Skyscanner and Google outlined their visions of the future of travel at a London Tech Week event hosted by travel technology specialist Open Destinations this week.
The event, run in partnership with Travolution, was one of just two focusing on travel during the first ever London Tech Week run by London & Partners.
The London’s Mayor’s official promotional body is currently establishing a travel start-up incubator in its offices and believes London can become the world centre for travel technology.
Speaking at the Open Destinations event Filip Filipov, Skyscanner’s head of B-B, said the a report it has produced predicts the future will see travellers have their own ‘digital travel buddies’.
He said this would exist inside a watch or piece of jewellery or some other form of wearable technology.
“These are different tools that allow us not to necessarily interact with a travel agent or website, bit something that understands us, knows our background, what we have done before in travel.”
Apple’s Siri and Google Now are early examples of this move to having a digital personal assistant, Filipov said.
Artificial intelligence will increasingly allow firms to anticipate demand in a much more sophisticated and personal way than just looking at cues like Facebook ‘likes’.
A second trend Skyscanner has identified is virtual reality, not as an alternative to travel but as a precursor, so show people the product they are thinking about buying.
“We believe virtual reality will give you more of a sense of what is possible. It’s not just a picture but literally how it looks and you can take a look around.”
Filipov cited Facebook’s purchase of the firm behind 3D gaming device Oculus Rift as sign of what is to come as well as haptic technology which allows users to feel what things are like.
Intel is already developing 3D sensing touch technology that brings virtual objects to life.
A third trend Filipov identified was semantic search which he said “will be driving a lot of interactions in the future”.
This, he said will provide bespoke responses to consumers and could even be based around facial coding algorithms which assess a person’s response to a product. Wearable technology will allow people to interact with semantic search, said Filipov.
Underpinning all this, he added, was data. “For the last 10 years Big Data has just been about collecting that data and no one has been analysing it.
“The software and hardware now allows us to start analysing it. It will be the underlying trend for everything we have outlined.”
New Google head of travel, Terri Scriven, said the intention for the search engine was to get much better at offering its users travel-related suggestions.
Scriven identified three main trends: Connectivity, Content and Cues. She said the travel booking process has become fragmented with consumers typically visiting up to 10 different sites from as many as 32 individual searches.
“This demonstrates how confusing and complicated the process is,” she said. “The reason we have changed some products is we have tried to improve and simplify the path of look to book, to provide more information to support what the user is looking for.
“We are providing more content to make more qualified leads. We see a lot more companies we work with doing the same thing providing a lot more simplicity in their websites. They are doing it through trial and error and development of their mobile and tablet sites.”
Greater connectivity is seeing a proliferation of booking channels with up to 15% of people it the UK now booking on the mobile devices, up from just 4% a year ago.
But, as well as that, call centres are benefitting from the increased use of phones. “Call centres are being reignited because of click to call on mobile sites and apps. You are seeing that become much more of a necessity if you are looking at conversions. There is even ‘Tweet to book’.”
Scriven said content was becoming more important for travellers and technology would change the way consumers interact with that content.
She said video and richer content would become more important as a source of inspiration and be seen as more valuable for firm looks to build their brand.
Cues, such as where a person is geographically and what time of day it is will allow firms to use data to target consumers with more relevant information, offers and product.
Scriven said 75% of people the US say they are prepared to offer personal information for a more bespoke service, although in the UK and Europe that is lower, at around 50%.