The Digitization of Travel: Part 3 – Technology

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Love it or hate it, technology is shaping the future of travel for everyone. Mobile devices and tablets seem like they’re becoming as essential to a journey as a bag and are playing a significant role in the process from moment of conception to research and plotting during the journey. While there’s some concern that ready access to heaps of information potentially spoils the actual journey, many see this availability as a plus in getting the best possible experience.

Come and Go owner Tim Russell is one such person, “Mobile technology is the big one and Foursquare is the best example of this, being able to switch your phone on and see what places of interest or what deals are available near you.” “As the technology becomes smarter, recommendations will become personalized. For example, on a Saturday night at 10pm I’ll automatically get recommendations on nearby bars showing English Premiership football.”

Bangkok-based travel writer and serial blogger Greg Jorgensen also sees huge value and power in such technologies. “The ability to crowd-source data and information will be very powerful. You can browse the pictures of other travelers to find the best vantage point. Real-time check-in and applications like Foursquare will build insta-communities among the people in a particular place at a particular time.” “The world has shrunk, and it will continue to shrink in the coming years. Detailed information on travel methods, real-time mapping and video chat, augmented reality apps, and the ability to search, review, ask, and book hotels, cars, tours, and trips will make it much easier for people to head somewhere on a moment’s notice.”

While technology makes much possible, Absolute Travel Founder, Ken Fish, feels it’s important to remember to live in the moment and enjoy where you are, “My instinct is to go with the opposite; travel is not virtual. At a certain point you just have to get out and do and that’s what it’s all about.” “For example, people go on safari, they see the lions preying on some other animal in the bush, they take pictures but they’re not going to have that moment, where they’re just gazing in the bush appreciating where they are.”

Travel photography is another area where technology is quickly changing how business is done according to photographer Lester Ledesma. “When covering events, I usually have my smart-phone tuned to a few choice twitter accounts, so I can quickly know if there’s something interesting happening in another part of the location. And I can check Instagram posts to see photos taken from different viewpoints of the same place, taken just seconds ago, that way I’ll have an idea where the best views are.”

Others, like Earth Cubed founder Greg Michaels, see technological positives for travelers of all sorts and standard travel gear changing quickly. “Having a lightweight digital tablet with internet connectivity will soon become an essential travel item. They will become much lighter than today’s iPad and will fold into a pocket. You won’t travel with guidebooks and all the choices you make with guidebooks will be made with the tablet.”

Despite access to travel information increasing quickly, Michaels sees advantages for seasoned explorers too. “All of these technological changes will make travel much easier and attractive to fair-weather travelers. So, as always in this kind of case, there will be a tendency by independent-minded travelers to reach out for other ways to get away from the masses. This ability to get off the beaten path is what I’m personally more interested in. Technology will enable this type of travel too, but it’s less clear how it will manifest itself. In any case it will likely be exciting!”

While he makes his living selling fully-hosted travel experiences around the globe for upper-market teens, Westcoast Connection founder, Mitchell Learner, finds technology an indispensible part of the travel process. “The ability to sit down in front of a computer and complete all pre-trip research; from understanding more about a town or city, to reading honest reviews from other travelers about a hostel, hotel or outfitting company, to, with the click of a button, selecting the date and time you wish, to 20 hours later being around the world, technology has certainly increased the ease with which people travel.”

The Anantara Golden Triangle’s John Roberts on the other hand, sees guides having a tough time adapting to technology and competing, “Tour guides will have a tougher time as technologies develop that allow mobile devices coupled with GPS, to give and interpretive history of buildings and areas merely by being pointed in the right direction and using the right application.” “As communications improve perhaps instant translation of languages will also play a major role.”

An interesting aspect of technology’s reach is its ability not only to inform but help educate potential travelers about areas they’ve never previously considered going explains Charlie Scott, owner of Toronto-based travel company Trufflepig. “I think and hope it will make it more clear to North Americans what SE Asia looks and sounds like. More frequent use of video and peer-to-peer information sharing will help to tell the actual story of Asia. As it is, I think many North Americans just don’t know what to expect.”

We usually think of technology benefitting western travelers but Absolute Travel’s Leslie Overton makes an interesting observation about it often affecting locals before visitors. “One interesting thing about technology and developing nations is that it always leap-frogs over the developed nations. There was a time in Nepal when you would be in mountain villages and there was no phone service or any means of communication, and then a few years later you would be walking around that same village and everyone would have a cell phone. I was in Lhasa in 1996 and there were very, very few cell phones in New York City at the time, but in Lhasa every other person was on their cell phone talking! Technology can move the have-nots beyond the haves very quickly.”


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