David Bicknell takes a look at the most important technological developments travel firms should look out for this year
With much of the world emerging with uncertainty from recession, travel organisations are beginning to look towards the future.
A peak ahead at the top 10 technologies in travel sees a mixture of new technologies, such as augmented reality, location-based social networking and near field communications.
But also old stagers make an appearance, such as 2D barcodes, which are providing a sharper, more efficient business edge.
And finally, areas that are now taking off, notably mobile and Google apps, also make our top 10.
The huge popularity of the iPhone has demonstrated that there is a new maturity in the mobile platform that is likely to demonstrate itself this year.
According to Henry Harteveldt, principal analyst at Forrester, “Mobile is driving everything we do. Making their applications mobile is the number one thing that companies have to address.”
Gerry Samuels, founder and executive director of mobile specialist MTT, believes 2010 will see a step change in the volume of mobile services.
He says: “Some of MTT’s customers saw mobile traffic and bookings increase by as much as 50% month-on-month between November and December.
“The growth in bookings on mobile is also significant, with some of our customers seeing more revenue from bookings in one week than the actual cost of implementation of a project.
“There are a number of reasons, in particular the proliferation of easy-to-use devices, including of course, the Apple iPhone and now Google Android. Also, as in the early days of the web, customers are becoming more comfortable with transacting on mobile, although it remains apparent that, on mobile, activity is more focused on transactions than browsing, meaning that travel suppliers are seeing increasing return on investment (ROI) from mobile travel services.”
Samuels suggests that what has changed is a combination of devices and growth in the number of mobile services being made available, leading to greater familiarity, and thus take-up.
“The core functions being used by travellers – for example book, manage, select seats (airline), locate hotels and access live information, such as flight status and gates – will remain the focus.
He adds: “However, we are seeing greater convergence between mobile and online, so, for example, a mobile user may receive promotional details on mobile, which can then be forwarded to their computer for them to review and book online.
“That booking can then be accessed and potentially changed on a mobile at a later stage.”
2. Apps Adoption
The increasing adoption of ‘apps’, not just from the iPhone, is a notable development.
There are two distinct kinds of app store: the primary store, which is the first and only source of an operating system’s apps (ie Apple), and the secondary store, which is built around an existing stock of third-party apps, and with pre-existing developers in mind (such as BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Nokia).
3. Near Field Communications
Near Field Communication (NFC) is a new, short-range wireless connectivity technology that evolved from a combination of existing contactless identification and interconnection technologies.
Products with built-in NFC will simplify the way consumer devices interact with one another, helping people speed connections, receive and share information and even make fast and secure payments.
Applications include contactless payment and improving the efficiency of travel as well as tracking of employees or passengers travelling through airports, cruise ships or casino complexes.
4. Travel Analytics
Due to the increasing number of companies with mobile services, travel suppliers and intermediaries are becoming more interested in analytics to understand consumer behaviour and refine services.
5. 2D bar codes
Using bar codes for inventory management, warehouse management, passenger processing, and physical asset tracking is not a new concept. But it is being refined and used widely in the travel industry.
Use of QR codes is one area with many potential applications for the travel industry in combination with smart phones. A QR code is a matrix code (or twodimensional bar code) created by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave in 1994.
The ‘QR’ is derived from ‘QuickResponse’, and QR codes are common in Japan, where Japanese mobile phones can read this code with their camera.
6. The World of Google
Google Goggles is an app that can be utilised on any of the Android phones and lets you use pictures taken with your mobile phone to search the web.
New functionality on Google Maps includes voice recognition and a search on route functionality.
While Google Insights for Search is not new, it is a tool for travel businesses to understand latest trends and opportunities. Used carefully it can act as
a good barometer of market dynamics and opportunities.
7. Location-based social networking
PhoCusWright believes Location Based Social Networking (LBSN) – social network services where people can track and share location information with each other, via mobile devices or desktop computers – is going to be important this year.
Tracking people’s travel patterns and intersecting these with their profiles means you can:
Establish patterns of behaviours of certain profiles and use these patterns to recommend things to do and see to others with similar profiles;
Use location information to develop ad-hoc groups of matching or compatible interests to converge for a social event;
Combine it with multimedia to tie visuals with location and profiles.
You can use location-based services and collaboration with friends to promote real world coupons, discounts and rewards.
Some examples are:
Bob Offutt, senior technology analyst and editorial director, Technology Edition of PhoCusWright, suggests that in travel, there is an opportunity to use Twitter as a marketing tool for people with destinations.
For example, Trendsmap (pictured, right) is a real-time mapping of Twitter trends across the world. It continuously tracks Twitter trends and topics by geographical location by combining data from Twitter’s API and What The Trend. It then puts it on to a Google Map where users can sort by city or general region and see trending topics in real time.
9. Augmented Reality
Alongside Google Goggles as an augmented reality app is Layar where developers are encouraged to create ‘layers’ – from gig listings to house prices to Beatles magical mystery tours – making it a platform for rapid, creative innovation.
Another augmented reality specialist is MagicSymbol, whose technology could be used for car rental or for bringing to life new hotel builds in 3D.
10. Cloud Computing
Some people might question whether Cloud Computing should really be in the top 10 in 2010.
Although IT professionals are studying and developing it, it may not be ready for prime time in travel. However, Software as a Service (SaaS) based applications are growing.
Forrester’s Henry Harteveldt believes what this year will show in technology terms is a change in focus from information to one of operation and business effectiveness.
“What we are seeing is a lot of things that help companies refine their operational side,” he says. “Technology is being acquired to run and benefit the business operation and improve efficiency more than business information. In other words, business technology, rather than information technology.”
Others to watch out for
Some other travel sites and technologies to watch out for, as suggested by Google UK’s travel industry leader, Robin Frewer, include:
Gliider: Gliider is an automated itinerary planner, figuring out where you’re going, and making discounted suggestions about how to get there and what to do.
Zoombu: Zoombu is a door-to-door journey planner for Europe, finding the best route for your journey by searching combinations of travel components (including flights, trains, coaches, driving and parking).
Gekko: Gekko is a new way of finding the right hotel at the right price, showing similar hotels in the world’s top cities.
Memonic – Memonic.com has been likened to a Rolodex of the internet: holding bits and pieces of information for later use.