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Written by Jamie Delves
on April 22, 2021

T

 hankfully, after the pandemic’s freakish, elongated turbulence, the travel industry should safely land again soon at Arrivals. But in a starkly different world from before. With a much affected and frustrated population to please.

Just as well the experts have been doing their homework in lockdown. Thinking ahead, they’ve packed exactly what they expect ­– or hope – we’ll all need for this new era of international travel. New AI assistants and wild, green ideas about sustainable global migration are making an appearance. But their successful take-off will depend on the old tools of sharp and strong storytelling.

Views of revolution at an online festival

As we all know too well, in 2020, the year of the Rat, forsooth, the worst pandemic in a century brought the world to a standstill. Planes were grounded, plans were cancelled, travel collapsed. And in December, I attended Most Contagious, an online event for the advertising industry, from my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house deep in the Scottish Borders.  

Over two days of creative e-steroids, the Contagious team delivered a tightly packed programme of branding masterclasses in a seamless digital experience. So much so, there was the feeling of a real festival ­– despite the audience being completely atomised and invisible to one another. But the energy was there.

On the ‘Main Stage’, jostling among the Tik Tok skits and sit downs with leading thinkers, agencies and brands, were travel forecasts from research agency, OMD. These quickfire forecasts gave an almost futuristic hue to the travel apparatus we might enjoy at some point just passed the horizon. Whether they’ll be more Wall-E or HAL 9000 remains to be seen, but one thing is clear, our future holidays will involve a lot more robots.

Many of the insights OMD shared at Most Contagious can also be found in their report, ‘The Travel Revolution, Destination AI: The future of artificial intelligence in travel’. In the introduction of which, they say, “mass AI adoption is close, and many of the futuristic technologies we have been long-promised are already here”. A year or two ago, that could be an eery, or at least an unlikely sentiment, but after the technological bootcamp the wider population has recently undergone, OMD’s tale might not be all that tall.

The digital era is here 

When everyone and their line manager’s cat is increasingly au fait with navigating Zoom, Skype, Teams, Slack, Meets and more on a daily basis, it’s far easier to see wealthy pensioners and millennials alike handling their travels exclusively with AI assistance. Ordering taxis with Siri and Alexa was just the beginning.

“Not today. Not tomorrow. But soon” highly personalised, concierge-style service will be available to, and used by, many more people. What was once reserved for luxury markets will be democratised. Through AI. Now, or not far from now, “frictionless — and maybe even contactless — travel”, guided by consumers’ personal data and preferences, could be the standard experience.

Something a lot of people are hoping for as soon as we’re ready to move again. The population has mixed feelings about returning to public life. While some are thirsting for city life and socialising with the unknown, many others will find the idea of close human contact very unnerving for a long while. Without a doubt, this will accelerate contactless (now meaning human-less) travel technologies.

In the ‘Travel Revolution’ round-up of Most Contagious’ 2020 report, they rightly say that “Travellers want to feel safe.” They elaborate on their forecast by surmising that “the less interaction [travellers] have with people who aren’t in their immediate circle, the more comfortable they may feel.” Certainly, such a feeling will be experienced by a wide swathe of people, likely meaning they’ll be turning to new ways of travel, as well as considering different types of destinations and venues than before. Such as the “unsung neighbourhood”, to quote another report. In Future Traveller 2030, co-produced by Design Hotels and The Future Laboratory, we meet a new philosophy for exploring, coupled with a different kind of destination.

Moving toward a future of conscious travelling

At the other end of 2020, mere whiskers of time before lockdown one, when movement was still comfortable, possible and free of fear, I went down to London to discuss potential projects. One of which turned out to be about travel.

Strategy by Design were working with Design Hotels, the global collection of independent, design-driven hotels, on their manifesto and key statements. They needed a little inky assistance and a touch of research, so I pulled up with my magic pencil case to see what I could do.

Once back in Bonnie Scotia, Hugh Roberts, SbD founder, popped Future Traveller 2030 into my inbox as initial reading material. After a cover of minimal line illustrations, the report opens with a letter from Peter Cole, Design Hotels CEO. Here, he introduces us to a new breed of traveller.

With the global population waking up more and more to their impact on the world, we’re surely soon to see some dramatic paradigm shifts and radical, progressive communities emerging. Enter the progressive nomads.

Promads believe deeply in “…taking pleasure in the niche, the small, the untrodden…” Their travel pursuits are more orientated towards “learning, doing, engaging…”, picking to visit places that haven’t been over-saturated by tourism and commercial interests. Getting there by drawing slightly softer geographical lines, they’ll “choose to travel [like] nomadic tribes of the past ­­­– opting to go by land and sea…”

So, more remote locations, longer journeys, more authentic communities and only positive outputs left behind. These people and places will be asked to tell their stories and what they need from travellers. Pro-impact. Not low- or even no-impact. Promads want a “…considered, conscious, and quiet…” global footprint. One that helps rather than hurts. Ideas they’ll most definitely expect to see reflected in the companies and brands they choose to patronise.

(Read more: What makes a city popular with digital nomads?)

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Place brands need missions

If brands don’t demonstrate that they’re “purposeful, civic and mission-driven”, there’s a great risk of them being abandoned in the low-tech, high-impact Old World of pre-COVID voyaging. The future is very much now. Not just in the travel and tourism industries — but seemingly in almost every single sector of life and business. There’s action afoot.

An ever-expanding portion of the population are woke. And that’s not a derogatory comment. The unwoke folk among us, stubbornly continuing with damaging practices, unfortunately, threaten a lot more than just themselves. But while we’re all bickering over linguistic hair-splitting, what the “woke” are quo’ing about is happening. And not slowly. Woke or unwoke, pro, no, or low, the world is changing.

Travel, tourism, hospitality, retail, they’re all adapting to an increasingly technically literate and socially conscious consumer. Who knows what they want. Who has little fear of asking for it. Who cares about “environmental impact” and searches for “green or eco—friendly accommodation.” Which Future Traveller 2030 suggests will lead to a “rise of hyper-personalised hotels… [whose] services align with [guests’] outlook[s]’. An exciting and logical evolution in the Travel Revolution, this conversation will be facilitated by better tech than ever.

Brands will no doubt dive in and do a lot of these green exercises. Of course, all the while wielding their developing portfolio of AI assistants. But how will they talk to their audiences about what they’re doing? That’s something a machine can’t quite manage. Dazzling new tools in technology, bold movements with radical and progressive messages, as wonderfully bright and exciting as all that is, success depends on sensitively and sophisticatedly vocalising their arrival and virtues to the public. Let’s tell them what’s unfolding.

What are your thoughts?

Share your visions of future travel dreams. (Leave a comment below).

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