By Tony Donohoe, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of Technology at Expedia Inc.
Originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.co.uk
Just when I thought modern technology was hitting its peak, along comes virtual reality. VR is like something out of Blade Runner or Back to the Future – simply strap on a headset and open your eyes in a completely different world, without having to leave the one you’re in. It’s great for gamers and fun for thrill-seekers, but honestly? I think VR’s real potential lies in travel.
The days of relying on teletext for last minute deals are gone. From holiday inspiration to making a booking, the future of travel lies firmly online. But even this is changing.
I’ve spotted a trend: we don’t simply base our bookings on great deals anymore (though these do help!). Whilst at Expedia, I’ve noticed that more and more holidaymakers want to guarantee they’ll be getting an authentic experience: local produce, authentic digs and adventures they’ll never forget. Traditionally, this is nothing I couldn’t uncover without a good bit of internet trawling, but with the rise of virtual reality, I think I can go one step further.
Picture the scene: I can pop on a headset and stand on top of Iceland’s Gulfoss waterfall, or, perhaps, Peru’s Machu Picchu. I could even find myself wandering the bustling streets of an Asian city, where the tourist industry may or may not have taken away some of the local charm.
Fully immersive VR has the potential to captivate potential travellers with style and substance, offering true-to-life expectations and matching wearers to their ideal experience.
But what happens once I’ve found my dream break? It’s possible that hotels will take advantage of virtual reality technology, allowing holidaymakers to preview their accommodation. Exciting, yes, but still speculative. What’s really impressive is a nifty bit of technology that’s up and running right now: booking bot.
If, like me, you’re sick of spending hours searching the internet for your dream hotel, then worry not, booking bot does all the hard work. I begin a Facebook message to Expedia with a friendly ‘Hi’, input where I’d like to go, when and for how long, and in seconds, I’ll be shown the best deals. There’s little hassle and I could be making a cup of tea in the time it takes to chat.
Booking bot and VR both herald a new age of convenience. With the unavoidable airport check-in experience still lending an element of stress to proceedings, making what comes before and after as easy as possible will be key in the future. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if robots with suitcase-packing potential enter the mass market in years to come.
Once I arrive at my hotel (booked using booking bot), it’s only right that the seamless, space age experience continues.
“The modern traveller wants a friction-free, mobile-led experience that offers help when needed,” says Kevin May of Tnooz. Keyless hotel rooms, anyone? Mobile technology is bound to take over from something that’s so easy to lose.
Some experts are even going so far as to predict the fall of human interaction. Front desk staff replaced by holograms, waiting staff swapped for robotic butlers and smartphone apps: we could soon be living like The Jetsons, after all. Especially when you consider the potential of augmented reality.
You see, I haven’t only seen VR making waves: AR is coming to the fore as a holiday must-have, too. A certain game involving pocket-sized monsters has already shown that augmented reality can reach critical mass faster than VR, but travel-wise? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google Glass-style specs replacing sunglasses in the near future. After all, I could look up at a landmark and be presented with overlaid fun facts, or browse a restaurant menu from my hotel room to help me decide whether to book.
Travel is changing, and the future may not be as far away as we’d first thought.