Is this the future of travel bookings?

Bookings may no longer be the domain of the online travel agent but could be platforms like Amazon, Google and Facebook. Pic: Supplied

Bookings may no longer be the domain of the online travel agent but could be platforms like Amazon, Google and Facebook. Pic: Supplied

Published Dec 10, 2019


With online travel agents, we’ve already seen the way the travel industry has changed. While travel purchases are currently made through online booking agents or directly with the hotels or airlines, it won’t be long before we see new and advanced options come into play.

Bookings may no longer be the domain of the online travel agent but could be platforms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and mobile assistants like Siri and Okay Google. Other online travel agents like Expedia, Kayak, and Skyscanner allow customers to book flights and hotels over Facebook Messenger.

Still, there are more changes on the way. But how will your travel purchases be influenced by artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality technologies?

Artificial Intelligence

Machine learning technology enables computers to learn from the data that is fed to them, and then process that information in such a way that it can perform tasks humans would ordinarily carry out. 

AI is already being used for customer service and engagement in the form of chatbots by offering travel suggestions and assistance. But how will AI influence the booking process for travellers?

The emerging chatbot technology of so-called ‘virtual travel agents’ will help consumers plan their trip, take on travel bookings, and build itineraries. By learning about the user’s preferences and searching the web for the best deals most suitable to the individual’s needs, AI can help consumers find cheap flights, the best seat on the plane, and the best times to travel. 

Once the decision is made, the user can go ahead and book, all on one platform. Hipmunk is one such company that is disrupting the travel industry using artificial intelligence technologies, with two Webby Awards under its belt and gunning for a third.

Virtual Reality

While the gaming industry still dominates home adoption of VR headsets, others are realising the potential of virtual reality, particularly the travel field. It makes sense when arguably the most widely-used application of VR technology is in entertainment. And, with a VR headset and Google Earth, we already have the means to navigate around the globe and decide which places we’d like to visit.

Travel consumers typically intend to buy experiences often in places new to them. With travel’s relatively high costs, VR can help eliminate the possibility of purchasing a less than ideal choice, and provide a clearer expectation of that choice before making a booking.

When booking flights or accommodation, so much information is required upfront before making a decision. This process can be shortened substantially. Instead of the massive search for information, reviews, opinions, and images, VR immersion will provide the viewer with a close representation of what they can expect.

Viewers will virtually be able to walk into the ‘plane, take a tour of the hotel, or explore its surroundings. This provides some customer peace-of-mind when they finally click on the book and pay button.

The concept of one-click bookings and platforms is set to become the norm. While companies like Ascape offers 360-degree videos and photo tours of various locations and events around the world to entice customers to visit, Navitaire are working on integrating VR to allow viewers to take a virtual tour through the destination of their choice, and then make bookings from their VR headset.

Augmented Reality

Similar to virtual reality where the viewer is immersed in a totally digital environment, augmented reality brings elements of the virtual world into the real

world. A technology that seamlessly combines our physical world with virtual information, AR enhances our perception of reality of what we see, hear, and feel.

One main advantage of AR over VR is that AR can be experienced through a device almost every user already owns – their smartphone or tablet. The smartphone has become one of the most useful and most-used tools for travellers in recent years.

This makes taking the step towards AR a natural and easy progression. Travel customers need a lot of information. This need begins a long time before the

actual purchase and payment is made, picks up again at the start of the travellers journey on the way to the airport, continues on throughout the rest of the journey, and all the way back home. 

Whether it’s the weather, or the fastest route from A to B, augmented reality apps help make obtaining that information with minimum hassle and a lot more accessible, 24/7.

One company, App in the Air, is easing the quest of finding flights for its users. The app allows users to view a ‘plane seat at its true scale, enabling them to make better booking decisions based on comfort. An augmented view of the inside of a flight also allows travellers to gauge the size of their carry-on luggage to the airlines permitted baggage size.

The travel industry is perched on the forefront of AI, VR, and AR technologies, and travel bookings is but one small component that will be impacted by them. As existing, newly launched, and emerging advancements come to the forefront, these are just the tip of the iceberg. With systems such as augmented transportation and big changes expected in the traveller’s airport experience, there are many more exciting developments to look out for on the horizon – and with them come many new questions:

● Will technology beat the experience and knowledge of people and the human touch in the booking process?

● Can future technologies provide a better, faster, more convenient booking experiences than legacy airlines and booking engines?

● Will consumers trust themselves and technology not to make costly errors?

● Will consumers be comfortable booking through mobile assistants using AI that leverages their personal preferences? will attempt to explore these and more. What do you think?

If you’re planning to travel soon, make use of Hippo’s comparison tool to help you find cheap local or international flights or  accommodation options overseas.

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