Technology & Travel: We’re Not There Yet. In Fact, We’re Not Even Close (To Technology’s Potential for Changing Travel As We Know It)

Nov 11, 2014

A colleague recently shared this in-the-car exchange that occurred as she her and her husband drove through the California Redwoods. She was at the wheel, he was navigating from a new three-D map app on his iPad.

He: “Just around this next corner, there’ll be another big stand of redwoods.”

TravelTechShe: “I know, honey. If you’d put down the iPad, you could look out the window and see the actual TREES. They’re right there, on your right. Pretty magnificent, too. See?”

He (eyes still focused downward on the iPad): “And about 500 yards on the left, there will be another grove of trees.”

She: “I KNOW. They’re right outside the window — living, breathing magnificent trees with actual bark and crowns and branches, way high up. But you have to look out into the natural world to see them. We just passed them….”

It’s obvious that technology has changed the way we travel – mostly in ways (unlike the above scenario) that make it easier to plan, book, navigate, check in, communicate, videotape/photograph, board and pay. And that’s just the start.

Technology’s influence on travel will only continue in the fast lane, forced there by consumers who increasingly rely on technology when they’re away from home for just about everything they do.

Based on the results of a summer 2014 passenger survey by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), technology-powered travelers want more technology as they travel for business or leisure: more connectivity, more connections and more mobile opportunities so that their non-travel lives (business and leisure) transition seamlessly to their mobile travel activities. The APEX survey of 1,605 international airline travelers says:

  • 57% play in-flight video games (70% of them provided by the airline) and 15% take advantage of in-flight movies and TV (another 9% watch movies/entertainment on their own computers/devices)
  • 54% tapped into Wi-Fi on the plane; 30% want better connectivity in-flight, and 21% want better lighting/electrical outlets to stay powered up
  • 6% of passengers engage in “social connectivity” on a plane, nearly 60% of them engaged in social media activities and email
  • (Independent of technology, but pertinent to airline travel: 26% of women and 19% of men want better toilets/lavatories, and we wholeheartedly agree).

Similar shifts are occurring in the hotel industry, where smartphone apps allow guests to bypass the front desk (Starwood) for check-in/check-out (Hilton) and entrance to the room (with more tech-enabled hotel-stay amenities in the pipeline).

And travel-related apps are exploding, making it possible, for example, to record pre-existing damage to a rental car, access information about foreign currency exchanges and foreign-country emergency contact information, video-text messages to groups (think travel groups, school tours), or navigate using offline versions of online maps to avoid battery drainage/wireless fees when navigating an unfamiliar location (Rand McNally, not coincidentally, acknowledged the concept).

In today’s world, most of us panic if we get to the airport or 10 miles down the road, only to realize we’ve left our smartphone or tablet behind. The trip can’t proceed without some type of mobile connection, and technology’s influence on travel will only grow in coming months and years.

Let’s hope we can all stay focused on the goal of travel: pleasure, family fun, serious business or much-needed down time. And let technology make it as easy, fun and helpful as possible. Even with hundreds of travel technologies and apps to choose from, it’s still important to see the forest for the trees. Or the Redwoods, as the case may be.

What travel technology or travel app would you like to see? What would help you make travel easier, more efficient or more fun?

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