Technology trends for the tourism industry by Raffaella Aghemo
The entire entertainment and events industry, as well as the tourism sector, is suffering a severe recession due to the pandemic. It has been said many times that every business and industry sector needs to reset itself on new objectives and tools, because this period has not only required a strong acceleration in the digital field, but has also reset, sometimes radically, the approach to the customer.
The Lux Research Foresight 2021 report is therefore interesting. It lists 12 technologies to watch out for, with autonomous vehicles at the top of the list. The study states that improvements in artificial intelligence, analytics and map and sensor data are combining to make autonomous vehicles possible, to the point where more and more companies in the travel industry are starting to take notice of the trend.
The first to jump into autonomous vehicles, even with big capital behind them, are BigTech companies: AutoX, for example, backed by Alibaba, said it had launched 25 driverless Robotax in Shenzhen, China.
Also in the entertainment and travel industry, a strong trend is emerging: consumers increasingly want to avoid crowds and seek out local things to do. This, a platform for city exploration games created by locals, for example, has been able to expand into new cities with its self-guided tours and recently partnered with London Taxi Tours for an experience in the capital.
Melanie Meador, CEO of coupon management and digital ticketing vertical Redeem, says demand for contactless solutions has increased significantly. “Asking people to print a paper voucher, get in line with other people, then hand that voucher to someone to validate it and give you a readable ticket at the gate, can no longer happen in a COVID world.”
Disney Parks and Resorts has had to adapt its systems in order to allow for reduced capacity, requiring customers to specify the park and day of their visit once they have purchased a ticket. In June, before the parks reopened, technologies were trialled to enable contactless security and baggage screening, as well as putting in place contactless menus that can be viewed using QR codes.
Wishtrip, an app for creating travel albums and customised routes, manages guests remotely via in-app chat, with a mapping system to visualise how guests are distributed within an attraction, and push notifications on overcrowding, leading to directions to less crowded areas.
The Report lists the 12 technologies that stand out as trends for the year ahead, with details of global growth and investment in every part of the world.
1. Self-driving vehicles. Increasing levels of vehicle automation, resulting in the elimination of the need for drivers in commercial and consumer vehicles, bring consequent improvements in safety and efficiency, benefiting both consumer vehicles and commercial applications. Later, Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles will open up new mobility and logistical possibilities, eliminating the need for a driver in a vehicle.
2. NLP — Natural Language Processing: There has been a 44% annual growth rate of patents published in the last five years. Many startups developing chatbot services, such as Eddy Travels and SnapTravel, are already using NLP to better understand customer questions and improve the way answers are triggered. Microsoft-backed online booking startup Comtravo uses NLP to turn emailed travel requests into queries in its system.
3. Plastic recycling for the benefit of a desired circular economy. Concerns about plastic waste from consumers and regulators have only increased, and major consumer product companies, from food to clothing, have committed to increasing recycling rates and the use of recycled content. Innovations that convert waste into higher value products are in high demand to meet the challenge.
4. AI-enabled sensors: Sensors of all types can now provide more impactful insights when combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence. Recent advances in machine learning capabilities allow developers and operators to extract more value from sensors; this is an opportunity to create new products and improve internal processes by generating insights on existing hardware.
6. Green hydrogen: Vehicles powered by hydrogen batteries have been an unfulfilled dream, but green hydrogen can help clean up industrial processes that would otherwise be difficult to decarbonise. Green’ hydrogen, produced from renewable electricity, can enable the storage and transport of clean electricity, for a more robust and flexible energy transition. Industrial uses of hydrogen will need to be considered, in cement and steel product applications, to power chemicals, and to explore the potential of hydrogen to enable new energy networks as the costs of renewable energy fall.
7. Shared mobility.
8. Alternative proteins: Alternatives to the traditional, resource-intensive meat industry are emerging rapidly, with plant proteins having an immediate impact. Meeting the growing global demand for a sustainable supply of protein is an urgent concern. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are demonstrating that there is a huge opportunity to satisfy consumers, who are increasingly concerned about sustainability and the demand for protein choice in general.
9. 3D printing.
10. IT materials.
11. Precision agriculture.
12. Synthetic biology
Even those activities that are thought to be more classic and less responsive to change are not excluded: Divento.com, an itinerary planner for heritage tourism, has adapted its existing digital booking system to help historic houses and museums reopen with a system of time slots for visitors.
The element that should not be forgotten, however, is that of fun, an accent that must be combined with the use of these new technologies, to involve the customer positively and proactively: “We want to regain trust, this is the first step, but the second is that we have to make it fun again,” says Anthony Palermo, co-founder of Connect & GO, which provides wearable devices, such as bracelets, with integrated radio frequency identification, for payments, ticket redemption, and constructive brand awareness.
Last note: in the Report in question, at the bottom, is highlighted the decline of some technologies, which were supposed to be at the top of the ranking, although still present, but in lower positions. Some examples? The blockchain, present in the top 20 for 2020, at exactly 15th place, does not appear in the top 12 for 2021! It says: “Blockchain has great potential to transform a variety of industries, but at the moment it is highly experimental, with no obvious ROI in most current cases.”
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Raffaella Aghemo, Lawyer