It is January. You are online checking to see where you will go during the Summer and you are reading the live tweets of a honey badger. Welcome to the 21st century. This is how the internet has changed travel and tourism.
The impact of technology on society
Like the internet, tourism is a particularly 20th century phenomenon. Until the 1950s, jetting about was the perogative of the wealthy. As airplane technology changed, travel became more accessible. Airline Reservation Systems were created to manage information that was previously processed by humans. Like the defense industry, the use of computers allowed a network system to develop into what were known as Computer Reservation Systems. These developed into Global Distribution Systems such as Amadeus and Galileo in the 80s, allowing local travel agents to check real-time flight schedules, availability and prices. They could make bookings and issue tickets. I remember making the journey from North London to Ilford to a particular travel agent who could guarantee me a flight home at Christmas. It was a time consuming and complicated process but it was the only way of getting a flight without going directly to the airport.
The travel industry was perfectly placed to take advantage of the internet in the 90s. It was already set up to solve logistical problems and it involved information management, PR, customer service and sales. Airlines began to reduce the need for travel agents, although there will always be a need for gatekeepers. Online Travel Agents took advantage of better information flows to present different travel options. Websites provided 24/7 access, multichannel contact, online support and a constantly improving user experience. In return they got consumer information. Online Tourism was central to this change through the use of professional reviews and User Generated Content.
The impact of society on technology
Like other areas effected by the internet, it was online behaviour that changed things. Tourists search for information for different reasons and at different times. Most of us use the internet to research an upcoming trip. We look for inspiration. We read reviews and blogs or read the tweets of honey badgers to get a feel for a place. We check the weather channel for real time reviews of our destinations. Geomapping services like Google Maps and Google Street View allow us to get more enhanced information and actually view places before visiting. Moving from research to purchase involves the building of trust. No-one likes to hand over credit card details for that hotel which looks beautiful in the brochure but which could be next to a building site. This is where clever companies set themselves apart from others by creating content that is authoritative, useful and engaging.
Once we get there, we check in on location based services such as Yelp and Foursquare to find where to eat. We use specific apps such as Tripit Travel Organiser to make travelling easier. We have cabs pick us up using Hailo. Pinpin ATM Finder directs us to the nearest cashpoint. Tube Exits tell us which carriage to get on so we can off as close to our exit as possible. Cultural tourism providers are aware of the power of sharing and places like the Rijkse Museum attract travellers by sharing their content online. Even in Ireland, we have our own live tweeting giraffe called Spotticus in the Natural History Museum. What do we do when we return home? We upload our pics to Facebook. We become broadcasters ourselves. While there are many reasons why people choose to communicate the benefits of locations to other travellers, the result is more information which feeds back into someone elses holiday research.
Where to next?
So where do you see the travel industry changing as a result of technology in the future? Do you go offline on holidays or do you use location based technology to discover more relevant experiences? My feeling is that there will be an increase in holidays finding me rather than the other way around. Social and User Generated Content is definitely here to stay, but the big growth right now is in M-Commerce. This is not surprising. Travel is all about mobility. The ease of paying online through smart phones is what consumers are looking for. As internet penetration grows and demographics change, mobile usage will follow. Trust in M-commerce will develop just as it did in early online travel.