Consumers increasingly turning to technology to improve their travel experience
Humans have an ingrained desire to travel. Of course, home will always be calling us back, but the feeling of wanderlust is unshakable. For some people, that means spending months or years traveling the world, but for others, it’s about spending a couple of weeks relaxing on a beach somewhere.
In more recent years, technology allowed us to visit more places and further-away destinations, all while taking less time to get there.
Instead of a transatlantic journey taking weeks, a plane can do it in mere hours, while a train can cross entire nations in a fraction of the time it would take to go by horse.
But almost constant digital innovations have meant that our travel habits have been changing again.
If you’re planning a vacation, you’ll likely spend a lot of time researching the hotels, the sights you want to see, and the activities you want to do. In the past, you would be buying guidebooks, consulting with travel agents, and finding people who’d already been there.
Today, it’s possible to get all the information you need online. From comparing prices to planning your itineraries with military precision, you can research, plan, and organize everything from your phone or computer.
VR technology has taken this a step further, allowing us to explore virtually before we get there. For people who may be anxious travelers or that want to squeeze as much into their short stay as possible, this can help with understanding the geography and getting familiar with the surroundings.
Way back in 2012, 80% of people were already booking their holidays online. This figure has continued to rise further over the last decade, consolidating the dominant position of brands like Booking.com and Hotels.com.
Entertainment has always been a big part of the travel experience. Tourists heading on their annual vacation often spend time in clubs, theatres, circuses, and bars lapping up the local culture, while many spend their evenings playing games with their travel companions. Others prefer something more sedate, reading a magazine or burying their head in a novel while they relax on the beach or by the pool.
Just about every form of travel entertainment has been upended and disrupted by technology. Hotels are less able to profit from premium content like movies on in-room televisions thanks to the almost ubiquitous availability of streaming services like Netflix. Some tech-savvy travelers even go a step further and take a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick with them to use their room’s TV as a bigger screen.
Travelers that enjoy playing games are increasingly taking advantage of technology to enjoy their favorite titles on the go. Smartphones and tablets mean there’s no need to take a portable console like the Nintendo DS while you travel, nor is it necessary to take your travel chess set because apps and websites let you play classic games like chess from any device. Taking a deck of cards away with you is also no longer necessary, as travelers can access digital versions of games like blackjack from their smartphones. The choice is almost infinite for gamers, with everything from puzzles to shoot ‘em ups all available on smartphones.
If you’re old enough, you’ll likely remember traveler’s checks. These clunky payment methods were a popular way for tourists to pay for things abroad without the risks of carrying too much cash.
For those that used cash, it would require heading to a bureau de change and handing over your home currency for the local one. For tourists, this meant deciding between a frantic scramble to find a place to swap money or the added work of doing it before they left home. In both cases, you were at the mercy of whatever unfavorable exchange rate that the bureau de change was offering at the time.
Technology has removed the need for any of this. Now, it’s possible to use your credit or debit card almost anywhere abroad, pay no fees, and enjoy the exact exchange rate at the time of the transaction.
Many banks now offer these cards to their customers for free, while fintech companies like FairFX, Curve, Transferwise and Revolut have all offered other ways of avoiding fees on Forex.
The great thing about using cards is that you don’t have to worry about running out of cash, you can still withdraw from an ATM, and you can block it if it’s lost or stolen. They can also be combined with other perks that come with having one.
Between 2014 and 2015, foreign card use in the United Kingdom increased by nearly 3%, with total spending of around £22 billion. This upward trend has continued in the years since.