The way we travel is changing, moving beyond merely getting from A to B to become a journey that’s imbued with experiences, cultural awareness and a new level of social consciousness. Technology is playing a role, but a new mind-set – thoughtful, progressive, can-do – is also shaping the path that we take and how we engage with other people along the way. We celebrate the people and trends that are making this happen and explore how it may shape the future of travel beyond.
Next-Level Travel Agents
Founder and Managing Director, Jacada Travel
Confronted by overwhelming digital interaction, many travellers long for deeper, more authentic experiences. That’s where Jacada Travel comes in. Mixing online and offline, the luxury travel service creates bespoke itineraries that include a dedicated personal concierge, expert guides and several surprises – dubbed Magic Moments – along the way.
Founder Alex Malcolm, who was born and brought up in rural England, wanted to provide travellers with meaningful, engaging experiences – not just bucket list stops.
Jacada now operates across six continents with offices in London, Hong Kong, Santiago and Cape Town. While some travel services lean on algorithms and best-of lists, Malcolm says he believes that ‘real’ expertise is making a comeback. ‘Our guides know the destination inside-out, so you always have the most up-to-date advice,’ he adds.
And even within Jacada’s carefully crafted itineraries, there’s room for surprises and spontaneity. ‘The best things about travel are the bits you don’t expect,’ says Malcolm. ‘It’s about the people you meet and the way you feel – it’s our job to create that magic for people.’ jacadatravel.com
CEO of Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency
‘I foresee the continuous rise of adventurous solo female travellers and their urge to gain local, authentic, intimate and personalised travel experiences. Here at Ctrip, we have consistently found that females are a lot more adventurous than their male counterparts. Many travel on their own to all kinds of destinations. Authentic and personal trips will always be important and popular.’
CEO of MilesAhead, luxury travel concierge
‘I think one of the biggest changes will be the growth of the travel adviser. The most fulfilling travel experiences will come from an eloquent balance of the human touch and artificial intelligence.’
Founder and CEO, hi Inc
Travelling without mobile data coverage is a headache, as Hongkonger Terence Kwok found to his cost.
Back in 2012, Kwok dropped out of university to found what has since become US$1 billion travel-tech company hi Inc. The catalyst? A family vacation in Europe. ‘I had to leech off spotty Wi-Fi signals and, out of desperation, I enabled the roaming option on my smartphone,’ says Kwok, who is not yet 27.
The resulting US$900 bill spurred Kwok to develop a device rental service at airports, which evolved into hotel-bound mobile phones, dubbed handy, now available in 600,000 rooms in 82 countries. As well as providing connectivity, handys can be fully integrated with hotel services and Internet of Things devices, and come loaded with destination travel content and apps, and bookable tours and activities.
‘It’s about creating a seamless experience,’ says Kwok. ‘Technology should empower travellers to spend more time enjoying themselves, rather than letting frictions get in their way.’
Global Chief Commercial Officer, Marriott Group
With 7,000 properties and counting, Marriott is one of the world’s largest hotel groups.
Overseeing its rapidly evolving business is Stephanie Linnartz, whose remit embraces virtual reality experiences, robot butlers, pop-up innovation labs and similar hi-tech wonders.
Raised in a family of hospitality professionals, Linnartz learned the ins and outs of the industry at a young age. After starting her career at Hilton Hotels Corporation, she joined Marriott as a financial analyst in 1997. Much has changed since then. Now Linnartz is one of the company’s key decision makers, looking after consumer insights, innovations, information technology and brand management worldwide.
‘Hospitality runs in my family. My parents own a hotel and restaurants and I grew up immersed in the hospitality industry from a very early age,’ says Linnartz. ‘I saw the importance of a strong company culture, personalised customer service and making every person feel welcome. Today, we also look at how we can leverage technology to further enhance how we serve our guests.’
Back in 2015, the brand introduced VR Postcards, enabling guests to travel the world from the comfort of their room. More recently, the group teamed up with water brand LIFEWTR to roll out an in-room augmented reality art experience allowing guests to ‘re-decorate’ their rooms. And in February, Marriott launched its revamped Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programme, which puts the emphasis on more than 120,000 redeemable experiences worldwide, from hiking in Patagonia to camel treks in Morocco.
