The future of travel and tourism is here. And it’s crazier than you can imagine

The travel and tourism sector is undergoing a major transformation, fuelled by advancements in AI, AR, and VR technologies, providing travellers with more personalised and engaging experiences.
  • Biometrics are redefining airports and eliminating lines
  • The role of VR, AR, and the metaverse in future travel experiences
  • Could flying cars soon transform the tourism and travel sector?
  • Artificial intelligence powers Lithuania’s latest tourism push
  • The Icon of the Seas redefines the paradigm of luxury maritime travel
  • The dawn of space tourism

The transformation of travel and tourism is only set to accelerate as we move into the future. Concepts that were once found only in science fiction are now becoming a reality, pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible in this sector. In the coming years, we can expect AI to play an even more crucial role in tourism. AI-assisted tourism campaigns will become more sophisticated, using data to provide personalised experiences that meet individual travellers’ preferences and needs. Advanced machine learning algorithms will likely help anticipate traveller behaviours and trends, making travel experiences more streamlined and enjoyable. In terms of transport, flying taxis could redefine urban mobility, providing a fast, efficient, and eco-friendly alternative to traditional road travel.

Meanwhile, airports themselves will become more intelligent, with biometric pathways enabling seamless journeys from check-in to boarding. Sustainability will also be at the forefront of future travel. Energy-positive hotels, which produce more energy than they consume, will pave the way towards a more sustainable tourism industry. They will not only reduce the environmental footprint of travel but also offer guests a unique and eco-conscious travel experience. Augmented reality (AR) is set to revolutionise the way we explore new places, with AR-assisted guided tours providing immersive experiences that bring history and culture to life. Similarly, the cruise industry is poised for a futuristic makeover, with ships becoming more akin to floating smart cities, offering unparalleled luxury and entertainment options. Space tourism, once a far-off dream, is inching closer to reality. The ongoing efforts by private and public sectors towards making space travel accessible for regular tourists will surely unlock a new era of exploration and discovery. The future of travel and tourism is rich with promise, driven by a blend of technology, sustainability, and creativity. The industry’s rapid evolution will continue to reshape our travel experiences, turning what was once science fiction into the new standard. Let’s dive right in and explore some of these new developments.

Biometrics are redefining airports and eliminating lines

The advent of biometric identification, though not without its critics, is rapidly revolutionising airport procedures globally. Biometrics, which involves the automatic verification of a person’s identity through unique biological traits, such as fingerprints, facial patterns, or iris scans, is becoming an integral component of passenger processing at airports. These technologies are not merely novelties, but practical tools that can dramatically reduce time spent on routine airport procedures, from baggage check-ins, lounge access, and immigration control to boarding. By incorporating biometric systems, these processes can be accelerated, often halving their previous durations. Dubai International Airport is an excellent example of the practical deployment of biometrics. In 2018, it launched the innovative ‘Smart Gates’ system, which leverages facial recognition technology to authenticate travellers’ identities in an astonishing five seconds. Upon disembarking, travellers simply step into a tunnel, gaze at a green light, and then proceed directly to the baggage claim area, bypassing queues and eliminating the need for interactions with immigration officers

Biometrics in airports isn’t confined to Dubai, however. Similar systems have been implemented or are being tested at several major international airports including Hong Kong International, Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International, London Heathrow, and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle. The technology is set to become more commonplace with the European Union’s plan to introduce an automated entry-exit system in 2024. This system will employ fingerprints and facial images to swiftly identify foreign travellers and expedite border control checks. Airlines themselves have also begun to adopt biometric identification in a bid to create a more seamless travel experience for their customers. Emirates, for instance, has devised a ‘biometric pathway’ at Dubai International Airport, enabling passengers to pass through immigration and board flights without presenting any physical documents. Using a mix of facial and iris recognition, passengers can now check in for their flight, complete immigration formalities, enter the Emirates Lounge and board their flights, simply by strolling through the airport. In the United States, major carriers such as American Airlines, United, and Delta have begun experimenting with biometric systems for check-in, baggage drops, and boarding gates at selected airports, heralding a new era of expedited and hassle-free air travel.

