By Rob Golledge, head of marketing communication, Amadeus UK & Ireland
The launch of the Apple Watch might not have had the fanatical reaction that greeted the iPhone when it was originally launched back in 2007, but it has raised the profile of wearables and has helped drive consumer adoption over the past year.
IDC (International Data Corporation) predicts that smart wearable devices will reach more than 25 million by the end of this year, which is five times greater than 2014. This rapid growth indicates that despite the relatively high price point and similarities with the iPhone, the Apple Watch is here to stay.
So far smart watches have been marketed with a distinct emphasis on sport and health functionality but they are already beginning to gain traction in the travel industry.
For instance, European low-cost airline Vueling launched a boarding pass smartwatch app last year and more recently rolled out an Apple Watch app that allows travellers to get up-to-date flight information and even change their tickets to an earlier flight if there are seats available.
Similarly, Brisbane Airport offers a smart watch app that provides users with real-time updates about flights and airport services and allows the company to deliver a more personalised customer experience (which is a the mantra of both suppliers and consumers).
These and many other wearable travel apps rely on the immediate infrastructure to generate valuable data insights and interact with the traveller. This highlights the importance of complementary technologies such as Near Field Communication (NFC) for the mass adoption of wearable tech.
NFC technology is essential for creating travel apps that use geolocation to send out alerts or create in-building navigation applications. This technology enables airlines to place QR codes onto scanners at boarding gates and speed up flight check-in.
Similarly, NFC combined with smart watches could be used to help direct travellers around large airports and new unfamiliar cities and check in at hotels or to provide notifications about upcoming meetings, taxi arrival, flight information and other useful data.
Another key area where wearable technology is beneficial is the use of biometric data about heart rate and eye movement to drive personalisation. This information can enable travel companies to differentiate their products based on real-time data, allowing them to respond to customers’ needs now in a more targeted, unobtrusive and virtual conversation style.
In the more distant future, biometric data about real-time physiological signals such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and hydration can be used to offer personalised and timely onboard food and drink, as well as other services provided by travel providers.
As biometric data is combined with customer information from social media channels and location-based mobile services, travel providers will be able to create bundled offers that are specifically tailored to the needs and circumstances of their customers. However, understanding how different customers travel and how they expect to be marketed to will be key to making the most of such services.
Our Future Traveller Tribes Report reveals interesting insights about how the changing expectations of modern travellers will impact their purchasing behaviour and subsequently the travel industry.
For instance, ‘Simplicity Searchers’ are travellers looking for hassle-free travel arrangement services that simply get it right. Bookings will be taken care of by professional travel experts or smart automation, such as virtual assistants, that sift through a myriad options and base their recommendations on the individual’s preferences.
On the other hand, ‘Reward Hunters’ tend to be affluent travellers looking for a luxury or wellness experience. Just as the servants in Downton Abbey go about their work behind the scenes, these travellers will be open to sharing biometric data with travel providers who – behind the scenes – are expected to serve up highly personalised, seamless and indulgent experiences.
All these examples demonstrate the great opportunities that wearable devices will create for the travel industry. The smart watch will create more touch points with the traveller, enabling hospitality and travel providers to launch a rich set of new apps and services aimed at creating a better travel experience.
However, to enable all these innovations, the travel industry needs to address a number of challenges such as the potential privacy and security issues arising from sharing sensitive personal data.
Privacy issues are so ingrained in any communication device that utilises apps as a fundamental feature and are often identified as one of the greatest barriers to the mass use of wearable technology.
Typically the vast privacy issues associated with the iPhone are also applicable to the Apple Watch. Public Wi-Fi, NFC zones and beacon technologies all provide new avenues for hackers looking to tap into the growing number of connected devices.
This and other device related vulnerabilities can create potential risk of identify theft, extortion and misuse by external parties. This is particularly important when it comes to payment applications where security is critical.
Addressing these challenges will be of paramount importance for boosting consumer confidence in wearable devices, which will also require travellers to make a conscious choice (as they do with their phones) about convenience over security risks.
However, despite the current challenges, the adoption of wearable technology is set to become a catalyst for connected travel. In this sense the smart watch is more valuable as a new touch point with the customer, which can enable innovation in the travel industry, than as a standalone technology device.
As wearable technology becomes more widely adopted, consumers will be increasingly open to trying out new apps that make travel more seamless and convenient.
I believe this presents an exciting opportunity for the travel industry. There is a huge potential to adapt and develop applications for wearable technology that can elevate the travel experience beyond what many experience today.
As consumer technology rapidly evolves, finding effective ways to extend traditional travel applications to wearable devices will be key to addressing the emerging needs of modern travellers. This will become increasingly important as the uptake of consumer spending on wearables begins to gain traction among the wider population.