Future of Travel (4)

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Where we’ll stay
For most holidaymakers going away involves staying in a hotel, so what are guests looking for now and what can they expect to see when they check-in five, ten or fifteen years hence? According to a survey by Hotels.com, what people want now is free and easily accessible Wi-Fi. This ranks above high-end coffee makers, iPod docks, video-game systems and DVD players. 38% of survey respondents stated that free Wi-Fi was a must when staying at a hotel, with 35% saying it was the single amenity they wanted to see more of in hotels. By 2030, lacking wifi access will be inconceivable. It will be freely available and ubiquitous – and crucially phone charges abroad will all be at domestic rates, or with free calls and costs made up from other bundled services as the use of skype and facetime will have totally transformed the telephone business model

Hotels and resorts will provide an e-Butler service to help you understand all the technology you’ve bought tax-free and a large safe to store valuables – especially iPads, laptops and phones (will someone please invent a safe for electrical devices that charges devices while they are in the safe!).

Apart from cleanliness, safety, value for money, location, privacy and perhaps a good view out of the window, other desirables might include a bathroom or kitchen area better that guests have at home, breakfast to go, happy hours, a technology ‘bar’ to charge, buy or borrow devices, bedtime menus (everything from fluffy teddy bears to fur-lined hand-cuffs).

Premium hotels will also offer services such as the ability to download personal exercise programs onto hotel gym equipment and the ability to buy many of the items showcased in the rooms themselves – especially technology, sleep and bathroom related items.

Beyond these ideas, what people will want above anything else are comfort, personalisation and convenience. For example, why not check yourself in via your mobile phone or iPad and use the same device to open your bedroom door via a Q-code or ID reader. For example, you’ll check yourself in via your mobile phone or iPad and use the same device to open your bedroom door via a QR-code or ID reader. Similarly, rather than asking the front desk for advice about where to eat or what to see, why not download the hotel’s app (or borrow one of the hotel’s low cost mobile devices – the Casio watch equivalent of a tablet, retailing at around £10) that will contain daily updated suggestions for local restaurants, cafes and bars and include a hologramatic avatar to get you there (and importantly in more far flung exotic destinations, with signage in a foreign language), back again.

Personalisation (guests bringing their own entertainment) also means plugging devices into the hotel’s hardware (TVs, music systems etc.), the ability to change, (before arriving in some instances), room temperature and lighting and even pre-order a mattresses on an international scale of softness to suit particular body weights or sleep patterns, along with special pillows that sense allergies or the presence of insects that may have escaped the hotel’s bug detector system.

In the future guests may even be able to personalise hotel rooms according to what mood they are in or want to create. For instance, flick a switch (or select an app) to instantly create ‘business’, ‘romantic’, ‘relaxing’ or ‘invigorating’ (and heaven forbid if you mix them up!). Perhaps we’ll see switches in hotel rooms that can be turned to age settings, thereby adjusting lighting, sound systems and TV channels according to whether a guest is 18 or 80 years-of-age. Personalisation also means managing your own instant room upgrades and communicating with a hotel directly in advance about meal requirements.

Going further out in time, we can imagine intelligent surfaces in hotel rooms, walls that become giant TV screens and even windows that become screens (to play movies, display exterior temperatures or simply to change the view of the one outside if this doesn’t appeal). A view of the Serengeti from your hotel in Ibiza! Why not? And why not have screens in various parts of hotels connected to webcams showing real-time beach, snow and airport traffic conditions too? And what about using 3D printing to make items that travellers have left behind by accident? Need a plastic comb or a toothbrush? A favourite toy, lost in transit? Easy. Just download a design and print one in your hotel room.

Sooner rather than later, hotel rooms will feature screens onto which guests download or stream their own news and entertainment via The Cloud. Hotel phones (a traditional and highly lucrative revenue stream) will have long gone.. As we’ve seen with airlines, what’s needed in the future is not devices or necessarily content, but large screens and fast Internet and the ability to connect these to a guest’s own media choices, which might include online Bibles or other religious texts of the guest’s choice.

Technology could enable guests to check on things back home, not by calling up friends and family that are keeping an eye on things (has the cat been fed, do the tomatoes need watering?), but via sensors and apps that can monitor doors, windows, central heating and even the family cat.

More usefully, communications (especially video) could allow guests to talk with their local doctor back home rather than relying on someone that doesn’t know them or their existing conditions. Conversely, thanks to the ageing UK population, we’ll also see more people going away on medical holidays to recover from illnesses or to have medical procedures performed in another (lower cost) country.