In an increasingly digitised world, travel experiences are being redefined by an intriguing layer of immersive interactivity, requiring nothing more than a phone and internet connection.

The role of VR, AR, and the metaverse in future travel experiences

Imagine, on your next European vacation, you are wandering the hallowed halls of Florence’s Accademia Gallery, guided by none other than the Renaissance masterpiece itself, Michelangelo’s ‘David’, interacting with you through your smartphone. Or perhaps you find yourself engaged in a thrilling digital treasure hunt, decoding historic clues along the serpentine alleys of Paris. These aren’t mere futuristic fantasies, but burgeoning realities enabled by the transformative power of augmented reality (AR) technology. In an increasingly digitised world, travel experiences are being redefined by an intriguing layer of immersive interactivity, requiring nothing more than a phone and internet connection. Leading this evolution of travel experiences is Specterras Productions. This tech-forward company is on a mission to bring the world’s most awe-inspiring natural landscapes and cultural treasures within arm’s reach, using groundbreaking AR and virtual reality (VR) technology.

The potential of these immersive technologies is already being explored, with animations in museum exhibitions breathing life into static exhibits. In the near future, visitors may converse with an animated bust of Alexander the Great, or learn the mysteries of history from a speaking statue of Herodotus, an experience evocative of scenes from the movie ‘Night at the Museum’. Examples of AR implementation are growing rapidly. Renowned artists like KAWS, famous for his whimsical, toy-like sculptures, have adopted AR to stunning effect, with his ‘Expanded Holiday’ project showcasing giant AR sculptures seemingly suspended in mid-air across 12 global cities. The benefits of AR and VR extend beyond on-location experiences. These technologies are also proving invaluable in the trip planning process, with potential tourists able to virtually explore a destination, hotel, restaurant, or excursion, thereby reducing uncertainty and bolstering confidence in their booking decisions.

As we journey further into the digital era, the metaverse will also bring new possibilities for travel and tourism. Metaverse platforms could radically transform businesses’ interactions with their customers, offering new ways to deliver experiences and convey information. For instance, ski resorts might offer virtual guides providing real-time, personalised tips to skiers on the slopes. Similarly, tour companies could construct immersive, persistent experiences combining virtual and physical worlds to enrich tourists’ understanding of their surroundings — imagine strolling through ancient cities with historical events unfolding around you in vivid detail.

“Electric personal flying cars will revolutionise adventurous travel.  Safaris, mountain tops, visiting Machu Picchu – all places that are  currently difficult to get to will suddenly be possible”.

Peter Ternstrom, cofounder of Jetson

Could flying cars soon transform the tourism and travel sector?

The concept of flying cars is gradually transitioning from a science fiction staple into a tangible reality, set to revolutionise the realm of travel and tourism. The prospect of seamlessly traversing cityscapes, unhindered by normal traffic, has tremendous potential to transform how we experience commuting and leisure travel. One company that’s making remarkable strides in this arena is LIFT Aircraft. The company is pioneering the field with its innovative HEXA aircraft. It’s an ultralight, electric vehicle outfitted with advanced autopilot software that allows anyone to become a pilot, following a basic orientation session and a VR flight simulation.

Envisaged as the future of recreational flights, LIFT asserts that its aircraft can be flown by anyone in the United States without the need for a traditional pilot’s licence, as it is categorised as an ultra-light vehicle under federal regulations. The HEXA is equipped with a myriad of safety features, including a triple-redundant flight computer, a collision-avoidance system, and a ballistic parachute for the entire vehicle. LIFT Aircraft is set to commence commercial flights in 2023 and during its promotional tour across various US cities, it will offer brief, scenic trips of around 8-15 minutes. Future customers will be able to conveniently locate and book LIFT flights through a user-friendly smartphone app that offers flight simulation training, proficiency tests, pre-flight checklists as well as ground crew support. As Peter Ternstrom, cofounder of pioneering EVTOL company Jetson, says: “Electric personal flying cars will revolutionise adventurous travel. Safaris, mountain tops, visiting Machu Picchu — all places that are currently difficult to get to will suddenly be possible”.

