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October 20, 2017
I could do with a holiday.
A virtual holiday, that is – courtesy of a 3d wrap-around visor to transport me a toasty Bermuda beach or a dramatic Icelandic glacier with much of the fun, and none of the hassle, of actual travel.
But if I do get on a real plane and land in a real foreign country, I quite fancy my own 24-hour tour guide.
A robot tour guide. At least I wouldn’t have to tip.
Must be that time of the year but travel’s crystal-ball gazers have been busy of late, with players such as Lonely Planet and Skyscanner issuing reports into the future face of travel.
And in general it’s a pretty rosy picture.
Travel agents, for example – remember them? Actually there are still a few of the real thing clinging on to the high street but most have of us have got used to being our own travel agent when it comes to planning our holidays.
We use travel sites and online reviews to research places to visit and then compare and book our own flights, hotels, insurance and the other bits of a holiday on our phones, tablets or even creaky old PCs.
And travel is only getting more virtual. Our fellow price comparison site Skyscanner predicts a big role for those virtual reality visors. Produced now mainly for gamers, we could soon be using them to try our holidays before we buy.
Instead of shooting up little green men, we’d flop down on golden sands, stroll along a foreign boulevard or check into a glitzy hotel – virtually speaking – before coughing up for the real thing.
In another development, 3D TV plug-ins could also soon be bringing the Serengeti to Surbiton, Niagara Falls to Northampton and the Grand Canyon to Glasgow. Other holiday futurologists – to coin a term – foresee a new role for travel agencies in coupling the visual experience with virtual reality aromas, plus sensations of warmth, wind and cold, to recreate destinations even more convincingly.
The inevitable question crops up, though, will we bother going on holiday at all when we can have effectively the same thing courtesy of technology and minus jetlag, sunburn and tourist touts – all of which you could possibly exclude via a dropdown menu?
Such predictions might sound wild, but the web and other technologies have already transformed travel in less than a generation. Social media are increasingly prominent, in giving us inside information on the best sights and eating and drinking spots in a place we’re planning to visit.
The explosion of Airbnb and similar home-letting services has helped more and more of us to realise the dream of seeing a place like a local – getting under its skin away from the well-worn trails of mass tourism.
The same model is being extended to other traditional holiday services such as tour guiding, allowing us to hook up with a local for a thoroughly authentic, one-on-one introduction to a new place.
One of the most welcome impacts of recent travel technology has been to scythe through the paperwork and routine of holidays to leave the most exciting bits for us to enjoy.
We’re all used to online check-in but increasingly we’re ditching paper boarding cards in favour of a barcode sent to our smart phones – and one less travel document to lose can never be a bad thing.
easyJet has just revealed a facility on its app whereby you can snap a pic of your passport photo page when booking a flight and all that unexciting info – passport number, place of issue, etc – will be automatically filled in for you, leaving you more time to fantasise about lying on a beach.
And hotels are catching up. Holiday Inn is trialling mobile and online check in to save you time and awkward smiles at reception. Hertz already has self-service kiosks so you can pick up a hire car with minimum fuss or after hours.
Yet, with web technology easing into seemingly every aspect of holidays, it’s ironic that you still largely have to abandon your device(s) once you get on board. That’s changing. Norwegian is leading the way, with wi-fi at 30,000 feet, allowing you to do a spot of last minute travel research, maybe book your transfers and even stream films. It’s a revelation to use – and it’s free.
But not all of travel’s recent technological breakthroughs have been web-based. News comes from BA of lifetime bag tags that would free you from relying ever again on those worryingly flimsy slips of paper issued at the check-in desk. Now microchips will help to speed your bag through the airport and on to the plane.
If another airline announcement is any sign, services on board are set to become increasingly – gasp – civilised. The holiday company TUI is planning to introduce booths on its planes so friends and families can sit opposite each other over a table. (Why has it taken so long?)
And no more having to ask cabin crew to bring you everything from napkins to bottled water in your seat, as if you were a helpless infant – TUI is also set to introduce self-service fridges in its aeroplane galleys.
If that sounds like a revolution, what could holidays look like a decade or two hence? In its report The Future of Travel 2024, Skyscanner forecasts a veritable holiday revolution.
Among its most interesting predictions is the rise of super-smart applications that will learn from our travel behaviour to plan our holidays for us, including what to see and where to eat, sleep and be entertained – all, no doubt, to be experienced beforehand courtesy of an advanced model of high street see, smell and touch-athon like that imagined above.
With a knowledge of our preferences perhaps better than our own, such technology could, according to Skyscanner, also link us up with likeminded locals or – why bother with fallible humans? – preprogramme a robot tour guide.
Complete with his robot cousin’s carpet shop? Now that really would be like the holidays we’re used to.
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