As for not speaking a foreign language (62% of Briton’s don’t) Google has already launched Google translate, which may one day make learning or speaking a foreign language totally obsolete. Your phone will not only become a simultaneous translation device, allowing you to communicate fluently in real time, but also a screen that can translate everything from road signs to menus into English.

Guests bringing their own devices (BYOD) means something else too – big data and analytics. This links with the thought of personalisation and prediction and hotels (and airlines and holiday companies for that matter) will be in a much stronger position to recognise individual holiday makers and respond to or predict their likes and dislikes. This happens already with high-end hotels and airlines, but the idea will trickle down to budget hotels and low-cost airlines too.

Clearly there are logistical issues around this and knowing too much about an individual or family might appear rather creepy. Nevertheless, recognising people and communicating with them directly rather than through an intermediary is likely to be big business.

As for using online holiday review websites, 44% of Britons claim that they trust reviews written on websites such as TripAdvisor, although we’d expect to see a reversal of this trust sooner or later.

Reviews will be attributed and people will follow those with a trusted reputation of specialist knowledge (often travel agents and travel bloggers that travel themselves of course!). We expect guests to continue to rate hotels and resorts, but there will be a shift here too towards the segmentation of results for “people like us” thereby sidestepping misleading aggregations. This links to personalisation, but don’t expect all the traffic to be one way. One development we are likely to see in the future is hotels, travel companies and airlines rating their customers, especially those that cause trouble.

One trend that is likely to endure though is people posting reviews about bad experiences. Unfortunately, it’s human nature that the people that tend to complain tell their friends about their experience, while those that have an enjoyable experience often keep this to themselves. One thing that we can be fairly confident of therefore is that bad experiences will become more public in the future and complaints will travel faster and will consist not only of angry letters but also of irate photographs and professionally edited video. The big difference will be that travel companies will be able to intervene in real time and fix the problem on the spot rather than be arbitrating after the event.

Micro-personalisation will also mean telling your travel company what kind of toiletries you prefer, what kind of newspaper you’d like in the morning (physical newspapers – printed at the resort – will still be available and will be especially welcome as a reconnection to past, more leisurely habits, when people finally have enough time to read them).

We’ll also see personalisation around health and wellness with guests pre-ordering wheat free, gluten free, diary free, vegetarian and vegan meals and selecting wellness rooms such as the ‘stay well’ rooms already available at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. These rooms feature antimicrobial coatings on bathroom fixtures and TV remotes, filtered air and even vitamin C infused shower water.

Apps and sensors will allow guests to ‘sample’ food and drinks to check that they are to their taste and safe and apart from photographing their food and sending images to friends back home (done already) might use augmented reality to find out more about where their food has come from or how it’s been prepared. Augmented reality may be used outside to allow sightseers to check what sights used to look like in the past (complete with sounds and smells in some instances) or might look like in the future (see, for instance, postcardsofthefuture.com). This thought could be especially powerful in the area of ‘dark tourism’, where people travel to the location of former battles and crimes against humanity. On the one level this means battlefield visits (due to grow from 2014 onwards due to various anniversaries such as 1914 (outbreak of WW1), 1915 (Battle of Waterloo), 1916 (Battles of Jutland and the Somme) and so on, but it also means visiting the scenes of genocide (part London Dungeon and part Imperial War Museum). Perhaps some ‘roots tourism’ holidaymakers will even one day be able to interact with their own ancestors using some form of holographic telepresence.

Technology such as RFID tags, smart dust or sensor motes on bath robes, towels and pillows will help hotels to prevent theft of these items but will also allow housekeeping to count them and see how many items are in the laundry. Of course, many guests will want to avoid technology altogether when on holiday. They are tethered to various devices while at work, which will increasingly invade home too, so some hotels will feature tech-free floors where rooms do not contain a phone, television or Internet connection.

Such ‘tech-no’ rooms and Wi-Fi ‘cold spots’ would logically connect to various sustainability initiatives too, although you can expect many hotels to move in the opposite direction, with more business floors and further business services available to guests, even in low-cost family hotels.

