The introduction of the Internet delivered what was arguably the biggest revolution in travel since the 90s saw the rise of low-budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair. And now, with the number of mobile phones soon set to exceed the number of people on the planet by the end of 2012, it can be said that the advent of mobile technology has brought us to the beginning of the travel industry’s next major transformation.
Mobile technology is beginning to play a large part in giving travellers freedom like never before, allowing them to book and manage their travel from whatever location they find themselves, tailor and shape their travel experience to suit their individual needs and desires, and provides opportunities to engage with other travellers through every stage of one’s journey.
Today, we are no longer restricted to organising our trips whilst sitting at a desk at our local travel agents. The online world heralded a new age where travellers could take the reins and now mobile technology is taking this trend to its logical conclusion.
As this infographic demonstrates, mobile technology is slowly becoming more and more integrated into our everyday life, and due to its portable properties, it is becoming increasingly linked with travel.
The biggest initial benefit of using mobile technology in this industry is traveller flexibility. As shown, people are increasingly using their phones to research and make travel plans, and with the introduction of smartphones and 3G technology, we can now do this wherever we are the world, including whilst we are travelling. This has opened the door for flexible travel freedom like never before. No longer are we required to have booked our accommodation weeks in advance, or planned detailed itineraries with information from months of extensive research; mobile technology, with its travel apps and internet functions, allows us to be more flexible with our travel plans, to make decisions as we go.
But the conversion of mobile technology and travel goes far beyond added flexibility. It is also allowing us to travel more connectedly. We can engage with other travellers, as well as friends and family from home, whilst we are away. Travelling moves away from being a solitary experience, and becomes more sociable and networked, where travel relationships and social engagement are encouraged
The ‘check-in’ device on Facebook (which has since been replicated on numerous other mobile apps such as Instagram), allows users to pinpoint their location on the Internet, listing themselves as present in a particular location for their social media circle to see. On a recent trip to Barcelona I decided to check-in to Park Güell on Facebook, accompanied by an Instagram picture of the beautiful mosaic ceilings. About 10 minutes later, an old school friend whom had since moved to live in the States, commented on my check-in saying she was also in Barcelona and asked if I’d like to meet up for some sangria. After a few organisational private messages we managed to meet up in a small tapas bar (coincidentally found through the TripAdvisor mobile app) and the night was spent catching up over travel stories and a few too many churros.
Many fear that this constant connectivity constitutes some sort of ‘social over-exposure’, which restricts our ability to fully immerse ourselves in our travels. However as a positivist, I see connected mobile technology as an exciting opportunity for relationship formation in an increasingly globalised and fluid society.
However the possibilities of mobile technology do not end with connecting travellers or making last-minute hotel reservations. Many mobile technologies relating to travel are still in the early stages of development, and will continue to be developed as this exciting industry progresses. In the future we can expect technology which tracks baggage in real-time, enabling travellers to know exactly where their luggage is and eliminating problems with mishandled baggage. An early model of this is Amadeus’ Altéa Baggage Tracking.
In the future, mobile technology will be more than just a tool for travellers, but will also be able to provide experiences for them too. Once they have arrived at their destinations, game-based or augmented-reality applications could dramatically change how people experience their chosen destinations. Existing examples of this include the current mobile app that allows travellers to “see” where the Berlin wall once stood. Using one’s mobile to overlay a destination with sights, sounds and facts about the place’s culture and history will give travellers the opportunity to choose how they experience a location.
But mobile technology is not only beneficial to just travellers, their advantages extend also to travel providers. They are provided with new opportunities to interact with their customers, as they are no longer limited by where these transactions can take place. Each point of the journey now provides a potential opportunity to engage with the traveller, like offering destination-based content once a traveller has arrived at their location or tracking the expenses that allows a business traveller to purchase approved ancillary services. Mobile technology provides an avenue through which travel operators and businesses can interact with their customers at any time and in specially customised ways.
We are only just starting to experience the effect of the transformation that mobile technology is having on the travel industry, and the possibilities are endless. For both travellers and travel providers alike, new travel technologies will significantly change the way we engage with travel- providing new opportunities and giving us freedom like never before.