We’ve taken a look at the key trends which are predicted to make an impact on the travel sector during 2019. Generally we’re seeing a need for a faster, more seamless and interactive travel experience with an ever increasing number of travellers (74%) planning their trips on the internet and only 13% using travel agents.  The travel experience has been extended by technology, with travellers still reliving their trip on social media and in photos and video way after they’ve returned home.  

Here’s a summary of the key developments for 2019:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence to set to rise during 2019 as more brands see it as a route to improved customer service and reduced costs.  Chatbots are increasingly being used by hotels, airlines and attractions to deliver instant responses to problems and queries.  AI is also being used to analyse data to identify trends associated with customer satisfaction, manage inventories and report on business performance.

Virtual Reality (VR)

The adoption of VR has seen an explosive growth in recent years with most of the uptake initially focused on the gaming industry.  However, in recent years an increasing number of travel brands have adopted this technology.   Virtual Reality has the ability to transform the travel experience, not just in-destination but for people who can’t travel.  It’s particularly effective in the research process, allowing people to ‘try before they buy’ when exploring hotels and attractions.  Some brands even complement the visual experience with real stimulants such as wind, aromas etc.   A collaboration between Thomas Cook and Samsung Gear VR to showcase their destinations around the world generated a 40% return on investment within the first 3 months.

Augmented Reality (AR)

The travel and hospitality sector has been slow to adopt this technology but huge advances are expected in 2019, from 3D hotel room views to gaming apps in destinations.

AR is similar to VR but rather than replacing the real-world environment, it augments it by overlaying digital components.  It’s proven to be a useful tool to allow tourism businesses to alter the way that visitors perceive their surroundings.  It can be used throughout the visitor journey, from the research point, in-destination and after the visit.  

One of its main advantages is that it’s less expensive than VR as users only need access to a smartphone or tablet with internet access.  For example, the Hub Hotel from Premier Inn uses wall maps in its rooms which, when viewed through a smartphone, include local places of interest.  Augmented reality can be used at attractions too.  For example, a user may point a smartphone at a restaurant to access a menu or at a historic landmark to find out more about its history.  Beacon technology enables the travel industry to push notifications via Bluetooth when visitors enter a location.  

Recognition Technology

Finger print recognition, facial recognition and retina scanning has been around for a while now but it is predicted to grow in 2019.  Face recognition, in particular, has great potential for the travel sector.  Data collected from the traveller can enable the provision of personalised services, rewards and associated services eg. business lounge access at an airport or spa discounts at a hotel.   Payment processes can be fast-tracked, with loyalty schemes, bonuses and discount codes automatically applied on recognition.  

Heathrow Airport’s £50M biometrics project is aiming to fully deploy facial recognition for departures by Summer 2019 to streamline the passenger’s journey, reducing journey time by up to a third.

Personalisation

A personalised approach is considered to be a pre-requisite these days and a unique experience is highly valued in the tourism industry specifically, whether on a holiday or a business trip. When it comes to itineraries, customised travel content is going to be better received than generic travel guides.  Booking.com’s travel predictions report (based on guest reviews from their own site) state that 41% of travellers want brands to use AI to offer personalised travel recommendations.   However, the requirement to capture data will always need to be balanced with travellers’ personal privacy. 

A key to success for travel brands during 2019 will be the ability to extract customers insights from data and use the information obtained to improve every step of the travellers’ journey.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Due to its competitive nature, the travel sector has actually been an early adopter of IoT and it is expected to bring disruption to the industry, offering improved efficiency and a more personalised experience.  In a recent travel trends survey, 86% of airline companies said that they believed that IoT will deliver ‘clear benefits over the next three years’.

IoT involves the interconnectivity of devices, systems and processes.  For example, hotel guests will increasingly have the opportunity to adjust their room temperature and lighting, control their TV and check into their rooms using their phones.  In airports, real time flight notifications, directions to gates and information on security checks will be delivered to the visitors’ devices.  On flights, sensors in seats can measure anxiety and hydration levels, body temperature and heart rate.  Locating of bags at airports will be possible via smartphones and bags can even locate passengers via sensors attached to bags.  In destinations, sensors will collect data on the habits of travellers and their reactions to attractions to optimise the experience.

Social Media

Overtourism was a big discussion point during 2018, and the role of social media, Instagram in particular, in contributing to that.  Last year the Vienna Tourist Board urged visitors to put down their smartphones and ‘See Vienna, not #Vienna’.  We’re not expecting to see the influence of social media diminish any time soon but we will see more debate on how influencers can use their profiles to combat overtourism. 

According to predictions from Boston Consulting Group, Millennials will account for almost 50% of travel spend by 2020 so the industry needs to ensure that all the tools that they need to satisfy their unique needs are readily available.

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