In the 1940s, IBM president Thomas J. Watson famously predicted, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” We all know how that story turned out. But Watson’s erroneous prediction illustrates a key point: It’s easy to underestimate the impact new technologies will have on consumers and businesses. Nowhere is this more true than the emerging impact of mobile devices on the travel sector.
In 2018, a convergence of emerging tech tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, location services, and cloud-based data will finally realize their potential on the smartphone. Already, hotel guests can unlock their room with their smartphone. Instead of waiting until they get home, consumers share real-time vacation photos on Instagram. And paying in store is easy with a mobile wallet.
What’s still to come is much bigger: a mobile-based revolution in travel service that will anticipate your needs in advance — completely changing the experience, efficiency, productivity, and even enjoyability of travel. The key will involve a shift in mobile usage from a device used reactively (when there’s a problem) to one that proactively handles an issue before a traveler even knows they have one.
What will this frictionless tool look like? Think of it as half technology-powered concierge, half personalized team of travel experts, combining the easy-to-use interface of Uber, the personalization of Amazon, and the predictive abilities of Google Now all rolled into one. Have a delayed flight? Tomorrow’s mobile travel service automatically contacts the hotel to let them know you’re late and to not release your room. On a business trip and a meeting is cancelled last-minute? Your mobile travel service sees your calendar change, books you two hours at a local co-working space, and shares directions to get there in your rental car — or surfaces your local LinkedIn contacts and pre-populates an email invitation to catch up at a nearby coffee shop. While the technology for this type of anticipatory travel tech may seem futuristic, the reality is that the pieces are already in place, just waiting to be fit together. Because of their portability, mobile devices will serve as the platform that stitches together an emerging combination of maturing innovations including artificial intelligence, cloud-based data, machine learning, voice recognition, GPS, apps, and more into a singular experience.
And one of the more interesting side effects of this snowballing revolution? It’s most likely to begin in a place where few expect major innovation: business travel. The mobile support revolution offers the most immediate value to business travelers because their travel requirements are highly structured and demanding, yet predictable. The opportunity is even bigger when it comes to the “unmanaged” business travel segment, a group of DIY road warriors who enjoy more flexibility and demand better travel tools than their corporate travel peers.
This DIY sector of the business travel world, representing an estimated $165 billion in spending from small and midsize companies without a travel department, is the perfect starting place to deploy this new predictive mobile service revolution, a movement which is likely to then spread to the leisure segment over the next few years.
Business travel – and eventually all travel – will never be the same.