Artificial intelligence powers Lithuania’s latest tourism push

Lithuania Travel, the national tourism organisation, has initiated an innovative tourism campaign, employing artificial intelligence to generate visually captivating promotional materials. These surreal posters capture Lithuania’s diverse landscapes, bustling cityscapes, and unique culinary delights like their signature cold pink soup, enticing potential tourists with their originality. The campaign emerged from a creative process during which AI was directed to visualise Lithuania across different timelines — the past, the near future, and a fantastical interpretation. Hundreds of striking images were produced, inspiring the promotional campaign for the 2023 tourist season. Yet, as the official website notes, while AI can reproduce aspects of Lithuania that are beautiful and inspiring, it takes a human to truly experience the country’s charm. This sentiment is encapsulated in the campaign’s slogan: “Lithuania — an experience to share”.

In an increasingly connected world, the campaign aims to attract tourists from key markets, specifically Germany, Poland, the UK, and Israel. The strategy includes targeted digital advertising and extensive social media engagement. This innovative approach seems to be paying dividends, as Lithuania saw its international tourist numbers double in 2022 compared to the previous year, with 1.15 million visitors staying overnight. These four targeted markets alone contributed to 32 per cent of all arrivals. The overwhelming majority of visitors, 93 per cent, to be precise, rated their experience in Lithuania positively. Dovilė Seliukė, Head of Tourism Marketing and Communication Department, underscores Lithuania’s appeal: “We want to show that Lithuania is an experience in and of itself — inspirational, beautiful, exciting and tasty… from hot-air balloon flights and street art tours to fine dining experiences of local flavours, there’s something for everyone”.

The Icon of the Seas redefines the paradigm of luxury maritime travel

In the expansive universe of cruise ships, the term ‘icon’ is bestowed on only a select few. Among these elite vessels, one stands out, continually captivating the imaginations of seafarers while redefining the paradigm of luxury maritime travel: the Icon of the Seas. But this ship is far more than just a floating oasis of opulence; it’s one of the most technologically advanced ships ever built, symbolising the pinnacle of human ingenuity, design prowess, and an unwavering commitment to crafting exceptional experiences for its guests. Measuring 365 metres long and almost 50 metres wide, the Icon of the Seas is five times larger than the Titanic. Soaring over 20 stories high, the ship is set to feature eight distinctive zones or ‘neighbourhoods’ — The Hideaway, Royal Promenade, Central Park, Chill Island, and Thrill Island — each one dedicated to crafting varied experiences that cater to the diverse preferences of its guests. The ship will feature seven pools and six water slides, creating the largest waterpark at sea, and offer a myriad of opulent entertainment options, such as an indoor skydiving simulator, a ‘bionic bar’ where robots will serve drinks, as well as fine dining restaurants and casual cafes.

Furthermore, this colossal ship integrates the latest technology to elevate the guest experience to uncharted heights. From interactive displays that engage and captivate, to virtual reality simulators that transport passengers into fascinating realms, and immersive entertainment systems creating a vibrant atmosphere of wonder and delight, the Icon of the Seas delivers an extraordinary journey of discovery and excitement. The Icon of the Seas is not only a testament to luxury and innovation but also represents a significant stride in the maritime industry’s march towards sustainability. As Royal Caribbean’s first ship powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and cutting-edge fuel cell technology, the Icon of the Seas sets an unprecedented benchmark for environmentally friendly cruising. The maritime marvel ingeniously integrates cutting-edge technologies to optimise energy conservation, lower emissions, and responsibly handle waste. The ship will also harness the power of fuel cell technology, shore power hook-ups, and innovative waste heat recovery systems, all designed to substantially curtail its greenhouse gas emissions. The fuel-cell technology is particularly intriguing for the cruise industry, as it can be used to power the ship’s hotel functions, painting a promising picture of future eco-friendly cruising. The ship will also feature air lubrication of the underwater hull, whereby millions of microscopic bubbles are sent along the hull of the ship to reduce friction. Incorporating both luxury and sustainability, the Icon of the Seas is indeed a futuristic cruise ship. It not only shapes the future of cruising by offering passengers an unparalleled sea voyage experience but also serves as a model for the industry’s transition towards greener technologies. This merging of indulgence and responsibility truly marks a new era in cruise travel, proving that it’s possible to enjoy the opulence of a cruise while preserving our planet for future generations. Icon of the Seas will set sail on its first voyage in January 2024 and will cruise from Miami year-round in the Eastern and Western Caribbean.

