While some of the tech advances Skift featured over the years may not have lived up to expectations yet, others are poised to play an even bigger role in the travel industry in years to come. Check out this list.
Skift has covered throughout the years dozens of innovations poised to fundamentally alter travel — several of which we featured in a newsletter regularly published in 2017 and 2018 named the Skift Corporate Travel Innovation Report.
Although the report primarily focused on business travel’s changing landscape as well as its future, it included trends and tech advances affecting the travel industry as whole — including airlines, hotels and online travel agencies.
So have those innovations truly been groundbreaking? We take a look at six of them we showcased in the report and examine through our coverage how they’ve impacted the travel industry.
Skift repeatedly addressed the impact of virtual reality would have in the travel industry in the Innovation Report, noting that the technology had finally gone mainstream in 2017. The use of virtual reality was already prevalent in the events industry. Meet L.A., part of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, had launched the Virtual Discovery L.A. in 2016, which enabled conference planners to explore event venues throughout the city in virtual reality.
However, virtual reality’s expected boom had been slowed by factors such as costly headsets and lack of content. Even Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, found that many of its employees didn’t have virtual reality headsets, making them reluctant to use its Horizon Workrooms app that allows users represented by avatars to gather around a conference table.
But some travel companies have increased their investment in virtual reality coming out of the pandemic, including KLM. The flag carrier of the Netherlands began pilot training in November 2020 using virtual reality platforms it built in-house. Meanwhile, New Orleans utilized virtual reality to film an ad from its latest campaign, which Walter Leger III, president and CEO of New Orleans & Company, was part of its strategy to showcase the innovation taking place in the city.
Skift touched on the increased use of biometrics at airports in September 2017, which business travelers believed could help speed up lines at airports despite concerns about the security of information and its potential use.
Although those issues haven’t died down, biometrics are poised to become even more prominent at airports, with the pandemic helping drive interest in technology that would reduce touchpoints for travelers. Travel tech firm Pangiam bought biometric facial recognition system VeriScan with the belief the platform could reshape travel coming out of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance, is calling on half of its 26 members to use biometrics technology by 2025.
Skift listed the use of airport biometrics as a travel tech trend worth watching in 2023.
Enhanced Baggage Tracking
Skift highlighted American Airlines efforts in July 2017 to improve its baggage tracking infrastructure through the launch of a set of notifications on its mobile app. The technology known as Customer Baggage Notification alerts travelers through the app when checked baggage arrived early or late to the carousel, giving travelers a better idea about the location of their belongings.
Other carriers have enabled travelers to track their luggage’s delivery via their apps. Airlines including Air France, Delta and Qantas have powered the process with radio frequency identification baggage labeling tags, which transmit radio signals with a bag’s identifying number to sensors at airports that track the luggage.
Skift envisioned that robots would automate more procedures in the travel industry by 2025 in a 2021 Megatrend. Chinese hotel groups Huazhu and Homeinns had already invested in ExcelLand, a manufacturer that makes the robots they used to deliver food by room service.
And more hotel companies are poised to deploy robots. Relay Robotics, a company that provides delivery robots to hotel groups including Marriott, Hilton and Radisson, raised $10 million in Series A financing in spring 2022. Eight California hotels owned by Seaview Investors have already hired robot ambassadors that deliver toiletries and dental necessities to guests in five minutes or less.
However, researchers from the Durham University Business School urged hotels not to promote themselves as robot hotels due to the possibility it could create unrealistic expectations. A study they conducted found that while 60 percent of customers experienced joy when dealing with robots in a customer service role, 28 said they felt fear.
Skift noted in January 2017 that artificial intelligence is turning into a big travel buzzword. Its impact on travel on travel has continued to grow, even potentially reshaping how consumers book hotels. Some call centers turning to an artificial intelligence program to solve consumer complaints about the large number of flight disruptions last year.
Meanwhile, the use of generative AI — a form of technology that includes the creation of images, audio, video and text — is projected to surge, and a growing number of online travel agencies are exploring how to use it. Skift examined how generative AI is poised to impact travel marketing in a 2023 Megatrend. Separately, author David Mattin, an expert on artificial intelligence, said in a special edition of the Skift Podcast that travel brands can use generative AI to create compelling travel marketing copy for TV commercials and Twitter campaigns in seconds.
Singapore-based online travel agency Trip.com has already added a generative AI chatbot to its platform. However, Expedia Group said it would take a cautious approach to using ChatGPT, the generative AI chatbot by OpenAI, while Booking.com is doing likewise regarding its future plans for generative AI.
Mobile Travel Bookings
Skift projected that mobile travel bookings would represent 40 percent of online sales in 2017, possibly even overtaking traditional computer bookings in the U.S. Then-Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans had said the previous year that mobile bookings on the site would cross the 50 percent threshold by 2018.
Although mobile bookings have grown among members of Gen X in addition to many millennials — including in Latin America — embracing mobile devices as their primary method for using the Internet, Skift Research found that mobile travel bookings hadn’t yet surpassed desktop bookings in 2022.
Skift projected in October 2017 that augmented reality, which combines GPS and smartphone camera technology to project images and data into the real world, could fundamentally alter the events industry. Although it may not have lived up to its hype, some travel brands have already incorporated augmented reality in their operations. Dubai Tourism has created augmented reality lenses that enables users to photograph themselves against the city’s landmarks, including Burj Khalifa. In addition, Dutch carrier KLM started using augmented reality to help facilitate training for employees coming out of the pandemic.
And augmented reality could help destinations increase visitation at major historical landmarks. Singapore Tourism Board CEO Keith Tan said at the recent ITB Berlin conference that it aims to use the technology to increase its “wow factor,” including showing travelers the events of World War II at one Singaporean fort.
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Photo credit: The use of virtual reality has expanded in the travel industry in recent years. Bradley Hook / Pexels