Flights of fantasy: how will technology disrupt your future holidays?
City breaks and ski trips and Spanish beach holidays all seem a long, long way away as strict travel restrictions remain in place around the world. And when we do get to take off again, the travel sector is likely to look a little different. By the end of the decade, however, it could be almost unrecognisable. We take a trip to the future.
Picture this: you’re flying to planet Fhloston to stay at a new luxury hotel, arriving by spaceship in your own personal sleep pod. OK, that may be the Luc Besson film The Fifth Element, but holidaying outside Earth is perhaps a little closer than the film, set in the year 2263, suggests. As with all brilliant sci-fi films, it has aged terribly because its far-flung predictions have come true a lot sooner than it thought.
We don’t yet have VR headsets that magically put Chanel make-up on your face with perfect precision, or pills that microwave into entire cooked chickens, but holidaying in space could be a legitimate option in the near future – though perhaps not by 2029.
Helen Saul, who was in The Drum’s Future 50 and is brand manager at Lastminute.com, says that while Elon Musk’s Space X has a tentative launch date of 2023 to take people on a trip around the moon, “it’s safe to say we aren’t going to see lunar travel becoming affordable or widely accessible in the next 10 years”. She says the average tourist can, however, “expect relatively unknown destinations to become increasingly popular as new airports are built in smaller towns and people seek out unspoiled views”.
This will be key in a region like Asia Pacific, where many destinations have typically been difficult or time-consuming to reach. Carolyn Corda, chief marketing officer of traveler intelligence provider Adara, expects to see “a growth in air travel, particularly in Asia Pacific, as a result of rapid economic growth and rising air connectivity”. She says we could see “Hyperloop and supersonic travel become mainstream, fostering shorter breaks”.
Speed is a key topic when considering what the travel behaviors of people will be like in 10 years, particularly around the discovery of new ideas. All four of the future-facing experts The Drum speaks to on this topic call out VR as either a future form of travel in itself – a ‘virtual break’ – or an important means of seeking out the next trip. Virtual try before you buy will be the norm, they agree.
Futurist Tracey Follows, who founded the strategic foresights consultancy Futuremade, says that while she isn’t suggesting people will be taking virtual holidays by 2029, “at some point, they probably will be”. She does think people will be “trialing holidays in VR” a decade from now. “VR will be used to trial and test all kinds of experiences, and what’s more important than a high-ticket, high-touch experience like a vacation?” she asks. “Perhaps you can stay for a few hours just to get the vibe and experience some of the sights and sounds, and then move seamlessly from the immersive trial to making the booking. This will be the biggest shift in researching holidays and other travel plans.”
Likewise, Amy Turner, who is also one of our Future 50 and, until recently, the marketing manager in charge of digital brand and campaigns at travel company Tui, says VR coupled with voice search will be the most powerful discovery channels for consumers in 2029. “Voice will have a huge impact on research, be that through an Alexa or Google glasses, and consumers will be able to use voice and AR to visualize and experience their journey before actually being on it. Tui and other companies need to understand how best to fit in the process and be at the forefront of travel planning.”
Another piece of technology that will dramatically change discovery and choice for consumers is the proliferation of AI, both in the optimization of advertising and also within products, services, experiences and websites. Lastminute.com’s Saul explains that “the 2029 consumer can expect an increase in travel results being powered by AI, serving them with bespoke recommendations”, but adds that we will “still see websites being used to research more tailored packages with a large variety of options”.
Adara’s Corda says marketing is where the move to intelligence and automation may start, but that, ultimately, an entirely automated holiday could well be a reality in 10 years.
“With predictive traveler intelligence and artificial intelligence, these platforms provide another avenue for travel brands to provide relevant and targeted offerings to consumers. As machine learning becomes more advanced, travel brands will not only be able to provide targeted recommendations that align with guest preferences, they will also create a more real-world experience where recommendations are provided in a way that mimics the travel inspiration consumers may get from chance discussions with a friend or fellow traveler.”
She adds: “We can also expect to see greater automation across all aspects of vacations, whether that’s during the pre-purchase phase or the actual guest experience. We are already hearing about things like AI-powered smart hotel rooms and VR tours of destinations, so it isn’t a stretch to imagine a break that involves little to no human interaction.”
The reliance on voice search and machine learning in discovery is troublesome for some, as the chance of surprise is less likely. The damaging effects of filter bubbles was well documented by Eli Pariser, the founder of viral content website Upworthy, in his book about the same topic. The key question he poses is, where’s the room for serendipity or having your preconceived notions challenged? Before businesses charge toward the horizon, VR headset on, shouting at voice assistants that they need a machine-learning strategy, Follows thinks serendipity is an important topic for marketers to mull over.
“In a world where any place can be researched and then experienced virtually before you even get there, there is less and less opportunity for serendipity and surprise,” she says. “So companies that organize events and experiences on your behalf in order to surprise you will become more popular. Companies like Surprise Industries, which you can either pay a one-off fee to or pay a subscription in exchange for it surprising you at some point in time, will in some way put fun and spontaneity back into a process that otherwise will become almost entirely predictable.”
And so to the other most consistent prediction from our experts – that the holiday of 2029, while being hyperconnected, will also need to offer space in which to switch off and focus on wellness. It’s a trend that’s already well on its way up the hype cycle, with holidays that offer digital detoxes to be found in almost every country.
Lastminute.com’s Saul says she thinks we will see “a real battle between the desire to connect with the world – and share your travels on social media – and the need to take time out and switch off from home and work”. And so: “We can expect holidays that are more connected – flights with wifi as standard and hotels connected to your phones. Yet at the same time, a conflicting trend will arise for technology detox holidays and remote locations without access to the internet. In an always switched-on world, people will increasingly look to spend time on travel experiences that have meaning.”
The secondary angle is around sustainability. As consumers become hyperaware of the impact that their choices make on the world, it will become imperative for travel businesses to act on these credentials. Turner says: “Smart, eco-friendly travel will be a huge change over the next 10 years – people are beginning to live and breathe sustainable ways of living and are much more conscious than they used to be. Travel companies that can keep up with this movement and be as eco-friendly as possible will thrive.”
Tui, she says, was the first tourism group to use the Boeing Dreamliner, which consumes 20% less jet fuel than any comparable aircraft. And the company plans to have 17 Dreamliners by the end of the year to help reduce its footprint.
While considering technology detoxes and sustainability alongside amped-up hyperconnectivity in travel may seem incongruous, brands that succeed in 2029 will ultimately have a human eye on technology. But the use of technology needs to feel seamless, intangible, and this comes from brands creating experiences that flow between online and offline. Understanding what people really want from travel, and creating experiences around that, will be key to winning in 10 years’ time.
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