At the World Travel Market international trade show at London there were two obvious themes: the need to promote sustainable tourism, and to embrace technology.
The World Travel Market exhibition attracts around 5,000 industry experts every year who discuss the global tourism industry and — most importantly — do business with some $3bn of deals done usually done between attendees.
The message this year was clear: the digital revolution has arrived in tourism.
General consensus suggested that so-called big data — companies using customer information to optimise business — will continue to be the ultimate game-changer, allowing tourism companies to understand individual needs and offer personalised experiences.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are also expected to play growing role in the sector.
While VR is mostly associated with the gaming industry, it’s already popping up in construction, healthcare, education and tourism.
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Presenters suggested that VR and AR can become part of both the initial booking/buying process, as well adding a new layer of learning and interaction once one is at a destination.
For instance, VR company Laduma is currently working with a low-cost carrier who has invested in new aircraft with premium seating.
The tech lets customers sample premium seats, tempting them into forking out for extra benefits.
Similarly, Expedia is working on VR, to offer a more immersive booking experience to its customers.
By allowing travellers to view their prospective rooms, get a feel of a new city, or check the distance of their hotel from attractions, Expedia thinks people will book more holidays, more often.
Forestry Commission England has also launched an application that is based on AR, but uses the technology for a different purpose. The Gruffalo Spotter app allows users to follow clues along an interactive trail that leads to different parts around the forest.
Characters from the app blend within the forest around the user thanks to AR, while by collecting clues, information about the surrounding natural environment is revealed.
This interactive app is targeting families with children and stimulates higher interest for nature, facilitating a more effective learning experience.
Some presenters at the World Travel Market went further by suggesting that in the future, VR could even substitute actual travelling.
Though this proposition is supported as an alternative with zero impact to the environment – which is particularly important given the climate change imperative – VR holidays is a rather pessimistic scenario that cannot be compared with the actual feeling of exploring and experiencing a place and more importantly could result in social detachment.
This year’s the World Travel Market show made clear that big data, chat bots, robots, artificial intelligence, VR and machine learning are here to stay.
Such elements have propelled a real revolution and are expected to bring unprecedented change within the industry in the coming years.
Tourism players – big and small – are urged to take advantage of the large amount of available data and new capabilities that such technologies offer.