Travel is many things. It's the feeling of excitement when you meet international colleagues for the first time at your company's annual conference. It's the wonder experienced when you gaze out of the window on your transcontinental flight and remember that just two hours after a business lunch, you're 30,000 feet in the air.
What the travel industry as a whole does is trade the commodity of sensations and destinations. There's warmth. There's cold. There are mountains, beaches, and cities to explore, people to meet, cuisines to taste. While technology can aid you in gathering the necessary reservations and tickets to move yourself in your desired direction, the human touch is still what makes travel an "experience."
I recently visited The New York Times Travel Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Through the numerous panel discussions and presentations, as well as an elaborate vendor fair, I was reminded of the key role that people play in an industry that is hurtling towards, and beginning to fully embrace, technology.
From big data to responsive design and an increase in reservations booked online, technology is the future of the travel industry. But the human touch is important, too.
Below, I've outlined the five biggest trends that were highlighted at this year's New York Times Travel Show:
1. Using big data to plan the perfect trip
There are currently zetabytes (trillions times billions of bytes) of travel information that are available to travel consumers and suppliers on the Internet. This data, when properly manipulated and shared, can help travelers, travel agents, and travel companies create what industry insiders, including Concur CEO Steve Singh, are calling "the perfect trip".
As travelers are presented with more information and learn of enhanced travel options, a collaborative framework comprised of in-house and third-party providers will help each traveler strategically plan and realize their perfect trip.
2. Travel apps galore
You've probably heard about mobile travel apps before. In fact, you might have even heard yours truly rattle off details about apps such as Checkmate for Foursquare and TripCase by Sabre. New travel apps that make the research and reservation processes faster and more seamless than ever are being introduced every day. From checking into your flight from your iPad to reserving a last minute hotel room from a taxi, travel apps are created with an "on the go" mentality to meet the demands of the road warrior. If you haven't already jumped aboard the app express, I'd suggest doing so soon.
3. Responsive design
Travel-company websites and apps are also going to become much less frustrating to use. If building a website and engineering a mobile app are the first steps involved in pushing a travel business into the public eye, then responsive design is the follow-up to those initial actions.
Responsive design is concerned with how a website or mobile application actually functions. As the travel industry gets more tech savvy, responsive design will be a phrase in everyone's ears and on everyone's lips. The question will no longer be, "Is there an app for that?" It will be, "How well does that app work?"
4. The sharing economy
We've all heard about property- and ride-sharing services such as Airbnb and Lyft. Leisure travelers are most enticed by these companies. Business travelers, who travel on their company's dime and hence have to be mindful of liability issues, tend to steer away from riskier sharing-economy options when traveling. But as newer websites like Onefinestay pop up, and the possibility of home-share websites with access to liability insurance are introduced, we may see a shift in how business travelers spend their nights on the road.
5. Travel agents may be more necessary than ever
For the travel industry as a whole, experts calculate that 58% of today's trips, including leisure travel, are booked online. In the next few years, this percentage is expected to grow. But travel agents, and even larger travel-management companies such as my own, shouldn't be worried about this change. As far as my midsize travel business is concerned, a larger percentage of our clients and prospects are seeking an online-booking solution. But when an online booking goes awry (i.e. a flight has been canceled at the last minute or a hotel reservation needs to be updated), our travelers know that calling their designated travel consultant is the best way to resolve the issue.
Remember the volcanic ash cloud of 2010? As I was reminded on Friday, the travelers that were able to book flights the fastest and easiest were those with dedicated travel consultants. Meanwhile, travelers with reservations booked online were left in the lurch and spent nights camping out in airports, hoping to be placed on whatever plane would carry them. High-touch service is something a computer can't provide, and travel consultants should take pride in the fact that they're providing a valuable resource to their clients via consultative services and assistance with complex reservations.