IN the 25 years since IBM launched its PC, a machine widely regarded as the first real personal computer, technology has all but taken over the workplace.
Virtually all office workers now sit at computers, stay in touch via e-mail and receive information via a broadband connection.
The travel industry is no exception. Advances in technology have moved travel in completely new directions, driving strong trends towards online purchasing, dynamic packaging and e-ticketing.
But fast forward another 25 years and how will the travel industry be using technology then?
Of course, some things are impossible to predict. The rate of technological development is such that a quarter of a century from now, computers will allow us to do things that today we can’t even conceive.
But there are also some of today’s trends that can be projected into the future. One that cannot be disputed is the growth of online purchasing. Today, 30% of all global travel products are bought online, but Amadeus director of travel distribution strategy Andy Owen-Jones predicts this figure will be nearer 80% in 15 years’ time.
He also foresees a future in which travel booking engines will be integrated into car satellite navigation systems, so travellers will be alerted to hotels and amusement parks situated along the route they have planned out.
Wearable computers will also be commonplace in 20 years time, said Owen-Jones. Pre-programmed with our preferences and built into a headset or jacket cuff, they will let us know if we are in the vicinity of our favourite kind of restaurant or bar.
“In general, there will be far more data available, giving more power of choice to the consumer, while providing more ways for retailers to predict what the consumer wants,” he said.
Owen also thinks online kiosks, allowing consumers to research and book holidays in supermarkets or pubs, will be widespread in the future – a scenario that Thomas Cook chief information officer Carl Dawson is less certain of.
“Kiosks seem to have been much-lauded over the last 10 years, but in most trials the public don’t seem to like using them. It’s likely that people will feel more comfortable using their own devices,” he said.
Kamran Ikram, a partner in the travel and transport service practice at business consultancy Accenture, believes increased use of mobile technology by travel companies will be the key development in coming years.
He said reduced roaming costs across Europe will enable the transmission of travel content, such as destination information or details of excursions, to clients on holiday – a trend that will take off as today’s mobile-using youth starts buying travel products in around 10 years’ time.
Airline companies will also become bandwidth providers, according to futurologist Ray Hammond, who said more operators will follow Ryanair’s lead, charging less for the air ticket and more for the in-flight services they offer.
“By the time Internet services are available to air passengers, it won’t just be business travellers wanting to use e-mail. Everyone will be demanding Internet access to update their MySpace profile and load their holiday videos onto YouTube,” he said.
With the airline industry being asked to reduce emissions, we may see many aircraft powered partly by solar power by 2030.
Other modes of transport will also be revolutionised. Proposals are already afoot to develop cruise ships powered by giant kites, while a group of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been advocating a transatlantic rail line, with trains running in a tube under the ocean at speeds of up to 5,000 miles per hour.
Struggling to keep up? Check out the predictions here and stay ahead of the curve.
Some of the developments envisaged over the next 15 years:
Five years: cheaper roaming and data access across Europe will open up the market for travel applications.
10 years: IT literate youth now have disposable income. This will accelerate the development of travel applications for mobile devices.
15 years and beyond: mobile phones with fold-out screens or a virtual projection of keyboard by laser to make use of mobile device easier.
Online purchasing of travel
Five years: 50% of all travel bought booked online
Ten years: 60% of all travel bought booked online
15 years and beyond: 80% of all travel bought booked online
Five years: significant growth of travel kiosks in supermarkets and high streets.
Ten years: web cams in every resort, so clients can view before they buy.
15 years and beyond: new generation virtual reality jumpsuits and helmets mean clients can ‘go’ on holiday from their front room, complete with sea breeze and the smell of suntan oil.
Use of data
Five years: airlines and agencies introduce personally targeted ticket prices based on analysis of customer value and ability to purchase.
Ten years: personal tour building systems – where consumer become self-bonding – gain market share over operators.
15 years and beyond: personalised intelligent search engines replace agents, with staff moving to higher value-added roles.