Travel & Technology: Great Expectations for 2017

travel technology trendsJust like nearly everything else in our lives, technology is bending, shaping and redefining the travel industry. Technology-assisted travel is defeating the commoditization of travel that made it un-sexy in the 1990s, and ringing in a new area of personalization driving an industry renaissance.

This renaissance was glaringly evident at the recent Skift Global Forum in New York, branded as the “TED of Travel.” Scanning the audience, the attendees could have just as easily been at TechCrunch Disrupt or Recode. Technology’s ubiquity was at the forefront of most discussions and sessions, with speakers from big guns like Google Travel, Expedia, Booking.com and Facebook, alongside some impressive newer travel companies like Peek, Upside, SilverRail and Lola.

Below are a few of the forum’s most dominant and disruptive trends and insights that communicators should keep in mind as we head into 2017:

Artificial intelligence (AI) begins to disrupt travel.
AI is already being used to tap into traveler information and target consumers more precisely, improving travel experiences by offering more personalized products and services. One recent example of AI becoming reality is Google Trips, a mobile app dedicated to trip planning. Google describes it as a personalized tour guide in your pocket. Aside from organizing your personal travel information, the app helps you to build your personalized itinerary around your interests and schedule. Google Trips will also assemble the most popular attractions and experiences into a packaged tour based on your location, which updates daily, using data from other travelers. We can expect to see more brands activate “smart offerings” like these moving forward.

Human connection remains key to implementing travel technology successfully.
Human connection, and authentic communications, remained at the top of the list of items that achieve guest happiness. While technologies like keyless entry can make your guests’ experiences faster and easier, when technology fails (and it will) you need an empowered and passionate employees and leaders to handle the situation appropriately to ensure the guest is satisfied. At the same time, we can expect to see more social travel planning tools, allowing groups to build their own connections at the unofficial start of the trip, the planning process.

What’s old is new again – the tour becomes an experience.
Some travel offerings that have been around for some time, such as personalized or packaged tours, are taking on a new life due to technology. Multiple companies, both established and start-ups, are using technology to create guided tours that play into travelers’ desire for genuine experiences. This includes personalized options based on your preferences to do things like meet local farmers, take a cooking class, learn a local dance style, make olive oil, or even have a local as your escort around town. Airbnb’s recent launch of the World of Trips, a way to book unique experiences with locals in cities across the world, is a prime example of this emerging trend.

Technology will continue to personalize travel.
New tools and apps are being launched that allow for differentiated experiences previously not available to everyone. The airline industry is a prime example of an industry rapidly going from a commoditized product to a highly differentiated one, with airlines focusing on food and wine offerings, design elements, service, and more. Platforms such as Routehappy allow airline booking comparison options similar to how we currently view hotel rooms, allowing users to compare offerings such as the airport lounge, type of plane, onflight amenities, legroom, and more.

Beyond these innovations, there are clear signs of the rising cool factor of travel in everyday culture. From celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain, who travel the world connecting food with cultural influences and history, to the celeb status of travel influencers who appear on national morning shows and in major brand advertisements.

Millennials are also having a positive impact on the prospects for the future of travel. Key desires of this group, like having new experiences when traveling, align perfectly with how the industry is transforming. In fact, according to the recently published “Millennial Brief on Travel & Lodging” from FutureCast, they currently spend more than $200 billion annually on travel.

We have great expectations for the travel industry in 2017… is your brand ready?

Samantha Stark is an award-winning senior public relations professional in Ketchum’s Technology team based on Washington, D.C. With over 20 years of experience at top marketing and public relations agencies, she specializes in the planning and execution of integrated communications programs focused on building and protecting reputations. You can follow her on Twitter @sammystark.