The dawn of space tourism

The era of space tourism is upon us, as we prepare to boldly venture into what has often been dubbed the ‘final frontier’. Various space tourism initiatives are now within our reach or set to launch in the near future, all designed to cater to the most discerning and adventurous amongst us, each differing in duration, experience, and ultimate destination. Among these, Space Perspective offers a unique, luxurious experience to those seeking an extravagant journey into the cosmos. Travellers will have the opportunity to board the pressurised Spaceship Neptune capsule, propelled by a NASA-grade SpaceBalloon. The capsule is slated to start its six-hour sojourn to the edge of space in 2024. During this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, passengers will revel in breathtaking panoramic views of Earth from a perspective few others have witnessed, while indulging in a gourmet meal and finely crafted cocktails. The journey will culminate in a slow descent and a gentle water landing, adding yet another remarkable memory to the entire experience.

On an even more adrenaline-fueled note, Virgin Galactic is primed to send thrill-seekers on 90-minute joyrides to the upper reaches of our atmosphere during the summer of 2023. If all goes according to plan, these suborbital flights — priced at a whopping $450,000 per ticket — will propel passengers roughly 80 kilometres above Earth. There, the fortunate voyagers will have about a minute to marvel at the stunning curvature of our planet, experience the sensation of weightlessness, and perhaps even capture a few otherworldly photographs. To ensure that participants are ready for the rigours and thrills of space travel, a plethora of companies, such as Hi-Seas, Space Training Academy, Nastar Center, and Air Zero G, are offering terrestrial training programmes. These are specifically designed to simulate various levels of gravity, teach astronaut manoeuvres, and offer simulated experiences, such as a moon launch or docking with the International Space Station. In this exciting era of exploration, it’s evident that the future of travel and tourism is not just grounded on Earth, but also reaching for the stars.

In closing

As we approach a new frontier in the world of travel and tourism, a significant trend is the desire for a ‘frictionless’ travel experience. Travellers in 2023 and beyond are actively seeking ways to streamline their journeys, eliminate unnecessary hassles, and optimise their travel experiences. Key to realising this vision of seamless, efficient, and enjoyable travel is the harmonious interplay of technology and human-led innovation. It is anticipated that technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) will increasingly be adopted to anticipate traveller behaviours and trends and facilitate personalised experiences. However, despite the proliferation of these advanced technologies, the importance of human interaction in the travel experience cannot be underestimated. As Chris Silcock, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Hilton, aptly points out, the craving for authentic human connections persists even in our increasingly digitised world. Travellers value convenience and efficiency, yet they also appreciate the warmth of a personal touch. They long for a human element to their travel experiences — the welcoming hotel team member who recognises them and addresses them by name, engages in meaningful conversation, and answers their queries thoughtfully. In essence, the future of travel hinges on striking the right balance between the efficiency of digital solutions and the personal touch of human-led service. By integrating technological advancements and maintaining authentic human connections, we can truly shape a future where travel is not just seamless but also deeply personal and rewarding.

We’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the trends, technologies, and innovations to look out for are all game-changers. They bring competitive advantages, increase the effectiveness of operations, make our daily lives more efficient, improve healthcare, and significantly change the landscape and beyond.

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