At the launch event in London to celebrate the official name change from Thomson to Tui, futuristic music began to play as UK MD Nick Longman introduced us to “the future of travel”.
As a thin layer of theatrical smoke filtered through the room, the doors were pulled back and slap bang in the middle was a chair shaped like the Tui logo with a screen on it.
In a clever marketing touch and reference to Tui’s slogan ‘We cross the T’s, dot the I’s and put U in the middle’ – you literally sit in the middle, on the U. Personalisation anyone?
The premise of Destination U is quite simple.
It shows you images of various holiday scenes and judges whether you like them or not, then shows you some more. It claims to “read your subconscious” using facial recognition technology.
I won’t explain the technology more than saying a clever algorithm reads “49 key points on your face” and determines if you’re happy, sad, angry, surprised or otherwise.
It may be rolled out differently when in-store, but at the launch event we were each given numbers and those that appeared on the screen were the next to have a go.
It sort of felt like waiting for your meat at a supermarket deli. Of course, this became first come first served soon enough.
When I sat down I had to look my instructor in the eyes as she explained the process as otherwise the cameras would start reading my face prematurely.
On went the headphones and I pulled a few faces as it worked me out.
Then came the images, which included beach scenes, massages, views from hotel balconies and street food stalls among many.
I felt myself trying to control it by forcing emotions onto images I wanted to either encourage or discourage in my result.
Imagine that scene in Friends when Joey is doing the ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ faces outside the window.
This lasted for two minutes and when I did glance at the emotion trackers in the corner, it appeared that I seemed to be surprised most of the time.
But I was no more surprised than I was at the end, when my result came out – again like a supermarket deli, as I got a little ticket.
It told me my ideal holiday would be: Buying snails at a food market in Sri Lanka. Hmmmmm.
Now I can’t say I wasn’t intrigued by the outcome.
Neither Snail eating, nor Sri Lanka, is top of my bucket list but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t made me think about that sort of trip.
I was a touch surprised though, given I’m currently trying to plan a ski trip or a villa holiday. Maybe I’ll scrap those now.
The chair will be used in Tui travel agencies across the UK, but UK managing director Nick Longman did admit that it won’t be in every store, or replace travel agents.
He wouldn’t go as far as to call it a gimmick when pressed – of course he wouldn’t – but he did admit that it is to be used at the inspiration phase.
Real life travel agents can then talk to their customers and tweak the outcome to find a suitable holiday – and look at the options alongside budget limitations.
Longman also suggested that by nature of the chair being a bit of fun, and humans being naturally inquisitive, it will increase footfall at Tui agencies by attracting people into store.
Tui is the first travel company in the world to use this sort of technology, according to Martin Salo, the co-founder of Realeyes, which is the company behind Destination U.
Salo also said it was more interesting for customers than filling out feedback forms, and I agree he has a point.
He also said the technology is there to make the chair accessible for couples, or families, and in future believes it can be used in resort to suggest excursions for Tui customers already checked in.
That’d make that welcome meeting with the rep a bit different.
I agree it will get more customers in store – which we must remember gives Tui’s sales staff more touch points to sell holidays and gather all sorts of data – and it truly is a neat bit of technology that’s a lot of fun.
But the future of travel? Not so sure. Now where can I find some snails?