Consumer behavior will shift in drastic ways in coming years, powered by a new generation of devices with ridiculously fast data connections and the mainstreaming of gadgets that have been niche products until now.
In recent years, upstarts in the travel industry like Airbnb and Uber rode a wave in mobile technology to the forefront of consumer consciousness.
At CES 2018, the consumer electronics event in Las Vegas, technology experts on Monday detailed the ways in which these new advances will change how consumers research and buy products.
“We are progressively building towards the data era of consumer technology,” said Steve Koenig, senior director of research for the Consumer Technology Association. “5G, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and smart cities are all heralds of that coming data age. Increasingly every action, every decision, every choice, every interaction has more and more data behind it.”
Here’s a look at how four emerging consumer technologies will likely impact the travel industry over the next decade.
Fast 5G Mobile Bandwidth
By now, most people in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have a 4G LTE data connection on their mobile phone. This generation of mobile technology has helped power most of the success stories of the consumer-facing travel industry startup scene in recent years, but the next generation is on the way.
5G networks, which are so fast they can download an entire two-hour movie in about three seconds, will start to roll out this year in select markets. Phones enabled to use these networks will likely emerge in 2019 for early adopters and 2020 for the mainstream consumer.
“Early 5G networks will sit alongside existing 4G mobile networks to render a feeling of almost unlimited bandwidth for consumers on their mobile devices,” said Koenig. “Maybe that will happen later this year, maybe in 2019, building up to 2020 when we will have the first standalone 5G networks.
“Think about all the disruption we’ve witnessed and experienced in a 4G LTE world, like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb. Imagine what’s going to be possible in a 5G world. It’s amazing to ruminate on this and ponder the possibilities and new business opportunities that are going to be enabled.”
Mobile phone users, and travelers at large, will no longer be constrained — from a technical standpoint — by the amount of data they can receive or send. This increase in bandwidth will also make it easier for augmented reality and other services to be used by consumers.
Travel companies will be able to track your movements in real time, send out complex navigational information, and push beyond chat in customer service.
It also means the mobile environment will come to more strongly resemble the home environment for travelers; more bandwidth means more connectivity between devices and a greater ability for digital tools to assert themselves based on user behavior.
Augmented Reality Finally Emerges
Virtual reality, which seemed to represent a strong marketing opportunity for travel companies, has pretty much fizzled out as a way to reach potential customers.
Augmented reality, however, is rapidly moving toward the mainstream, powered by mobile technology from Google and Apple on their latest handsets.
“Virtual reality really got its start in the consumer market, if you think of that big hype cycle with Oculus Rift,” said Koenig. “That has really turned to new use cases in the commercial and industrial sectors. Get ready for augmented reality to explode onto the consumer scene; this is going to completely redefine and reengineer the consumer experience.”
Augmented reality will finally give travel companies the ability to make an app that can direct travelers to destinations and advise them based on what is around them. This capability will become core to travel service brands once the technology becomes more mature.
Stronger virtual reality technology will also affect the meetings and events industry, as it becomes easier to create immersive experience for those who aren’t physically at an event.
“Maybe some of you will be attending this meeting in VR in coming years,” said Koenig.
Buying With Your Voice
Many online travel agencies including Expedia are exploring voice search capability as the next step in travel booking.
Consumers are just now getting used to interacting with digital assistants using speech, but it seems likely that this behavior will eventually become mainstream as voice-controlled devices proliferate around the house.
“Expect voice to join stores, online, and mobile as that fourth sales channel,” said Koenig. “Already this is starting to happen. Brands are starting to align behind the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant.”
It’s not hard to imagine a consumer asking Alexa or Siri how much a trip to Miami costs, and as more devices with screens gain voice-control capability, smart brands will be able to overcome the challenge of selling to consumers through these channels. Imagine your Google-equipped TV bringing up flights in a window on your screen based on your personal preferences and instructions.
Smart Speakers Are the New Tablets
Research shows strong growth in smart speaker sales to consumers; 60 percent growth is expected in 2018, followed by 30 percent growth in 2019.
As more devices are equipped with artificial intelligence-powered voice control, consumers won’t be limited to using their phone or a single speaker in their kitchen to interact with the technology.
“Brands are starting to bring forward their own digital assistants; expect them to start to occupy more vessels,” said Koenig. “Smart speaker [sales will] peak in 2019. Maybe the last iteration of this kind of growth pattern was tablets, and before that was DVD players… [consumers] expect a congruent experience across use cases.”
Hospitality companies like Hilton and Marriott are already developing hotel rooms powered by the Internet of Things. Imagine in a few years that a hotel room will already know your preferences, based on your Google or Amazon account, and you’ll be able to have a seamless interaction wherever you are — in theory, at least.
The bridging of the home and outer world will have a positive effect on business travelers, although leisure travelers who want a break may have a harder time finding an escape.
Imagine lounging on the beach in Cabo on vacation and being able to access real-time video feeds from the cameras around your house or play with your lonely cat using a remote-control robot. For some, this future will be a relief; for others, it will exacerbate the state of anxiety they feel when traveling.
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Photo credit: The Las Vegas Convention Center lobby is shown during CES 2018. Andrew Sheivachman / Skift