Travel technology has been turned on its head over the past couple of years. Just about every major trend listed was caused, directly or indirectly, by issues related to the pandemic.
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Much of the travel industry is continuing to recover after the pandemic and despite growing anxieties about the economy, with some metrics better than ever last year.
As the industry continues to evolve technologically, there are several areas worth watching in the next year. Below are five highlights to keep an eye on:
In an effort to streamline the customer travel experience, airlines and airports are looking to implement biometrics capabilities into everyday use. Biometrics enables the personalization of technology using an individual’s biological readings, like using a fingerprint as an unlock passcode or facial recognition to confirm identity.
Though there is criticism about privacy and data security issues, United Airlines and Delta Airlines — along with car rental company Avis — are among those experimenting now with facial, iris and fingerprint biometrics. Registered passengers can move faster through security checkpoints by verifying their identification using a kiosk provided by Clear, a biometrics company that went public in June 2021.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is also piloting tech that matches live facial visuals with recording identification photos. The organization is reportedly testing the program at 16 airports nationwide, and that could expand this year.
Travel Tech Boom in Southeast Asia
Iterative Capital just raised $55 million in its second fund focusing on general tech Southeast Asia. One of its portfolio companies is GoZayaan, an online travel agency focused in that region.
Southeast Asia is two or three decades behind the Western world when it comes to general and travel tech investment, but it is catching up rapidly.
“It’s just taking off. It’s kind of like Silicon Valley 20 years ago,” said Brian Ma, founder and managing partner of Singapore-based Iterative Capital.
“The middle class is growing at a rate much faster than the U.S., and so more regular people have more money to spend. They’re starting to think about savings, health care, education, travel, all this kind of stuff.”
Because the region is so far behind, it has a unique set of travel issues for which it largely needs its own solutions, which is why there’s a budding group of travel tech startups.
The Korea Tourism Startup Center last fall set up an accelerator in Singapore focused on travel tech startups, launching with 13 companies that pitched products in an effort to expand throughout Southeast Asia.
Airline Technology Investment
Following the system failure that Southwest Airlines experienced during the last week of December, the company has already said it finally plans to modernize operations. It took a disaster for Southwest, but that example may be the push that other airlines need to modernize and avoid a similar situation.
Skift has already been getting press messages from tech companies looking to share opinions about what happened, no doubt looking to take advantage of what could be a sales opportunity. Whether it’s about scheduling optimization — the core of the expensive Southwest issue — or something else, industry executives in the New Year may be more open to what innovators have to offer.
One statement came from Sourabh Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Skit.ai, a startup that raised $23 million for a product that’s meant to streamline call center operations with a voice bot that uses artificial intelligence to replicate human-like conversations.
“By combining voice AI technology and human agents for a significant competitive leg-up, failures like what we saw happen this past holiday weekend are less likely to happen. Digital innovation is meant to stay, and it pervades every aspect of the airline industry including customer service.”
Continued Hotel Tech Adoption
Hotels have been slow to adopt new technology, but it has been increasing post-pandemic. One of the primary reasons is because of a serious labor shortage in the hospitality industry.
But, many hotels have a long way to go to reach the personalized, up-to-date experience that customers are looking for. Most hotels don’t offer features like mobile check-in, choosing their room location, or even television streaming services.
Short-Term Rental Platform Growth
There were dozens of fundraises totaling billions of dollars last year for a variety of platforms dedicated to short-term rentals and software to help property managers organize their business.
These platforms are not just focused on vacations, but also niche areas like business travelers and remote workers.
Some of the consumer demand for vacation rentals is slowing, but the industry is generally expected to continue growing in the near future.
Some venture-backed platforms, like Le Collectionist, are also focused on acquiring travel agencies and other smaller companies in an effort to consolidate the fragmented industry.
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Photo credit: Le Collectionist in December acquired The Greek Villas, a luxury rental agency with more than 500 properties.