With everything that has gone on in the travel and tourism industry over the last 2 years, it is safe to say that technology has accelerated 5-10 years ahead of where we would have been if Covid did not happen.
Virtual tours, artificial Intelligence, autonomous vehicles, how we accept cash, how we travel… it has all changed. And these changes are happening at such an alarming rate that opportunities may pass you by before you realise your competitors have had a head start.
Although this opinion piece is somewhat speculation, it is an educated guess on what we see happening today in and around our industry. It is to help you better understand what may be around the corner for tours and activities so you can at least look into the various aspects and ascertain how it will affect your tourism business.
Most tour operators I speak to either say “AI will never replace in-person tour guides” or “People will never go for them”. Personally, the latter is completely wrong, the first is completely right… but there will be a market for AI.
In-person tour guides will always be the most desired and will become the premium tourism experience. Tour operators will be able to charge that little bit more for a more personalised experience. An AI tour guide option, on the other hand, will help generate extra revenue as you conduct the in-person tours.
Just like audio tours — which were equally dismissed when they first arrived — AI guided tours will allow you to reach a much wider audience. Imagine being able to deliver that experience in multiple languages without you ever speaking a word or having to learn 15+ languages. It allows you to be in many places at the same time, generating a passive income.
Although still in its infancy, AI has come a long way. Take Descript (www.descript.com) as an example. I spent 30 minutes reading a bunch of random scripts so that this platform could learn my voice and mannerisms. I then uploaded the introduction to one of the tours on johnenglandtours.com. The results are simply incredible…
Although there are some issues with pronunciation and inflections, 90% of this is spot on and it does sound like me. Can you imagine this mixed with a Deep Fake of your own face?!? The technology is moving at such a fast pace that in 5 years time, let alone 15, reality will be indistinguishable.
Alex Bainbridge of Autoura (www.autoura.com), has been working on an AI delivered experience called Sahra, that aims to provide a platform for this type of experience. Alex experimented with an AI generated ‘human’…
🎥 Meet the AI guide Sahra:
Again, although not perfect, it’s an incredible example of this early technology. Let me be clear: that is not a real person but a fully computer generated ‘human’.
I see this as an amazing opportunity for operators to generate extra revenue in a passive income model. Those who dismiss it are simply missing its potential.
In many countries, we were already heading toward a cashless society, but this may have taken another 50 years or so. Because of Covid, I can see this happening within the next 10-15 years. I am already seeing many retail stores, hospitality venues and experience providers accept cards only; this has been expedited because of the pandemic. I very rarely carry cash, too. Between the pandemic and environmental issues we currently face (most ‘paper’ money is plastic!), I can see physical cash being phased out entirely.
Driverless, or autonomous, vehicles are here now and will only become more popular. These types of vehicles will become extremely popular within cities, but even within more remote villages and towns we will see the technology grow rapidly.
🎥 Take a look at this video from China of a driverless vehicle travelling around a rather challenging environment:
In an area full of people cutting in front of the car and all the other environmental obstacles, the car performs arguably safer than a human being. An AI does not get frustrated or impatient, so is less likely to do something stupid.
From a tour and activity standpoint, imagine taking your customers around part of a tour to be dropped off with an in-person guide and then continue the journey with an AI guide with that same in-person tour guide’s voice…in many languages! These types of hybrid tours will open up new doors and revenue opportunities for tour operators.
From what I see within the industry, car manufacturers are building fewer and fewer cars each year. Between this and pressure from governments to switch to electric and wanting to create less waste, car manufacturers are looking at ways to generate revenue. This is when, I believe, most will turn to the Netflix concept and provide a subscription-based model.
In 15 years time, you may be in need of a car, so you will simply order one on your phone and one will turn up outside your home ready to use. This will have major positive implications for our lives and the environment. Imagine no need for on-street parking. Buildings can be more creative as they no longer need to leave space for vehicles near or at homes. Public transport will change and evolve as well.
