The Phocuswright Conference 2019 preview – A future not fully understood

The theme for The Phocuswright Conference 2019 (“Are we there yet?”) was created to check if the travel industry has reached the future that its visionaries promised.

It also begs the question that, as we close out another decade of constantly chasing some kind of new horizon, there is plenty more to come.

There certainly is, of course – the progressive and digital-led elements in the travel industry are blessed (or, indeed, cursed) with knowing that with every new piece of technology that arrives on the scene, there is always something else around the corner.

The future should be considered an exciting one.

Every travel brand, software vendor or system that glues everything together should be constantly looking for ways to improve how transportation, accommodation and the things that people do on their trips can be better run, more efficient and provide, ultimately, a quality experience.

In the fairly near future, technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics should be common processes in the travel industry.

They will be applied to almost everything from assisting with personalization to customer service.

Plenty is often made of how new technology, such as aforementioned AI and machine learning, is removing the human element from the industry.

But this does a disservice to what can be achieved in this area. The reality is when integrated correctly and efficiently, technology can free the people that currently oversee such processes to use their skills elsewhere.

The emphasis can be put back on the areas of travel where human interaction can make a huge difference to the overall customer experience.

But what happens next with the wave of technologies coming down the pipe?

To the mid-2020s and beyond

Travel brands should be eager to understand and then introduce next-generation systems such as biometrics – something that has its critics and naysayers but, ultimately, could vastly improve things such as the airport experience or hotel check-in and service.

Privacy and security will obviously be paramount in this area (regulators and authorities simply will not allow the technology to be used, it is worthwhile noting), so the barrier is purely one of acceptance by customers.

We’ve been here before, many years ago, with the web itself, then more recently with mobile and payments.

Finally, we get to technology that has the potential to fundamentally change some aspects of the industry that have barely evolved in decades.

Aviation and ground transportation, areas of the industry that have relied on the jet or combustion engine for so long, are on the verge of a new era – a period where environmental awareness takes hold.

This change may happen organically as new technology arrives, or it may be forced upon the incumbents far quicker from politicians, activists or, perhaps crucially, a change in consumer expectation.

Either way, autonomous vehicles at scale and the introduction of low-orbit aircraft (such as those championed by Virgin Galactic) are coming at some point, there is no doubt.

Will the brands that dominate now still be there in a future still yet to be fully defined? Yes and no.

That’s why the next era for the digital travel economy promises to be such a thrilling ride for everyone.

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