We’ve already seen towel and linen re-use programs, water efficient showers, energy efficient LED lighting, recycled construction materials and local food ingredients, so why not go even greener by limiting carbon emissions linked to the charging of electronic devices and to the use of the Internet. This will be easiest in high-end eco-luxe resorts frequented by burnt out business types, but may also appeal to husbands, wives and especially children who would like to interact physically with their parents and spouses while on holiday (i.e. have their mental attention and their physical presence). Other sustainability initiatives might include hotels that make a point of employing more local staff (rather than flying them in from elsewhere), the use of locally harvested water and energy (especially solar) and encouraging guests to pick or catch the ingredients for their own dinner (links both with nature deficit disorder and the fact that few people nowadays have much of a clue as to where their food actually comes from – in the USA, “locally sourced” can mean within 500 miles). Replacing expensively imported foreign bottled water with filtered local tap water should grow in popularity, although hotels in regions such as Africa will have to be especially careful not to use sources such as bore water if this has an impact in local populations. Generally speaking, rainwater harvested from hotel roofs will be far more sustainable than water from the ground or desalinated seawater.

As to what people will actually do whilst on holiday the list will continue to be varied. Some stressed out people will want to do as little as possible and not think at all (hence a continued and rising popularity of all-inclusive resorts where even meal choices are limited or non-existent – another example of simplification and of paying more to get less). Other guests will want to take eating and drinking to extremes with bars featuring huge selections of drinks and restaurants catering to an increasingly hungry (and huge) clientele (cue extra-large meals, but also extra large beds, baths and doorways).

One factor that does stand out is that an ageing UK (and European) population and this will tend to create a shift in the kinds of activities that tourists engage in, with more people wanting cultural and events-based tourism. This could also segueway into healthy food choices, onsite medical facilities and various celebrity-based exercise activities. This happens already on cruise ships, but we’d expect the idea to take root in hotels too. Perhaps celebrity sports coaching on the Algarve, where celebrity sportsmen and sports women from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s coach people in their 70s, 80s and 90s with a view to keeping fit.

Ageing populations across Europe could have another impact too, with hotels increasingly designing facilities so that older couples (and singles) do not have to mix with noisy families, especially those will small children. Hotels with kids only and adult only pools already exist, but we might see kid-free floors of accommodation, kids – free dining options and perhaps kid – free flights to complete the package.

Ageing populations will also mean more senior-friendly food and easier access bedrooms and bathrooms (e.g. low-rise and bungalow hotels). Improved accessibility to hotel facilities will also appeal to disabled travellers and those travelling with small children.

Ageing tourists should also create a demand for familiarity in the sense of tourists going back and reconnecting with places they have visited before (‘Take me back travel’), which in some instances may be aligned to both roots tourism (where was I born/where did I grow up/get married and so on) and Faith Tourism (where do ‘my people’ come from?). A more conservative clientele might also mean more risk aversion in terms of where people go and what they do once they are there, although this aversion to physical risk will be no means be limited to older audiences. However, the opposite will also be true, with many people seeking out extreme physical and sensory experiences.

We’ve mentioned the growth in tourist numbers, especially those coming from the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the Next 11 nations (Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam). Many of the more distant nations will clearly holiday closer to home, but some will visit Europe, making the annual scramble for sunbeds even more intense (pre-booking of sunbeds via mobile phone perhaps?). Rising numbers of tourists will also mean that while last minute booking (via mobile devices) will soar, so too will holidays planned a long time in advance to guarantee not only the hotel and airline seats but admission to popular sights too. Indeed, it might not be too far fetched to suggest that by 2030 some sights will only be seeable by booking years in advance, which, of course, will open up the opportunity for travel operators to pre-book places and make these available to loyal premium customers (i.e. a travel version of O2s Priority Moments). Rising tourist numbers also means that back in Britain, we are about to have the holiday tables turned on us. Rather than Britons visiting every nook and cranny of the world, we are set to become one of the most visited nations. Perhaps in the future we will have to go away on holiday at peak times simply to avoid the millions of people coming to Britain on holiday.

Of course, this, in turn, opens up the possibility of travel agents and operators facilitating the rental of empty holidaymakers’ homes to inbound holidaymakers and more initiatives like airbnb (currently facing legislative issues in the USA)

Anything else? Given that people can get nostalgic for places they’ve never been, we might see more hotels opening shops selling not only foods from ‘back home’ but also foods and foods in packaging from way back when. We’ve already got Vintage Vacations (formerly known as camping and caravanning on the Isle of Wight) so why not provide the whole package?

This last thought taps into another, which is that as the world becomes faster, more virtual and more complex what some guests will want is simplification and the ability to shut things off and other people out.