Experiences will also change, with tour operators who normally have a fleet of buses or vehicles no longer required to hold stock or pay for storage of these vehicles. And that can mean more revenue in their pockets.
🎥 Think this is science fiction? Think again: twitter.com/Xpeng_china/status/1432527104814374918
Although this is still at the very early stages, I can already see flying car tours across the Grand Canyon or around New York to then land and drive to your next location. A lot of consumers would jump at the chance to pay for this type of experience, so watch for this form of transportation to start to take-off (pun intended).
Bus and coach tours as we know them will cease to exist. Large coaches will not be allowed into cities, so smaller, electric vehicles will become more commonplace. This will cause a lot of issues for those sightseeing companies who have a large inventory of vehicles; not only will they have stock that they may not be able to use, most rely on the resale value of these vehicles. This will severely limit their future value and sellability, with the only options for resale possibly being less-developed destinations lacking the latest technological infrastructure.
These operators will need to adapt their fleets to accommodate smaller groups with more frequency. This, combined with what will be growing pressure from the subscription models I mentioned above will portray bus and coach tour operators to soon be seen as dinosaurs with more consumers opting for the more convenient option. We may even see competition from the likes of Amazon and Apple, who are also developing vehicles along this vein,
To me, this is the single most troubling sector within the tourism industry that I fear for the most, as I see little to no progression in this area.
Primarily because of climate change, we will travel internationally far less frequently, unless electric planes (already being developed) become more commonplace. I can foresee a complete shake-up of the travel industry with budget airlines no longer being ‘budget’ due to various multinational regulations. As consumers, we will most likely have just one main international travel break a year.
Business travel has changed forever, according to Gref Hayes, CEO of jet-engine maker Raytheon Technologies. Now, because of how technology has moved on, corporate travel will happen less often with businesses opting for more virtual meetings with one or two in-person meetings per year at most. Pre-pandemic, around 30% percent of normal commercial air traffic was corporate-related, with around half of this actually being mandatory.
Because we will be travelling internationally less often, domestic tourism will soar as a byproduct. We have already seen domestic travel booming; Airbnb bookings and homegrown experiences in many parts of the world are being snapped up by fed-up consumers. This trend will not change any time soon as, and — it pains me to say this — travel will be in a state of flux for at least the next 10 years because of the pandemic.
Destinations will open and close for the foreseeable future, so it is an issue we will all have to live with. Travel will never go back to the way it was pre-pandemic. We are now living in a different world. While we are creating a more conscious society when it comes to our global footprint, it is still in our nature to explore… we will just do more of this closer to home.
A lot of OTAs are losing eye-watering amounts of money per year to acquire customers, often at a loss. They are trying to capture that consumer into their ecosystem, but this cannot continue with the way the tourism industry has been altered. VC money will only get you so far, as I wrote regarding the effectiveness of OTA brand growth (tourismmarketing.agency/do-otas-suffer-from-brand-blindness).
I can see the likes of Amazon, Apple or a car manufacturer acquiring an OTA to integrate into the new devices, experiences and the autonomous vehicles they are currently developing.
The pandemic has expedited the strategies of most of the OTAs, so expect some of the big names we see today — the Tripadvisors, the GetYourGuides, etc — no longer existing and their assets being stripped and combined into other players in the industry. The same can be said for reservation systems. I can see some of these well-known names combining forces and resources to push the industry towards a standard that the likes of hotels has built over the years.
Because of the technologies above, the level of personalisation will be the single most important factor when it comes to selling and experiencing a tour, activity or attraction.
Imagine taking a ride in an autonomous vehicle and the provider knows your favourite colour, the drink you would like waiting for you, the music to be played as the vehicle drives around a destination, and the perfect suggestions of places to eat because it knows your favourite food. All of this is happening and will only become more commonplace. As with all changes, some may be nervous and see this as an intrusion. I am the complete opposite. And I believe once consumers witness firsthand the convenience that it brings, they will never go back.
Again, these are my feelings but educated guesses on what I see happening around us today in the tours and activities sector.
What are your thoughts on all this? Good? Bad? Excited? Would love to know what you think.
