9 tech trends shaping the travel industry

Sabre Corporation has released its latest tech forecast, fresh off the back of its luxury trends report that highlighted 5 major trends to take note of.

Sabre Labs’ 2017 Radar Report dives deep into nine key technologies with an impressive impact on the travel landscape, looking at what’s happening today and what to expect for tomorrow.

“We are in the midst of increasingly rapid and dramatic technological change, poised to revolutionise how and where we travel,” said Mark McSpadden, Vice President of Emerging Products and Technologies for Sabre Corporation.

“Technologies like artificial intelligence, neural interfaces and quantum computing each have the potential to produce change as dramatic as the growth of the Internet.

“The next generation will see a radical transformation of how we live, work and play.

“We see tremendous opportunities for businesses to start experimenting with and implementing technologies like blockchain, augmented reality and trusted presence to help shape a more seamless, safe and personalised future for travel.”

The nine trends include:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Augmented Reality
  3. Autonomous Delivery
  4. Blockchain
  5. Neural Interfaces
  6. Quantum Computing
  7. Space Tourism
  8. Trusted Presence
  9. VR Gets Physical

Here’s a Travel Weekly snapshot at some of the most travel-related trends from the report:

Artifical Intelligence

Regardless of the timeline for AI growth, we are seeing AI have a significant impact in every niche to which it’s applied.

In many cases, AI is being brought alongside humans to produce more effective outcomes than either could achieve alone. In some industries, robots are being “hired” to replace humans in certain kinds of roles.


Back in 2011, Gartner research predicted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their interaction with companies without interacting with a human. Servion consulting released a more recent figure, predicting that AI will power 95% of customer interactions by 2025.

For travel, the AI layer might provide hotel checkout times or local restaurant recommendations and the human might take over if a customer has a special request or wants to share a personal experience.

As this transition happens, the major challenge across industries will be to rapidly retrain the human workforce to take advantage of these new opportunities.

AIs are rapidly improving in the area of language translation, which is helping to flatten the world economy, streamline travel and make it easier for people to connect with one another.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality has become trendy in Hollywood. Movies such as Iron Man and Minority Report, have taken advantage of computer graphics to envision how AR might look in the future.

Think modern-day Pokemon Go and you’re on the right track.

The Microsoft HoloLens headset was released as a developer kit in March 2016 (still not marketed to the general public) and is the standard bearer for precise AR. Wearers look through clear lenses and see fully three-dimensional virtual objects embedded in the real world.

Google Tango is a design standard for precise AR in smart phones, using spatial sensors similar to those in the HoloLens; the phone becomes a window through which you can see into other worlds.

For instance, on a museum tour, a Tango device could allow you to see inside a sarcophagus or put flesh over dinosaur bones.

And it’s easy to imagine all kinds of other functionalities, like visual Wikipedia for the real world… every building, street and landmark mapped to layers of rich content.

Walk around a sculpture and watch a time lapse of the sculptor carving the piece; look down a street and see all the businesses and reviews; look up in the sky and see through the clouds to the satellites and stars soaring above.

Or, closer in, look at a flower or listen to bird and learn what it is and where it thrives. Or in social spaces, never forget a name or an interaction; businesses could greet every passenger or hotel guest by name and know their customer history at a glance.

Autonomous Delivery

Homing pigeons were the first autonomous delivery system, used across the world to deliver messages, including the results of the first Olympics almost 3,000 years ago. Drones are the pigeon’s modern day equivalent.

Indoors, similar kinds of robots like the Savioke Relay are at work in hotels and offices, providing concierge-like services and delivering items.

Savioke says its robots have already completed over 100,000 autonomous deliveries in hotels, freeing up staff for more important tasks.

When combined with other technologies, like biometric identity, it’s easy to imagine a world in which travel becomes a virtually hands free process, thanks in large part to autonomous delivery technologies.

