From ChatGPT as your travel agent to tech-enabled transport hire, we’re well on our way to more hi-tech holidays. But what other innovations will help transform our trips?
The year is 2050. You are a little wiser, a little older (though not much: revolutionary biohacking techniques have almost reversed the ageing process). You are about to treat yourself to a city break. What will the travel process look like?
Gaze into our crystal ball…
Digital travel agents
Say goodbye to your high street travel agent. In the future, your city break will be planned by a chatbot. ChatGPT can already search for flights and hotels and make recommendations on everything from destinations and attractions to what you should throw into your suitcase.
In theory, at least. A reporter from CNBC recently asked it to plan a family holiday somewhere not too crowded with great food and beaches plus good weather in March. ChatGPT recommended the Free Spirit Spheres treehouse resort in Bali. The only snag? It’s actually in Canada. As the tech improves, though, we will all be asking Bing and other AI-boosted search engines to book our breaks.
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A smoother, safer trip to the airport?
“Eighty-five per cent of travellers in many countries will arrive by electric-powered public transport, including autonomous (self-driving) vehicles,” says Dr Patrick Dixon, Chairman of Global Change, in Easyjet’s 2070: The Future Travel Report.
Dr Dixon predicts that you might even fly to the airport on something called e-VTOL – electric vertical takeoff and landing air taxis: “At least 250 companies are already developing these short-hop vehicles.”
No more losing your passport?
Paper passports will be a thing of the past. After you’ve dropped your bags with an AI airline steward, you’ll pass through biometric security that scans your face shape, eyes, fingerprints, or even your heartbeat, and walk straight onto the plane.
According to SITA, the air travel IT company, nearly three-quarters of the world’s airports were already investing in biometric solutions back in 2021, when they also predicted that airline investment in biometric boarding would rise 60% by 2024.
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No-hassle duty free
For a glimpse into the future of airport shopping, you only have to visit Istanbul airport, where a ‘Magic Mirror’ app enables shoppers to see themselves wearing watches, sunglasses, accessories, clothes and make-up products without the hassle of trying them on. Smart shopping carts also charge your phone or tablet as you browse.
“We have placed digitalisation and technology at the centre of Istanbul Airport,” said Kadri Samsunlu, the CEO of İGA Airport Operations, collecting one of the many awards that the airport has amassed (including, most recently, Airport of the Year at the 2023 Air Transport Awards).
Once you’ve arrived at your hotel, expect to be greeted respectfully by a robot or AI-enhanced computer interface.
The Henn Na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, was the first to fully embrace this trend. In 2015, it employed robots to work the reception desks, handle your luggage and order your taxi. Its owner, Hideo Sawada, claimed that cutting 90% of human staff would make it: “the most efficient hotel in the world”.
Glitches and breakdowns resulted in the hotel making more than half its robots redundant by 2019, but as AI develops, robots are bound to stage a return. Imagine the possibilities if your activity recommendations in each city were as well-tailored to your tastes as your Spotify list and all the tickets to events and shows were booked automatically.
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Hotel rooms are already starting to use AI to deliver bespoke service to guests. At the US Kimpton Rowan hotel in Palm Springs, which collaborated with artificial intelligence company Josh.ai, futuristic rooms cater to guests’ instructions.
“Guests can give a command like, ‘Set the lights to warm white, listen to Hotel California, watch the Golf Channel, and when is happy hour?’ and Josh.ai will handle the rest,” explains the company’s CEO, Alex Capecelatro.
Expect that to be the new normal.
3D-printed pancakes for breakfast?
EasyJet’s 2070 report predicts a bright future for the breakfast buffet, largely thanks to 3D printing.
Just imagine “a digital menu where you can type in what you want, from omelette to kedgeree, pancakes to a fry-up,” the report elaborates, concluding that “the buffet of 2070 will provide you with a holiday breakfast of dreams”.
Possibly so. But it also sounds a bit like the never-ending options of digital services like Spotify or Netflix. “What’s for dinner?” may no longer have a quick answer.
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And when you venture out for a drink or a bite to eat? Researchers at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy are developing a bartending robot. Called BRILLO, it’s not only an expert mixologist but is capable of remembering your favourite drink and even engaging in light banter.
Struggling to make your order understood? In the future, in-ear devices will translate for you in real time. In fact, the technology is already making an entrance. Take the brand new Timekettle WT2 Edge multilingual translation earbuds. Powered by translation engines including DeepL, Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, and iFlytek, these discreet earbuds enable people to have easy conversation in more than 40 languages.
Kill the queues
Could this be the best news of all? In your futuristic city break, there will be no need to queue to see the leading exhibitions and landmarks. Instead, you’ll download an app, join a virtual queue, then stroll around, sip a coffee or browse the shop till your time arrives.
Disney World is at the forefront of this technology. With its new rollercoaster, Tron Lightcycle Run, which opened on 4 April, visitors queue on the My Disney Experience app, which notifies them when it’s their turn for their white-knuckle ride.
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Perhaps you won’t leave home at all
Last year, the consultancy Accenture found that more than half of us would be interested in buying a virtual or augmented reality travel experience, such as a sightseeing tour or hotel stay.
“It’s important to recognise that the metaverse is not intended to replace physical travel, rather to provide a complementary enhancement to an overarching experience that, over time, may become an essential part of the travel ecosystem,” explains Emily Weiss, senior managing director and global head of Accenture’s Travel Industry group.
“Giving the option to sit in a virtual first-class seat, experience the lounge or walk around a hotel resort or room, opens up opportunities to truly engage and inspire people before they travel.
“And, through ‘trying-before-you-travel’, recreating landmarks in all their past glory or allowing travellers to investigate parts of nature which they cannot explore within real-life interaction, the metaverse can also help create a more meaningful travel experience that delivers on or even exceeds customer expectations.”
But nothing can beat dipping your toes in a real ocean, however much technology was involved in you getting there.