The travel industry, like many other sectors that are deeply influenced by technology, has been undergoing significant change over the past few years. As travellers increasingly switch online, we take a look at five ideas that are changing the travel industry, and how consumers behave in the process.
Biometric technology is rapidly changing the way travellers pass through travel hubs like airports and ferry terminals. That means that instead of handing over a physical passport to a border guard, a part of your body, such as a finger or your eyes, would be scanned instead. Why are they being deployed? Well, one main reason is the sheer volume of travellers. Billions of people pass through the world’s airports every year, a figure only set to rise. And if those travellers are relying on old-fashioned paper-based entry methods, then it generally means one thing: queues.
Travellers don’t like queues, and nor do operators of travel hubs. It takes up resources and capacity and means holidaymakers have less time to spend in duty free. But getting people through quickly also needs to be closely managed, given the high terrorism threat around the world. That’s where biometric authentication comes in. Countries like Australia are already trialling contactless biometric authentication technology.
The sharing economy
The past few years has seen the rapid ascent of the so-called sharing economy – quite simply, the sharing of assets and services between individuals. A prime example is the taxi app Uber, which has transformed how people book and pay for taxis all over the world. It’s impacted travel too – in the past, a hotel, B&B, youth hostel or campsite may well have been a traveller’s first choice for holiday accommodation. But today, especially for younger travellers, it’s just as likely to be an AirBnB.
Nowadays more or less anyone can rent out their spare room or entire space to holidaymakers. This is representing some serious competition from the hotels, long-used to enjoying market dominance, and it’s also helping people earn more money through a new revenue stream. But it has the potential to really impact the travel industry – look how the battle between hoteliers and AirBnB-ers in New York is getting increasingly toxic.
Pre internet, if consumers wanted to go on holiday they had few options for shopping around. Their local travel agent was probably their best – maybe even only – bet. While travel agents are worthwhile, this booking model was slightly limited – holidaymakers were likely to be presented with a set choice of options when it came to where to stay, how to get there, etc. What’s more, it was difficult for them to get an alternative (i.e. potentially cheaper) quote from elsewhere, especially if they lived somewhere with only one travel agent.
One of the biggest ideas to have shaken up the way consumers find, choose and book holidays has been the rise of the comparison website. We see it operate in many spheres – from banking to shopping and everywhere in between – but it’s in travel where it’s really had an impact. Today travellers can use a variety of comparison services to compare prices for nearly everything – flights, hotels, tourism passes, car hire and much more.
Bitcoin, a form of digital currency, is being used by tech-savvy travellers. A few years ago two holidaymakers proved it is possible to travel the world using nothing but Bitcoin. Newlyweds Austin Craig and Beccy Bingham travelled on the road for 100 days, embarking on a trip through America, Europe and Asia. However, while the couple managed to survive on Bitcoin for the entirety of the trip, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Speaking to the Guardian, Craig said: “When we first arrived in Stockholm, we were exhausted from our flight and just went to sleep. We woke up really hungry but couldn’t find anywhere to accept bitcoin. We ended up having to wait until the hotel breakfast the next day.”
It’s also possible to use Bitcoins to pay for flights. California-based Cheapair.com is one such operator that offers flights in exchange for Bitcoins.
Apps and resources
Guidebooks still have their place, but an increasing port of call for consumers when they want to find out where to go and what to do on their travels is to download an app or visit an online interactive resource. Many guidebooks are reissued every year, with fresh information, but it’s only online apps, guides and forums that can stay as up-to-date as possible.
Some travel companies are monetising apps by working with app makers to offer consumers discounts and other perks, giving holidaymakers value while increasing their revenue stream in the process. Physical maps, too, are not what they used to be, thanks to the popularity of online map apps that, tied to location, can guide travellers from A to B with ease.