There was a time when digital communications were the tools used mostly by the younger generations.
But those days are long passed. Every age category slowly caught on to the fact it wasn’t so hard to learn to become at least a bit tech savvy, once they got past their initial fears.
Few sectors have been as deeply affected by this progress as the travel industry.
Today’s traveller uses the Internet to do so much research that by the time they approach a travel agent, if they haven’t booked online, they are more knowledgeable about the destination and its offerings than the travel agent they are speaking with.
I have written about these changes in the past but the speed of progress is so fast that yesterday’s invention quickly becomes past tense.
Mobile communications, and the use of apps, have added entirely new dimensions to the way we live in general, and particularly to how we interface with technology before and during travel.
In a major study undertaken by Google, the objective was to measure the scale of digital, mobile, video and shopping habits with tech savvy people.
While they measured usage in over 50 countries, Europe stands as a good consumer barometer of where technology has taken us.
The study reinforced that the impact of change was especially strong with travellers, the people who always want to know more about world destinations, and how and what to do when they get there.
* More than 60 per cent of Europeans have smartphones, with the British leading that pack with nearly 75 per cent owning them.
60 per cent use smartphones to access search engines at least once a week, with the average consumer owning more than three devices.
85 per cent go online at least once a day, with that percentage rising to 92 per cent for those under 44.
These realities have particularly affected the long-term planning of the hospitality industry.
Some suggest that the need for an in-room hotel phone will soon be obsolete. Between your cell phone and an interactive TV set, why should they invest in these expensive systems?
They hardly need telephones at all in their properties. Most of the hotel chains have call centres for those who still use what may be a disappearing technology in the traditional sense.
Bookings are now made online, with hotel promises that they will always get the lowest rate available.
More and more chains are trying to wrestle business back from the big online booking agencies. While their rooms are still on the agencies’ websites, the hotels often prefer to take ownership of the customer base from the Internet giants.
I have written about the introduction of hotel apps in a previous column, but the expansion of their uses is growing overwhelmingly fast.
Just a month ago the Marriott chains properties added a mobile request app that lets you get extra towels, or an airport pickup.
Keyless entry is becoming ever more common, and some hotels like Hilton Worldwide let you choose your room and check into it before you arrive.
Once programmed, you can open your room door with your smartphone while you walk down the hallway. And to serve an ever-expanding travel universe, these apps are now being introduced with the language of your choice, from Chinese to Arabic.
Want to know if your flight is on time? Install one of the apps that tells you the exact position of every plane that is in the air, anywhere in the world.
A couple of years ago we were going to be taking a South American cruise.
It was a time when Argentina, still angry over their territorial disputes with England, were causing enough concerns that some cruise lines were eliminating stops in the Falkland Islands.
We wanted to find out what the likelihood was that we would be able to stop there to visit the penguins.
One of our group simply accessed a similar ocean vessel app on his smartphone, and we were able to see the ships actually docked in the Falklands.
Using your mobile phone you can access, in English, a review of the French restaurant you are interested in dining at. Then, when satisfied, book it directly from your mobile as well.
Why take a chance of getting hit by another vehicle as you try to hail a cab? Simply get on the taxi website and give them the address where you are standing.
In foreign countries especially, using similar devices can keep you out of trouble by highlighting unsavory areas, hotel properties, and bars you should definitely avoid.
Interactive reviews of major tourist sites is expanding, while online boarding passes may soon replace paper completely.
But as underscored at the outset, even the latest digital breakthrough could be a thing of the past in a couple of years or less.
There are still those who find it hard to navigate through these changes. No one should be left behind, but the industry will do what is necessary to make it more profitable. If change makes it possible, we will all have to evolve and accept the new world of travel.
This article appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on June 27, 2015. I am pleased to announce that it just was awarded an honourable mention from the North American Travel Journalists Association annual awards competition.
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