Millennials represent the largest generation in history and as the largest market in travel, are set to have a huge influence on trends and technology in the sector for several years at least. This group is highly dependent on mobile devices, want to stay connected throughout their journey, rely heavily on feedback and want to share their experiences.  

A range of technologies which meet these demands whilst helping organisations to improve operational efficiency have increasingly been adopted by the travel sector in the last six months.   Here's a few 'megatrends' which are expected to make an impact during 2017 and beyond...

The growth of Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)

2017 will see a broader adoption of VR and increased usage in the travel industry to sell destinations with a higher degree of authenticity.  VR requires that users fully immerse themselves in the experience and this lends itself well to travel as users may be looking to be distracted or entertained.  Examples of VR content for destinations could be a 360 degree tour of a restaurant kitchen or hotel room, a snippet of an excursion or a tour of a destination's top experiences.  

Augmented Reality (where computer-generated images are superimposed onto the physical world ) has been around for a while.  However, while VR will increasingly be used to shape the travellers experience ahead of their trip, AR will help to  transform their in-destination experience as they move around the physical world.  Rather than the traditional headsets that we associate with AR (ie. Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens), 2017 will see more widespread use on smartphones and tablets as development continues on the inclusion of an array of sensor technologies which pick up digital content as people move around from place to place.   

Growth of Conversational Interfaces - Message Based & Voice Based

Conversational Interfaces, accessed through voice and message based interfaces are becoming part of daily life but 2017 will see some interesting developments and improvements as they become more refined and capable.  

Message Based Interfaces (MBIs) - Messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and SnapChat have experienced huge growth, particularly during 2016. In June we covered the role of chatbots and their integration into Facebook Messenger with some examples of travel brands which are already experiencing the benefits.  Brands can improve interaction, build relationships with consumers and improve customer service levels by creating chatbots to engage in conversation with humans.  Over the last six months we've seen more examples of Facebook Messenger and web and app-based chatbots in travel.  However, it is envisaged that chatbots will increasingly be used to handle the more repetitive questions and answers  for now, allowing humans to focus on the more challenging, high value interactions.   

Hilton Worldwide launched its Connie robot last year to help guests to match specific searches to individual hotels.  Dominoes, Pizza Hut and Tacco Bell all use chat to improve efficiency.  It is expected that more progress will be achieved in 2017 and beyond, with chatbots going mainstream, plus the rise of celebrity chatbots with endorsement opportunities. 

As for Voice Based Interfaces (VBIs), the ability to use voice for basic queries and commands has been around for a while but voice recognition still lags behind human listeners in terms of understanding the context of the conversation.  It's the multilingual capability of VBIs which has the most potential in the travel sector.  Development is expected to continue  as consumers increasingly demand that information is accessed as conveniently as possible wherever they are.  For example, getting on-the-go traffic updates, flight reminders and weather reports throughout the travellers' journey will be expected and itinerary management via voice will emerge in 2017, with near real-time voice translation not far behind.

So 2017 will see conversational interfaces generally becoming more refined and capable and it will be more important for travel businesses to be accessible via these channels.

Automation - Robots & Cobots

Automation in the form of robots has been used in the manufacturing industry for a while but there's potential to harness their potential in the travel sector too.  Research is already underway to explore the use of robots to transport luggage, read QR codes on luggage and deliver bags to their destinations.   Glasgow Airport introduced GLAdys, the UK's first humanoid robot airport ambassador at Christmas.   In future we'll see more collaborative robots or 'cobots'.  For example cobots acting as bartenders and are already in operation on some Royal Caribbean ships where they mix drinks and work alongside human bartenders. 

To find out more about the developments mentioned above, check out the Emerging Tech in Travel Report from Sabre Labs.

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