Hey Chris, thanks for sharing you thoughts on the future of tours and activities. Really interesting read with lots to think about.
Colin Lewis (in a podcast interview with Kevin and in this Twitter thread: tmsv.co/ZiD66u) phrased it well by saying "there is no actual business called travel" and goes on to explain that it's a meta-verse of industries such as hotels, airlines, hospitality, etc.
With this in mind you can rationalise how the act of getting from A to B (eg. transport) is one thing, and doing something fun (eg. whitewater rafting) is another, served by two different industries. When it comes to the future of tours and activities, I believe the local transport piece will play an important role in the distribution... it's literally "the last mile" between the customer and provider. Everyone will fight for this space.
The real test will be whether your self-driving AI autonomous taxi from Singapore Airport directs you to the best local hawker fried dumplings vendor, or drops you off at the Shopping Mall food court because the taxi company earns commission 🤔
Nice concepts to consider. I think a lot of what you say is not so far-fetched. For example, the driverless auto is already here (Tesla) but when you combine it with a tour operator I think of something like Jurassic Park. You get to move around on the Disneyland-like track to view the prehistoric creatures as a unique adventure. I only wonder how this will affect all the travel bloggers who capitalize going "off-the-beaten-path"?
But I agree, new technology will alter the travel industry. Also, climate change is already altering the travel industry too so a lot of adopting will need to take place to remain the space, or fold up forever.
This is a degree of a stretch to assume all that will happen. Clearly some of it will. The question I would like to see addressed is what are the enabling factors that will drive these types of changes. There are also a series of assumptions that need to be evaluated. Traditional thinking goes along the lines that the incumbent usually wins. That is true for many parts of the Travel industry - but not all. Consolidation is also a usually enabling factor. Tours & Activities - both multi-day and same day have yet to consolidate in any meaningful way, despite loads of cash being poured in and many bets made. I do believe that the mechanisms of payment and settlement need to be fixed. Today the Travel industry is being screwed by the payment facilitators. That cannot continue. As AFPs proliferate particularly in APAC, adoption and preference by the ultimate vendor will help cause that revolution to happen. Credit Card usage in a neo-cash world is already falling - fast in some markets. The airline refund crisis has exposed just how fragile the legacy structures are. Let me leave with one thought. There is a LOT of work to be done. Travel as a sector is more in tuned with lifestyle. Are these 2 incompatible?
Thanks Timothy. Although an opinion piece to spark debate, a lot of it is already happening or in the process of happening. Whether it will stick is another matter so agree with you on that.
I love a bit of future gazing :)
I'm skeptical on the flying cars. I think we'll continue tinkering with them and there will be advances, but it's going to be for the very wealthy and will probably grow at the same pace as space tourism.
You touched on VR as a replacement for business travel. But I think it will also take a chunk out of recreational travel. Truly immersive VR experiences may satisfy cravings to see certain amazing sites to the point where people don't really feel the need to visit them in person and battle crowds any more. VR is also a very viable replacement for sports travel for example - instead of paying top dollar to get your World Cup tickets, you could buy a much cheaper VR pass, save the travel and watch the game as if you were in a stadium, sitting (virtually) next to your friends who might be 10,000 km away.
The other thing you didn't touch on is the effect blockchain technologies will have in travel. Going cashless is one thing, but ditching currency exchange entirely will be a huge deal for travel. I don't think Bitcoin will be the ultimate winner here. More likely it will be something less volatile, perhaps a central bank digital currency. 15 years from now I fully expect most merchants will be trading in crypto.
Thanks, Chris, it's a very valuable glance to the future of the sector, and not far-fetched considering what already is. On the other hand, I remain skeptical regarding Personalization. This issue actually goes against the new eco values. It can work to a certain level, but not everything can be adapted. Besides, if people are to get their favorite drink when arriving to a new place, then it means they're not "travelling" anymore, they're just moving their home to another destination :-) And personally, I don't want this to be the future of tourism, that's just an extension of what has already been made for too long by many operators!
