From research, booking and transport right through to the moment you return home, technology has changed the face of the travel industry. In turn, it has also changed our experiences and expectations.
Cast your mind back to the last trip you booked. Perhaps you travelled for business, maybe you booked a summer holiday. How many stages of your trip involved the use of technology? Probably the majority, if not each one.
There’s the changes to your packing list, the books replaced by eReaders, the bulky cameras switched for slim smartphones. Then there’s the change of processes, the new precedences that are set.
Here we explore just a few of the ways in which technology has influenced the way we travel in recent years.
Gone are the days of navigating Teletext with your TV remote (though Teletext Holidays is still a thing), likewise strolling into the travel agents with no destination in mind and the firm belief that you couldn’t find something better yourself. Travel is now accessible to everyone, more affordable and within everyone’s grasp. Modern travellers love a bargain, and most are prepared to do their research in order to find one.
According to Grace McClure’s article for the Huffington Post, Travel Agents have ‘carved out a place for themselves in booking package vacations, cruises, and luxury and VIP getaways.’ Not ideal for those looking for a week in cyprus for £300, but that’s not to say people don’t want luxury. Websites like Secret Escapes and Voyage Privé give savvy travellers the means to browse 5* and boutique accommodation deals in their own time.
The first thing we do when looking to book a trip is conduct a little research, and for many of us our first port of call is TripAdvisor. Created by founder Steve Kaufer to ‘create a place where everyone could have access to real, honest reviews, opinions and photos to help them plan the perfect trip’ [ThisIsMoney.co.uk], the website has revolutionised the way we plan our travels.
You could argue that the mystery of travel has been somewhat lost now that we’re able to view our accommodation from a thousand angles before we even set foot there, but comprehensive descriptions, ratings and hoards of photos help us to avoid any nasty surprises. Not something I could argue with. Now reaching 340 million unique monthly visitors [TripAdvisor’s own Google Analytics], it’s the world’s largest travel site [comScore Media Metrix].
Word of mouth (WOM) marketing is an incredibly powerful tool, and according to MarketingProfs, and many other marketers, social is the new WOM. 18% of all internet users use social media to research and plan their travels, rising to 44% when narrowed to 16 to 24 year olds [e3.co.uk].
Social media provides more than just a research tool, also helping us to make decisions. When our friends and peers, people who can influence our behaviour day to day, post photos of their recent trip to enviable destinations, we are able to place ourselves in those same, attainable situations. And the same goes for airlines, travel companies, restaurants and so on – if those photos are accompanied by cries of ‘best week of my life!’ we’re all the more likely to take their word for it that they made good choices that perhaps we ought to make too.
What language barrier?
We have information at our fingertips, and within moments we can have the answer for anything. Recognise that actor? Look them up on IMDB. Want to know what song is playing in the restaurant you’re eating in? Shazam it. This kind of behaviour has become second nature, it’s just part of daily life.
The above examples may seem old hat as they’ve been around for some time now but when it comes to travelling, being able to access information this easily can make a real difference.
Take for instance the Google Translate app. When living in Italy I would type in phrases in English and take my phone along with me to show to the fishmonger should my vocal request that he ‘fillet the fish, please’ not be understood. Tremendously useful and better than any phrasebook, this app was my saviour in 2013, but newer versions would have improved my experience even more.
Now capable of translating entire conversations in real time, Google Translate can also be used on visuals. Set your language, point the camera at a road sign or poster, for instance, and watch it change.
With self-service bag drops, airlines promising one tap check-in, and a whole host of apps at your disposal, catching a flight has never been simpler. We check in online, airports are designing out queues and we’re no longer terrified of phones being used on planes (hello, flight mode). The Internet of Things (IoT) has reached the realm of luggage, and it is infinitely cooler than my trusty battered suitcase.
Once we land, we have a whole host of resources to help us navigate our destination. Content marketing kicks in when we want to learn about the locals, the events, the dress codes. Who needs a guidebook? Whether you avoid a traffic jam with Waze, or check the forecast with AccuWeather, there’s a lot to be said for utilising a free app or two.
I am endlessly impressed with what technology can help us to do, and how many stressful moments and raised questions can be wrapped up simply by using my iPhone, but like thousands of other travellers, what I truly want is the real deal. I want to experience the ‘real’ Florence, the ‘real’ New York, and I certainly don’t want chips or a full moon party.
Millennials are part of a huge shift from tourist to traveller. No longer content with a guidebook, modern travellers want to avoid the tourist trap, favouring instead being part of the local community, using digital to find guides, events and accommodation. Just look at AirBnB and Berlin-based ‘book a local’ service My Plus One.
Amongst the convenience and the excess of information, what travellers really want is authenticity, and digital can provide this. Some may see technology as something that ‘spoils’ tradition and authenticity, but with services like these available it seems safe to say that there’s no lack of desire to have real experiences. Yes, modern changes hugely influence the way we travel and how we engage with other cultures, but we now have the ability to converse with new friends across the globe at the drop of a hat. Thanks to digital, there’s no stopping what you can do.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s certainly worth taking your smartphone.