I’m an avid traveller with a fascination for new places, experiences and cuisines. It very quickly becomes apparent to anyone within five minutes of meeting me that the travel industry means much more to me personally than just being part of my working life. The travel industry represents where my two passions in life collide – data and exploration. It’s where the world of ‘adventure and spontaneity’ meets ‘planning and analysis’.
The industry of travel and tourism thrives on information and data – it’s what ensures the right plane is filled with the right passengers eating the right meals going to the right destination with the right baggage ending up in the right hotel room. When I took my first flight to India at the age of four, there were less than 300 million international tourist arrivals globally. So, what has changed in the last several decades? Today, there are over 1.4 billion tourists travelling worldwide to more destinations and places. With accessibility and proliferation comes greater demand - travellers want more than ever before; we want speed, authenticity, security – we want it all and, crucially, we want it now.
To deliver on these demands requires new data, tech and approaches. Data fundamentally provides us with the opportunity and ability to understand that not all travellers are the same, and what is exciting to one may not be for the other.
Before ‘big data’, you knew where a person was going only once they had gone to a travel agency. Today, with more information we can understand more about the thought process, decision-making criteria, consideration shortlist and key influencing factors before a traveller ultimately decides where to go. We can understand that a majority of travellers will spend less than a week researching before they make that decision and will spend the three months lead up to a trip researching experiences.
In addition to the wealth of information available we are also seeing trends like low-cost options from airlines to lengthen stop over time, agile working, and freelancing impact the behaviour of travellers today. As the number of destinations and possibilities continues to expand, what used to be deemed as the unwanted part of a long-haul part of flight has turned into an opportunity to explore and there is a shift from ‘holiday makers’ to ‘adventure seekers’. When I was growing up, like many others, a holiday was something that happened once, maybe twice, a year and often generally to the same places. Today’s travellers are seeking adventure, diversity and something new. This can come in all shapes and sizes – from weekend get-a-ways to ‘Bleisure’ to sabbaticals.
WHY DOES DATA MATTER FOR THE TRAVEL & TOURISM INDUSTRY?
These trends mean that shouting louder doesn’t cut it anymore. Destinations need to innovate how they communicate with travellers to engage with them at the right time and in the right place.
With the increase in technology, data and connectivity, audiences today have higher expectations and lower attention spans for the content they consume.
The key to understanding these drivers is ‘Big Data’. This may sound like geek-speak to many, but ‘Big Data’ is everywhere and it’s important. It’s likely the device you are reading this article on – your mobile phone. In your hands is the capture, storage and use of data as it relates to travel tourism. It’s your travel generated data - photos, reviews, comments, opinions and traveller’s posts. It’s your device-generated data - anything that is generated by your mobile phone and stored by your network - location data, mobile roaming data, Bluetooth data, Apps. And it’s your behaviour data - these are the operations and actions travellers make – web searches, web pages visited, online bookings.
There are many applications on how data can and will fuel the tourism and travel industry in the future, with the underlying principle that privacy is respected, and data is used in a responsible and legally-compliant way. The four innovations that I am most excited about and where I believe we will see most business and economic growth are:
- Internet of Things | IOT is not just for our homes, we are seeing increase usage of IOT in the hotel industry to reduce energy wastage and cost savings. Furthermore, some hotels are experimenting with smart guestrooms to adjust lighting based on natural lighting or allowing guests to change room temperature from their app.
- Virtual Reality | Just as video conferencing didn’t replace the need for face-to-face meetings in the 90s, VR is not going to replace the desire to travel. Instead, as VR headset penetration is projected to triple over the next three years, VR will be used to inspire people to discover new places or allow customer to experience take a virtual tour of their hotel room and facilities during the booking process
- Augmented Reality | With data roaming becoming more cost-effective AR will be used by travellers to enhance discovery – pointing their phone at a restaurant to see customer reviews, or at an attraction to learn more about it
- Recognition Technology | Probably the most interesting emerging tech trend, biometrics is increasingly been used for seamless authentications. Just imagine if your finger print could unlock your preferred and frequently used hotel room, or through facial recognition you could check in/ out of your hotel.
The future will make travel more exciting, diverse and certainly more data-driven than ever before. This applies to the travel industry and travellers alike.