‘Today’s travellers are looking for highly customised, curated and authentic experiences they can’t find anywhere else and we are bringing a lot of innovation and creativity to deliver on that for our guests,’ says Linnartz, citing Formula 1 and rock star meet-and-greets as examples. ‘It’s these types of experiences that many travellers are looking for as they seek to explore the world.’
Awareness Meets Travel
Founder, Justice Travel
Justice Travel launched in 2017, tapping into a growing market for conscious travel. It aims to strike a balance between traditional tourism and social awareness. Founder Gabriel Tobias had previously worked with international NGOs, focusing on health, human development and urban works projects.
‘I realised that lots of travellers were interested in learning more about social and political issues,’ says Tobias. ‘There was a clear desire to do something beyond relaxation tourism.’
The answer? Insightful one- to 14-day tours in countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil where travellers join the human rights conversation while immersing themselves in natural beauty, food and culture. To that end, Justice Travel partners with journalists, community leaders and activists to develop balanced itineraries.
‘It’s about sharing the authentic narrative of these destinations,’ says Tobias. ‘They are beautiful, amazing places, but our trips don’t shy away from the [social and political] reality.’
5 Trends to Watch
From smart apps to robots, these forward-thinking trends are shaping the industry
Like Netflix for films and Spotify for music, ambitious travel ventures are using data to tailor services around consumer location and behaviour.
According to Fang Fang, growth marketing lead, APAC, Skyscanner, this demand for personalisation is only going to increase. ‘As travellers enjoy more options, it becomes more difficult to find exactly what they need. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to flight experiences. Brands will need to customise their offerings for each customer,’ she says.
Hong Kong-based Klook uses a traveller’s location to suggest nearby travel experiences and services, while InterContinental Hotels analyses customer data to build a tailor-made roadmap based on their preferences – be it type of room, meals or time of travel. In China, the group teamed up with search giant Baidu to introduce AI-powered Smart Rooms.
As global travel numbers rise, airports and airlines are streamlining operations through biometrics.
California-based Tascent has teamed up with inflight entertainment provider Panasonic Avionics to develop iris-scanning cameras that can enable automated shopping purchases and personalised content, and even start the immigration process before the wheels hit the tarmac.
And Vision-Box, based in Portugal, has rolled out facial recognition boarding systems in airports around the world.
Eco-conscious hotels are in demand. According to Booking.com’s 2019 sustainable travel report, 73 per cent of travellers intend to stay in an eco-friendly lodging this year (up from 62 per cent in 2016). The hospitality world has responded quickly with these measures:
PARKROYAL on Pickering, Singapore: solar energy and water harvesting programmes.
Hotel ICON, Hong Kong: electric vehicles, paperless check-in and biodegradable bathroom amenities.
The Pavilions Himalayas, Nepal: renewable energy and organic farm.
Lodges Ekologika, Indonesia: solar-powered, recycled teak bungalows, water recycling system, reforestation programme and organic farm.
Back in 2015, Henn na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, became the world’s first hotel to be staffed by robots (though they’ve since slashed half the staff due to communication problems and expense).
The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas employs Pepper, a humanoid robot, to greet visitors and answer property-specific questions. And in Hangzhou, China, Alibaba’s futuristic Flyzoo hotel relies on robots and AI to handle the majority of customer interactions. It’s not just hotels: from Munich to Delhi, robots are roaming airports too, helping to scan boarding passes, print luggage tags and clean up rubbish.
Apps and online platforms are revolutionising the way we travel. Hopper, a flight booking app, helps travellers snag the best airfare deals by ‘watching’ possible travel dates and alerting guests when to buy – or when to wait.
Hotel Tonight hosts last-minute, same-day hotel deals, often at top-rated properties.
iTranslate can cope with more than 100 languages, be it by text, voice conversations or websites.
‘The more dependent we become on technology, the more we need to detach from it once in a while,’ says Vivienne Tang, founder, Destination Deluxe.
‘Even though digital detoxes are a bit hardcore, I do see a desire towards travelling where Wi-Fi is weak. This need to get away from it all – particularly social media – is prevalent among stressed-out urbanites who need to decompress, hence many people are incorporating wellness into their travel itineraries.’