Seven ways technology is changing the travel industry

World Travel & Tourism Council
5 min readJan 27, 2015

A general overview of the technological developments that are challenging, changing, and disrupting the Travel & Tourism industry now.

1. The Smartphone

Remote check-in, paperless boarding passes, real-time travel news, maps, GPS, messaging, shopping… and a camera you take everywhere. The smartphone hasn’t just changed one element of the travel experience, it’s changed all of them. Airlines in particular are responding with a range of new initiatives. Virgin, Easyjet, and American Airlines are trialling location-specific iBeacons that help improve the customer journey though airports including London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Dallas Forth Worth. Finavia is using customer tracking via wi-fi at Helsinki airport to improve passenger flow. In Australia, Qantas lets premium passengers synchronise their mobile devices with departure displays. Meanwhile airlines including Air France, Emirates, British Airways, Lufthansa, United and Air China have joined the rush to trial or expand inflight wi-fi connectivity across their services.

2. Biometrics

With border control and safety issues increasing, facial, fingerprint and iris-recognition are all currently being trialled as ways to improve the experience at airport security around the world. In the US, automatic passenger control (APC) kiosks have recently been installed at airports including LAX, JFK, Orlando and O’Hare to cut down on queues at arrivals. The kiosks photograph and fingerprint arriving passengers and match the results to the biometric information stored in their passports. The kisoks can currently be used by U.S. and Canadian citizens, as well as foreign travellers who are registered with the Trusted Traveller programme. Similar systems have recently been installed at Bulgaria’s Varna and Burgos airports and major airports across Australia. In the UK, over 100 e-passport gates are in use across 18 terminals.

3. The sharing economy

Airbnb and Uber have shown the potential for disruption when technology allows peer-to-peer sharing and matchmaking. Airbnb is already supporting secondary marketplaces — concierge services like Beyond Stays and Guesty have sprung up to help hosts manage bookings, room cleaning, repairs and other services — while Expedia has begun moving into the p2p market by showcasing HomeAway vacation rentals. Both Airbnb and Uber are now eyeing the business travel market by partnering with business travel management company Concur. Elsewhere companies like EatWith and Bookalokal are pairing hungry travellers with home cooks in cities around the world, and Getmyboat and Onefinestay are exploring the possibilities of luxury sharing.

4. Composite Materials

Today’s passenger aircraft are 70% more fuel efficient per seat kilometre than in the 1960s, as the development of advanced materials such as carbon fibre has made it possible to build aircraft parts that are both lighter and stronger than ever before. This has enabled the creation of larger aircraft that can carry more passengers. Composites make up more than 20% of the new Airbus A380’s airframe, with materials including carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, glass-fibre reinforced plastic, quartz-fibre reinforced plastic and weldable aluminium alloys. The result is the world’s largest passenger airliner, which is potentially able to carry more than 850 people.

5. Customer Power

Technology has shifted the balance of power between business and customer across the travel industry, with access to honest and up-to-date reviews and recommendations an essential element of holiday planning. 92% of consumers say they trust recommendations over all other forms and advertising, with 33% of people who use social media to research travel plans changing their hotel based on what they find. The US-based TripAdvisor now claims over 300 million unique monthly visitors to its websites, and carries over 200 million independent reviews. However, the company has also faced legal action over lost earnings from businesses who have been badly reviewed by Tripadvisor users. Other travel businesses like Trippy and WAYNE (“Where Are You Now”) offer a more direct social connection between reviewers and their audience, with users able to post questions and share answers.

6. Wearables

We’re still not sure what lasting wearable tech will look like...

2015 will be the year we find out whether wearables are the next big thing or old news. Google Glass has been quietly retired in its current form, although trials by organisations including Virgin Atlantic and Copenhagen Airport have suggested that the product might still have a future among the professional workforce. However, with the Apple Watch likely to be a lot more fashionable and potentially popular, the consumer market for wearables isn’t dead yet. Airlines including Iberia and airberlin already offer smartwatch boarding passes, and Starwood hotels has announced an app that will allow guests to open their room with their Apple Watch. The watch itself also promises to simplify pedestrian navigation around cities by quietly buzzing to let users know when to turn left or right, making sure you won’t look like a tourist who doesn’t know their way around.

7. The end of getting lost?

As satellite navigation, geo-location and smartphones become ubiquitous, it’s become harder than ever to get lost — giving travellers the confidence to be more spontaneous, make fewer plans and open themselves up to serendipity. Recommendation apps like Foodspotting allow users to share great dishes that they’ve discovered, Foursquare lets people find local experiences based on personalised recommendations, and sites like Meetup and Couchsurfing allow people to travel independently without ending up on their own. Meanwhile regularly updated travel blogs are eating into the market for printed travel guides, which become out of date before they’re even published. More than ever, travellers can simply turn up at a destination and trust technology to do the rest. The jury is still out on whether that’s a good thing or potentially a serendipity-killer.

What do you think will be the next big true disruptor in the Travel & Tourism industry?

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