Interesting premise. It reminds me a bit of the end of horse-drawn carts, when London commuters could never imagine that automobiles could replace the carts. I suppose there is a giant market share that has no access to tourism, or experiential travel - perhaps opening new markets for AI, which leapfrog traditional tour operators. I cannot imagine a midle aged family shifting to AI, but an 18-year old traveling for the first time? Hell yes. I wonder how we will construct social lubricant - the last thing we need is more teenagers wandering around the streets in little tech bubbles, lonely and not knowing how to talk to new friends and forge connections.
Agree about bringing people out of lonely tech bubbles. Sometimes travel should force you to be uncomfortable... we all have an experience about getting lost or disconnected on our travels and almost aways it results in a remarkable story of discovery and some new friends!
Exactly. A good point. New tech always gets pushback but eventually it becomes mainstream.
Interesting article, I agree with the new stream of experiences - self-guided through AI or AR as well. What I am missing in the article is remote work / life - I think there will be a trend to be in destinations for longer periods (3-6months) and explore while working from there. With the surge or remote work, I believe that the young generations won't be living in one city, but multiple continents / countries and move around much more.
I agree. I wrote a separate article on that too at the start of the week: tourismmarketing.agency/should-you-make-the-switch-from-business-travel-to-b2c/
Super interesting, Chris! Fair play on putting the time in for this, great fun.
I agree with a lot of your take, but definitely disagreed with the consolidation of the OTAs part. I see it going completely the other way.
I see travel following the trend of e-commerce towards a growing number of niche micro-brands that have a clear purpose and differentiated products.
Think of the thousands of Shopify powered stores that sell bamboo toothbrushes, vegan dishwasher tablets, sustainable socks etc. All of the social media influences with their own eyeliner brands and clothing lines.
Yes, the big players still exist, but they're being attacked from all angles. The tech required to build and launch these things are becoming commoditised, aka cheap, so therefore the barriers to entry have nosedived.
Travel is following the exact same trajectory. I'm biased, obviously, but we're leading the charge with our no-code platform for travel marketplaces. We're arming thousands of rebel travel marketplace to take on the Goliath's of the industry. Alone, they will not be able to complete, but as an aggregate body, we'll be a counterpoint to these Titans. You've obviously learned a lot about that with Tourosity.
Just as Airbnb turned millions into accommodation hosts, the travel tech tools coming online can turn everyone into a potential tour guide, a travel agency, a tours or accommodation marketplace.
Just as Airbnb carved out a section of Craigslists to form their business, the already niche marketplace is carving out segments of Airbnb's offering and building financially sustainable businesses.
We've powering marketplaces for Indigenous tours, Winery Experiences, Luxury Tours, and Retreats all within Australia, authentic home-stays in rural India, sustainable tours in Southern Africa, and staple adventures in Hawaii.
They will most likely never take on Viator, but with tools like Tashi and others, they don't have to be profitable. Their breakeven points are so much lower. That's what makes it so exciting.
When you lower the bar to entry, yes, you get more competition, but you get so much imagination and innovation. People can spend less time worrying about the technology tools and invest more time in what makes Tours special, the experience!
Thanks Macartan. I agree, out of all of them that's the one that could go either way but I do believe we will see many OTAs combining/being bought out. Time will tell!
Yes very Interesting read Chris. I think you are probably right on allot of it. I think there will also be a mixture of the digital adventures that are currently being created in the metaverse with the real life adventures.. I think we are only beginning to see of how digital collectables and NFT's (and their communities) can be used for companies and brands as a way to interact with their customers...
Some really interesting ideas in this, Chris. Especially around the shift in travel patterns, international v local. And Alex Bainbridge is *always* ahead of the curve! :)
... and I've just noticed how long ago this was published (blush). Not visiting Travel Massive as often as I should!
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I am the same. So busy just now!
I also believe that everything will be infinitely more accessible for people with disabilities, that includes physical, vision, hearing, sensory, mental health, and more.
I do very much hope so!