An autonomous suitcase and an autonomous personal porter are already in production—it may soon be commonplace to see small robots following their owners through airports, train stations and city streets.

Luggage may even check itself in and come find you after you debark. It might even be possible to retask your luggage to run errands once you’re at a destination—drop off the dry cleaning or pick up a snack.

If you’re out in the city and left your phone or sunglasses in the hotel, no worries… those can be delivered.

And when work is done and you’re ready to relax, we’re not too far from flying taxis taking off, able to carry you down the coast to a favourite secluded beach.

Quantum Computing

Much of travel—along with other common things like internet search and social media—relies on optimisation across large data arrays.

Flight scheduling, crew allocation, aircraft routing, traveler itineraries, etc., are all optimisation problems with countless variables.

Traditional computers work on these problems with limited toolsets; quantum computers may be able to find entirely new solutions and efficiencies.

Space Tourism

Commercial space flight, hotels in low earth orbit and lunar fly-bys are all inching towards viability, bringing the dream of space tourism much closer to reality.

The most basic form of space tourism involves reaching an altitude above the Karman Line, generally agreed as the barrier between the earth’s atmosphere and space.

For several years, companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been promising commercial flights just into the edge of space. From more than 62 miles above the earth’s surface, passengers are promised a few minutes of weightlessness and a stellar view of the curve of the earth.

To date, no company has been able to bring an offering safely to market, but Virgin Galactic has redoubled its efforts to start flights by the end of 2018.

At that point, they can start working through the backlog of ~500 passengers who have already prepaid, at a cost of roughly $250,000 each.

Trusted Presence

The travel industry is in the business of establishing trust— knowing the location and identity of people and objects is one of its most important responsibilities. And the technologies to make that possible mirror the retail world.

Going through airport security is very similar to checking out at a grocery store: put everything on a conveyor belt, every item is analysed, and identity is verified.

Unfortunately this results in slow processes, queues, and overstaffing, and the same process can be 10X faster one day versus another, depending on the balance between demand and resources.

Trust is transactional—we choose to share information about ourselves to gain a measure of trust from another entity. The more information we share, the more trust we are given, the more streamlined our experience is likely to become.

Travel programs like EasyPASS (Germany), Smart Entry System (Korea), Global Entry (US), among others, aim to streamline travel through pre-vetting. Questionnaires, background checks and interviews establish trust for individuals, so that once identity is established a high degree of trust is automatically present

The most rapid inroads are in airports. Australia has outlined the most ambitious goals of any country when it comes to streamlining the travel process.

We’re doing this by planning to automate 90 per cent of incoming international air travel processing by 2020, using a combination of facial recognition, fingerprints and iris scanning to identify passengers without the need to show passports.

Finnair is taking a different approach in Helsinki, using facial recognition for check-in; it’s using a pool of 1,000 frequent fliers as its trusted trial group

VR Gets Physical

VR aims to engage as many senses as possible in the experience of another world.

The simplest kinds of immersive stationary VR experiences are for seated activities like watching movies, sports, concerts and theater. These don’t require any physical sensation, and can be done from anywhere with very limited equipment.

Some platforms even allow social interaction—you and a friend watching the same event half a world away.

One recent VR demo places users on the summit of a mountain. To see different views, users point a controller at predefined spots and click a button to move.

In practice, the experience is like teleporting—a totally unnatural way to explore a mountain.

It may be a great way to show different views, but the sabre labs | 2017 Radar Report 38 experience of teleporting instead of walking or hiking breaks the illusion of being there.

In contrast, a growing number of VR experiences are based on activities that can be stationary in the real world, like cycling.

Last year, a man cycled the entire 900 mile (1,500 km) length of the United Kingdom from an exercise bike in his living room, using Google Street View images as his 360 scenery for the trip.

In his blog and videos, he speaks as if he’s been to all the small towns and villages he biked through over the course of his 8 month trip; the experience felt real.


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