The more technologically orientated and accelerated life becomes, there will be a growing and significant desire for the opposite, which in the hotel context means simplicity and the human touch. Again, paying more for less. It also means getting somewhere more slowly and unwinding more once you are there. For example, how about ‘silent flights’ (no communications or auditory media allowed) or ‘silent hotels’ run along Trappist lines.

At one end of the market we could see tech-free eco-resorts where guests hand over mobile phones and other devices when they arrive to low-cost resorts where all you get is a tent under the stars. Of course, some of these tents will have room service, but that’s ‘glamping’ and the contradictory customer for you.

Of course, resorts don’t have to be far away if what you’re after is simply to get away. The artificial beach next to the Seine in Paris proves that what some people want is sand regardless of where it is. The ‘beach’ by the river Swan in Brisbane (Australia) and Camden ‘beach’ in London similarly prove that a mini-break works, even if it’s only for a matter of hours. Given that we’ve already got resorts with domed swimming pools and ‘islands’ and artificial snow domes in Dubai, how long before someone creates a totally ‘authentic’ fake resort in a former steel town in Eastern Europe with artificial sun, artificial sea, artificial sand, artificial birdsong and frighteningly realistic prices?

As to how far such fake destinations could go it would seem the answer is quite a long way. At the moment many people are intent on seeing the ‘real thing’ in the sense of experiencing the Temples at Luxor or the canals of Venice. But evidence suggests that in many cases people don’t care if well-known sights are faked. Examples of replica towns or replica sights might include parts of Las Vegas, but increasingly it is within China that such destinations are found. For example, Thames Town looks a bit like an old English town and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, but it is located on the banks of the Yangtze River. There are even plans to build a cute replica of the historic Austrian village of Hallstatt in Austria in Guangdong Province. Perhaps in the future we will see attempts at recreating Machu Picchu in Spain, Venice outside Mumbai and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Hanoi.

Back in the real world, kids will remain the centre of the holiday universe for many parents (and travel companies) so additional attention will be paid to their needs whether they like it or not. In some instances this will simply mean buckets and spades, but for others we’d expect new ‘soft’ cultural and educational opportunities to evolve. On the one hand this might mean a Dangerous Club for Boys and Girls, where normally sedentary and nature starved kids are coaxed into activities that allow them to rediscover their physical selves (tree climbing, camp building and so on). Fewer than ten per cent of kids play in wild places nowadays; down from 50 per cent a generation ago, while the roaming radius for kids has declined by 90 per cent in just one generation. Perhaps resorts will teach, or reteach, the 3Rs through interactions with historical sites. ‘Edutourism’ could also include adults and whole families signing up for various volunteering projects in foreign countries, even if 2 days of being good ends up being twinned with 5 days being a sloth.

The need to relax on holiday is also likely to result in further growth of spas, which in some instances could be modelled on the Victorian spa resorts of yesteryear. The search for sensory experiences is an established trend outside of travel and is set to grow in it as well. Finnair, for example, have what is essentially a spa at Helsinki airport that features no less that five different types of sauna. Add a need for serious medical monitoring equipment and a proper nights sleep and we could see some interesting hybrid hotels develop that are part traditional hotel, part hospital and part sanctuary. Obviously, the growing aesthetic sophistication and design literacy of travellers means that these won’t look anything like a hospital.

Finally, a word about pricing. The spending power of the new global rich means that luxury hotels will become more luxurious and commonplace. At the other end of the price spectrum, budget hotels should also grow, especially “capsule hotels”. The Japanese first thought of the idea of capsule hotels, small rooms with only a bed and tiny television, for travellers on a budget. Then Heathrow and Gatwick airports in the UK opened cabins for hire by the hour with a minimum booking of four hours. As one manager said, “Once you take the window out you can just pack them in”. There’s a good reason for this development. Many cities and popular resorts are under-served with budget hotels.

It will be interesting to see whether travellers are willing to give up their windows onto the world. People may more easily accept a pod at an airport, when they are most likely to be exhausted and desperate to lie down. There’s not much to look at there. Some may find the idea of a windowless “pod” claustrophobic, but many budget hotels don’t have much of a view anyway and if all you want is to lie on a beach, eat, drink and fall asleep then they will make perfect sense for some. Some cities in the USA are already relaxing their legislation around limited build sizes for homes to as little as 20 square metres. So we will see micro-hotels becoming commonplace, with modular rooms and all facilities concealed in walls, ceilings and floors.

To be continued…

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