Globalization has helped expand the tourism industry exponentially. Information from World Bank puts annual tourist travel at around 1.16 billion people. More places are conveniently accessible than ever before and with the advent of mobile technology, people have started to make travel plans from their phones, or spontaneously while they are abroad.
Most people are familiar with the developments that have made travel easier in the last few years. Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft, and home sharing apps like AirBnB have made travel more convenient, and in many cases more affordable. These updates to the travel industry have greatly improved the way people plan their travel, but they may also be encouraging some less helpful habits.
The Merger of Automated Booking and Human Advisors
According to information from Statista, the last few years have seen a 10% decline in the use of travel agents for planning trips. In the same study, however, a majority of consumers who said they used a travel agent's services claimed that they enjoyed those trips more than ones they planned on their own. So where is the disconnect?
Zach Smith, CEO of Anywhere, a customizable online travel platform, explains some of the mystery behind that data. "We've found that despite rapid adoption of tech solutions for travel, people still want a certain level of human touch," says Smith. "Technology is useful for booking accommodations, trip scheduling, and traveler education, but local experts are irreplaceable. Travelers who want to escape the resort are likely to miss the best experiences if they cannot consult local knowledge."
The disconnect is between what is convenient and what is good. Booking online is convenient while using a local expert is better quality. Smith says the two work best together.
Problems Only Humans Can Solve
While sites are becoming more automated, travel planning does not need to be exclusively automated or agent-planned. Automated sites make the booking process simple but they do not offer custom advice. The biggest problem may be their reliance on promotions from vendors they do not have close relationships with, deals which, when something goes wrong, are hard to correct.
People like knowing that there is someone they can go to when a problem occurs. Booking sites like AirBnB offer 24-hour customer service lines, but call times vary, it can be difficult to connect internationally, and there is not much they can do about a bad host. Agencies with local contacts have the advantage of on-the-ground support and crisis management.
Another complication for the automated side of traveling are the review sites that produce volumes of largely irrelevant information. Apps like Yelp (with over 108 million reviews) and TripAdvisor rarely give advice based on preference and travel style. People frequently get overwhelmed with the amount of information about destinations, and with innumerable options the chance of making a choice that does not match personal preference increases.
Comprehensive Destination Expertise and Micro Travel
Try a google search for "Top ten places to visit in [insert place you are most interested in seeing]". What you will find is a flurry of travel databases telling you where to go. Most will suggest a dozen attractive destinations, but simultaneously bait you to book sponsored accommodation options, options which may not actually be preferable.
The curators for these sites are collecting this information for a quick glimpse of what a particular place has to offer. They are channeling information from vendors who are paying to promote their hotels, restaurants, and tours. In other words, those are not necessarily the most desirable places to go, they are just backed by the best-funded and marketing savvy managers.
Many agencies are seeing an influx of customers that are tired of the one size fits all approach. More and more agencies are focusing on specific locales and travel styles to entice travelers who know what they want. This helps create experiences that immerse the traveler in local culture, in the way that they enjoy experiencing it. Travelers are also catching on to a trend dubbed "micro travel", which Viator describes as going to one or two locations rather than spending each day in a new city. This sort of specialization is why more travelers are looking for human experts to help them create the best trip possible.
As travel technology planning continues to evolve consumers will look for options that blend human expertise with technological efficiency. "The industry is pushing for the next-generation of travel experiences, but better suited for the digital-age." Smith explains. The result will be a more consumer-focused travel industry, which will continue to drive industry growth worldwide.