While virtual travel – using multiple player videogame technology – will offer specific experiences that some travelers are looking for, technology will for the most part augment and support the physical experience of travel. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that augmenting and supporting travel is secondary. The travel industry is often fragmented, frustrating, and out of date.
The time for automation in travel is long overdue.
Standing in a check-in line and picking up the room phone to order room service feel like dated parts of the hospitality experience. You would expect it to be far more modern by now.
The sooner travel businesses implement back-office automation and other innovations, the higher their odds of success.
Serhii Kholin, CEO Onix-systems
From the moment you start thinking about taking a trip to the moment when you arrive home again, get out of the taxi and open up your front door, haul your luggage inside, and message friends, family, and colleagues that you’re back home, you are travelling or at least planning to. Think of all the stages in that process:
If this list makes you reluctant to travel, it’s only because much of the travel and hospitality industry doesn’t do a good job because of deliberate fragmentation of data – what the industry calls closed-loop network infrastructures, as well as government bureaucracy, and underinvestment in XR technology. The industry is all too often stuck in the 90s but hopefully that will start to change. We’ll see how in the next section.
Let’s look at the top 10 Travel Companies in the world:
|Rank & Company||Countries served||Sales in billions||Employees etc.|
|1 Booking Holdings||220||$76.6||24,500|
|2 Expedia Group||70 +||$72.4||n/a 200 + websites|
|3 GBT Amex Global Biz Travel||140||$33.7||18,000|
|6 Flight Centre Travel Group||90||$16||20,000|
|7 Internova Travel Group||80 +||$ 7.12||70,000 “advisors”|
|8 American Express Travel||140 +||$ 6.7||2,200 + locations|
|9 Direct Travel||n/a||$ 5.4||2,000 +|
|10 Fareportal||n/a||$ 2||2,000 +|
Remember that most of these companies have multiple brands they use to target specific demographics and travel preferences.
|Country||Total employees||Percentage of total employment|
Global Source US Source China Source Canada Source Australia Source EU Source India Source
No, travel won’t become mostly virtual, although that is one way to solve the problems listed above. However, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – which are both summed up by the term extended reality (XR) – will play key roles within the world of physical travel far beyond that which they currently do.
Imagine experiencing an XR recreation of a landmark attraction you’d love to see, complete with a guide offering lots of useful detail as well as tips and advice. Something that goes far beyond the pleasant webpages that clutter the online space with overdone language that you know sets you up for disappointment. These virtual reality/extended reality spaces will become an increasing part of our travel process as the metaverse seeps into the world of tourism. However, it will be more as a support rather than as an alternative reality.
You already use sites like Expedia, Trivago (an Expedia brand), Kayak, Flightfinder, Skyscanner, & Momondo to plan a trip at a price that your budget can handle. The next step that’s being worked on right now is to make the transition from virtual inspiration for a trip (shown above) to finding and booking flights and hotels as seamless as possible. That will mean that hotels start giving you XR tours of their facilities and then have a user-friendly way to quickly reserve a room. You want to visit Vietnam? Go here for a virtual tour. You need a room in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)? Click here for a virtual tour. Click here to see what rooms are available. Click here to reserve a room. Choose what currency to pay in – including bitcoin and ether and other digital currencies. Done.
Just as importantly, you will also use an App that gives you real time updates on any cancellations or significant delays of flights. Airlines (this may take longer) will share their data on a much larger scale so that you don’t only get a message saying American Airlines flight 4652 to Istanbul has been cancelled or delayed. You get suggestions for other flights and links to let you seamlessly book a new flight to Istanbul. Of course, there will likely be a small fee charged for this service that is shared between airlines.
These updates will also include text warnings about floods, major storms (hurricanes in the Caribbean for example), and any security issues that would make you want to cancel or reschedule your trip.
All these elements are already up and running online, of course. The big difference is that they will be personalized based on your data and will be in real time and will offer you links to solutions you can book online as soon as you get the update/warning. And you will have access to real-time information on what the visa requirements are for any trip you have booked or are planning.
Yes, virtual reality will help you here as well. On your flight (or before) you’ll be able to do a virtual tour of the airport (security organizations will fight this but it’s coming regardless) or at least of the relevant parts that you will use. Especially what happens after you go through customs and immigration (if required) and are looking for local transportation. Here’s the local taxi stand (better to avoid), here’s the airport taxi service (expensive but reliable), here’s your bus to take you to your hotel (free or much cheaper and secure), here’s the local city bus (for the brave and young only), here’s a link to your local Uber. All in virtual reality or XR to familiarize yourself and to help avoid the scammers that are waiting for you like predators as you disembark, tired and impatient to get to your hotel.
There will of course be links to sites where you can reserve a paid taxi or bus in advance as well. In fact, your Uber will already know what hotel you’re going to – as will your airport taxi. But make sure you confirm with the driver.
There won’t be as many unpleasant surprises when you get to your hotel or hostel, because you will have (hopefully) done the VR tour. Your lobby will be smaller because a large lobby is an old-fashioned way to waste a lot of space. Smaller lobbies mean more space for amenities and more rooms, which means lower prices.
Crucially, the amenities a hotel offers you will transform over the coming years. Some like Sonder, are already changing in this direction. There will be large lockers where you can keep baggage etc. Room service will be customized – you decide when or even if you want your room cleaned, or just want a set of fresh sheets and towels.
Here’s what the App will let your phone do at your destination hotel:
What will differentiate departure from arrival – although the two will share much of the same digital tools – will be the experience gained by travelers having visited a location and learnt first-hand and from fellow visitors what to do and what to avoid. This will include how to and when to get to and from the airport (or train/bus station). As well as recommendations and ratings. And this brings up an exciting possibility.
As Francis Davidson, the co-founder of Sonder explains, storytelling in travel has enormous potential. Millennials and Gen Z often tell their stories with pictures and maybe some short accompanying text. But it’s the image that talks to their fellow travelers. Social media is clearly the place where this has already been developing, but travel companies need to find a way to capture that storytelling to help them project their brand. Crowd-sourced XR digital spaces where you can tour through people’s experiences told in images could perform two key functions:
The challenge will be to seamlessly integrate those XR platforms into the services offered by companies – from hotels to food & beverage to edutainment to leisure and entertainment to transportation.