2017 saw travel technology become more open and integrated than ever before. ‘Big travel tech providers are increasingly making their platforms more integrated, and able to be leveraged or used from different systems’ says FCTG Americas Chief Strategy Officer John Morhous. This trend is being driven by the entry of new players in the market, intensifying competition and pressuring existing companies to offer more customizability and connectivity in their systems. It isn’t hard to see why. Last year was a record for venture capital in travel startups, with total investment coming to a whopping $5.3 billion, and this seems unlikely to stop or slow in the coming year. Through FCM’s program Little Argas and our relationship with Plug and Play, we are heavily invested in this process. Working together with companies that have innovative solutions to problems, helping them commercialize those solutions and bring them to the consumer. All this means that means we should expect to see an increasingly open landscape in travel technology as companies are able to shop around for solutions and platforms. This is great for both consumers and travel operators, enabling them to find new and innovative answers to challenges by combining and integrating products and systems in ways that might not have been possible before now. In our own business, this new openness is allowing us to leverage existing solutions like our ClientBank reporting and analytics suite. Being able to connect with more data sources and platforms allows us to offer our clients a more integrated, more efficient and more versatile offering than we could have before. This is just one of the many opportunities that the growing openness in the travel tech sector offers.
We expect to see big developments in the mobile space over the coming year. Mobile technology is already a large and growing part of the travel technology mix. The transition has occurred more fully on the consumer and retail side of travel, but the business and corporate side has not adapted quite so quickly. There are several reasons for this. Compliance, complexity and the realities of integrating a travel policy with mobile technology being the major factors . Despite these challenges, FCM is working hard to bridge this gap with innovative products such as Sam, the highly interactive mobile app. (link to SAM page)
But with increasing adoption rates for mobile technology in corporate travel and a host of new solutions coming online all the time we think 2018 will see mobile technology really come into its own in the corporate travel sector. Another reason the mobile revolution is far from over is the near-term opportunity of 5G networks . These ultra-fast mobile connections might not be available yet, but Verizon, Qualcomm and other mobile operators worldwide are aiming to started limited rollouts this year. This extra bandwidth opens a multitude of new possibilities for travel technology from real time tracking and the transfer of complex navigational information to more reliable mobile video conferencing and customer service.
Greater speed and bandwidth in mobile connectivity could increasingly make the mobile environment resemble the home internet environment for travelers, letting them stay connected and utilize more complex services on the go, offering potential solutions that have never been practical before. Its this kind of opportunity that is encouraging companies to continue to invest in the mobile space .
AI, Assistants and Personalization
Artificial intelligence is one of the most exciting fields of tech generally, and it is already changing the travel industry. We think this will continue in 2018 as more and more applications for this innovative tech are discovered. AI can help us use the great data collected by our analytics and reporting services like ClientBank to create highly-tailored plans based on customers needs, behavior and preferences. This helps us give you an efficient service with high return on your travel investment and improve the traveler experience by helping to tailor and personalize travel plans. Deep learning algorithms can help get the most out of customer data and provide the best possible value to them, enabling us to provide better service to travelers .
As any veteran traveler would know by now, the most popular use for AI within travel currently is for chatbots and virtual assistants. As mentioned previously, our FCM Sam product is a great example of this. Sam is part AI, part expert assistant, all in an easy to use mobile platform. More and more of our customers are adopting Sam, and we will continue to invest to improve its functionality. One of the key advantages of chatbots like Sam is that they help remove friction in the travel experience, whether at the booking, planning or the actual travel stage. Rather than having to wait for an email response or for someone to pick up the phone, queries can be resolved by the chatbot in real time. And while those queries initially had to be quite simple, improvements in technology and experience in operations are making chatbots able to field more complex issues every day. Openness is an important part of this technology as well, because chatbots and virtual assistant performance is to a considerable extent based on access to the data users are willing to give access to. This data, like flight schedules, hotel availability and traffic conditions, is also becoming increasingly easily available and more easily integrated. All this means we can expect better, more responsive, and intelligent AI, Assistants and personalization in the coming year.
This revolution is not just limited to mobile devices, however. Smartphones now all carry a virtual assistant, and the market for smart-speaker devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home is projected to expand by as much as 80% this year. Hotels are getting on board as well, with Hilton planning to rollout its ‘Smart Room’ concept this year in hotels across the United States. Offerings like this where you can control the room lights and air-conditioning with your smartphone, or with smart-speakers in the room linked to room service and other hotel amenities, will become increasingly common in 2018.
Travel technology isn’t just confined to software in your pocket. Physical transportation technology is also evolving alongside digital tech. Exciting new innovations are happening in the industry that could offer consumers more choice and provide a better, more efficient service.
Self-driving cars are one of the most talked about areas of transport technology. What was once considered a space-age, far-off possibility looks tantalizingly close to reality this year. Several companies are competing to bring a practical and versatile form of this technology to market first. Waymo, a division of Google parent company Alphabet, is already starting a trial in Phoenix this year. Commuters will ride in driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans which will take them to work each day, offering ordinary consumers the chance to interact with autonomous vehicles for the first time. Assuming all goes well, the company plans to broaden this test to more cities and more services this year. Uber Technologies has also committed to launching an entire fleet of autonomous Volvo? XC90 utility vehicles by 2019. And General Motors is looking to deploy its electric Chevy Bolt robo-taxis in the same timeframe. While there are still problems to be resolved before this technology becomes ubiquitous, the sheer number of players in the race, the size of the investments they are making, the speed technological improvement and the vast market to be gained all argue that this will be an area to watch in the coming year. Driverless taxi’s, pickup services and shuttles could cost less than half as much to run as their human-piloted equivalents, which would offer travelers a very competitive alternative to traditional services. That’s just one reason why analytics firm IHS Markit project the number of driverless cars to reach more than fifty thousand by 2021, and rise to a million by 2025. Expect to see these pilot programs and larger rollouts ramp-up in 2018.
2018 will be a big year for travel technology. Openness and integration will enable us to leverage platforms in ways we haven’t been able to before, providing consumers with even better solutions to their travel needs. The growth in mobile technology and the increasing speed of cellular networks will allow us to keep connect while on the road, broadening the scope of the services we can offer to the traveler on the go. Chatbots, AI and electronic assistants will continue to become more widely used, more sophisticated and more helpful to the consumer, removing friction for the consumer and improving the traveler experience. New technologies such as driverless cars will start to come on the scene, offering travelers more choice and bringing even more competition into the marketplace. But most exciting are the possibilities for innovative new solutions nobody can foresee, the way technology will touch our lives and effect the experience of the traveler that will come as a surprise to everyone. And it is these that make travel technology such an exciting space to watch in 2018.
FCM’s key takeaway predictions for 2018:
• More openness means more integration, and more opportunities for consumers and TMCs
• Mobile will continue to grow in importance and reach, buoyed by mobile data technology.
• AI and assistants will become increasingly ubiquitous, with more integration and functionality for travelers .
• Autonomous vehicles will start being trialed more widely, although large-scale implementation remains at least another year away
• The huge tech investments in the pipeline will lead to more startups and competition in the marketplace