatrends feels like an appropriate term for these things. They are seismic, impacting people on a global scale. But they are personal too. Each of us will feel their effects, both at work and at home.

Here are four megatrends that we think will be particularly impactful this year. Are you ready for them?

1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is everywhere. Predictive text and personal assistants like Siri and Alexa — you’re experiencing its benefits already. New, more powerful chips built specifically for AI applications will allow developers to introduce it in many more places this year. According to Forrester, 70% of enterprises are expected to embrace AI in the next 12 months.

Within the Travel & Tourism sector, AI will offer all sorts of benefits. We’ll have increasingly smart predictive aircraft maintenance alerts, vastly improved yield management for hotels and airlines, ultra personalised booking experiences and more efficient traffic management for busy airports.

Chatbots in particular are developing fast, being deployed to answer many of our customers’ and clients’ questions quickly and accurately. It won’t be long before they’re being taken places in driverless vehicles too. General Motors’ first driverless fleet will be on the road in 2019.

How we respond to AI and its potential to replace people will be critical. The Travel & Tourism sector accounts for some 10% of global employment and nearly one-in-five of all new jobs created. Many of these jobs are semi-skilled and concentrated in developing countries, offering better lives for millions. Charting a path with AI that improves margins, betters customer service and also creates employment will be the key.

2. Virtual Reality (VR)

It feels like we are reaching a tipping point with VR too. With Google and Facebook ploughing resources into the sector, VR headsets will soon become common in homes and businesses. Remarkably, tech companies are already looking at ways to evolve VR beyond sight and sound to include touch and even smell.

People often associate VR with gaming and fantasy worlds, but its application alongside the real world is where the mass market opportunities lie. This Augmented Reality (AR) is already prevalent, with 360-degree video and imagery increasingly common on smartphones and social networks.

These super immersive experiences are just made for Travel & Tourism. We’ll be able to create incredibly compelling experiences to showcase destinations and attractions. Tour operators are already allowing customers to try before they buy.

AR will also add immense value for people in destination. Castles will be populated with warriors from the past and ancient ruins rebuilt in front of peoples’ eyes.

3. Biometrics

Fingerprint and facial recognition are common to most of us already — again on our smartphones. In people-centric businesses like Travel & Tourism, successfully identifying customers, staff and clients quickly is crucial and biometrics offer huge opportunities.

For example, rather than having to stop and show travel documents, some airline passengers now gain clearance for boarding using facial recognition cameras.

Regrettably, the Travel & Tourism sector is also vulnerable to the threat of terrorism. Wider adoption of biometric recognition will also offer advances in security at airports and other places of transit, helping keep people safe as well as smoothing their journeys.

There’s a tension here. We need to strike the right balance between the individual’s right to privacy and the wider safety of the public. The technology isn’t currently infallible either. So it’s at its most useful when coupled with highly-trained, vigilant staff.

4. Demographic changes

Along with lightspeed technological advances, we’re seeing unprecedented changes in the world’s population. Growing middle classes in developing nations have the resources to travel like never before. Older generations now enjoy the benefits of travel well into their twilight years.

But it’s perhaps the Millennials who will have the biggest impact. This new generation of decision makers and influencers are bringing their unique outlook to bear. Along with travelling more widely and spending more of their disposable income on travel, they’re demanding more sustainability. This can only be a good thing. We should be thinking about how we use the technological advances coming on-stream in 2018 to take advantage of this trend.

These then are the four megatrends we see really bedding in, in the coming months. The players who will benefit most, will likely be those who can strike the balance between harnessing the power of these technological innovations with focussing on the needs of staff and customers.

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Our mission is to maximise the inclusive and sustainable growth potential of the Travel & Tourism sector. Join the conversation #WTTC

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