Like every industry, travel and tourism has been transformed over the last 25 years, since the introduction of the internet, and the subsequent growth and development of related technologies.
Whether you believe the industry is better or worse because of technology, the change is undeniable. Journey Latin America, the UK’s number one specialist in travel to Latin America, has provided the following insights.
Then & Now: How Technology Changed Travel
Before the advent of technology as an every-day commodity, booking a holiday involved spending hours searching printed brochures before visiting a local travel agent to book — a process that technology would later revolutionize.
It wasn’t until 1994 when technology really started to have an impact on the travel industry as a whole. Travelweb.com, which started life as an online hotel listings catalogue, quickly developed to include a booking functionality. A key individual in establishing Travelweb.com was John Davis, who later formed Pegasus; influencers in reservation technology.
This marked high street travel agents’ loss of control over how consumers accessed information around travel and holidays. As information migrated online, travel brochures no longer monopolized this sphere. The still-popular Lonely Planet had a big impact on this…
Lonely Planet, now branded as the world’s most iconic travel guide, is widely considered a thought leader within the travel industry. Starting life as a series of printed guidebooks, the franchise made the leap online in 1995, launching a website to share its unique travel advice with the masses. The move triggered a domino effect, with thousands of other travel guides moving to the digital arena.
The brainchild of technology giant Microsoft, Expedia entered the game in 1996. Now recognized as one of the world’s leading online travel agents, the brand recognized early potential in digital travel and capitalized on it. At this point, technology and travel momentum really accelerated.
Of course, the launch of Google in 1996 had a huge impact on the travel industry, as it did with many other sectors. As the first port-of-call for the vast majority of users, competition between travel agents heated up in a bid to secure advertising on this lucrative platform.
The Acceleration Of Online Bookings And Online Travel Agents
With the relationship between technology and travelling firmly established, the years following saw this accelerate. The rise of low-cost airlines, including household names EasyJet and Ryanair, worked to further drive customers online. Marketing strategies designed to cut costs and speak directly to consumers encouraged users to book online, adding weight to the marriage of travel and technology.
1998 saw the addition of solely online travel specialist Lastminute.com. In 2005, the company was bought for almost £600 million, illustrating the value this emerging market, while the brand name alone worked to cement booking holidays as an online process.
Recognizing a shift in consumer behavior, high street travel agents began to make the shift to online. For example, in 1997, Thomas Cook was the first of the traditional high street travel agents to launch a website where users could book holidays and buy currency online.
Nowadays, ABTA’s Holiday Habits Report 2017 shows that a huge 83% of holidays are booked online, compared to 76% in 2016. With an appetite for digital growing between holidaymakers, just 17% of people surveyed in 2017 booked their holidays in person, compared to 19% in 2016.
However, this isn’t to say the traditional travel agent has been shunned. While digital trends are shifting through the emergence of alternative booking methods, the ABTA report found that 45% of all holidays abroad are booked with a travel agent or company. This shows that users are simply changing how they book, rather than where they book.
The Influence Of Online Reviews
Similar to how Lonely Planet’s website changed how holidaymakers researched potential destinations online, reviews now play a huge part in how users select hotels, excursions and where to eat and drink during their trip. From 2000 onwards, online reviews stormed the market.
In February 2000, holiday review platform TripAdvisor was founded in a small office above a pizza shop in Massachusetts. Its purpose was a professional reviewing platform, but travelers began using it as a hotel reviewing platform, with its first consumer review posted the following year.
Expanded to include restaurant, bar and attraction reviews, the platform now hosts in excess of 600 million reviews. Each month, the site receives 455 million unique website users.
However, while review sites were undeniably new when they launched, they simply digitalize the personal recommendations customers have been using for years to choose hotels and destinations. Essentially, they make word of mouth widespread — it’s not the process that’s new, it’s the format.
Holidaymakers clearly value online reviews, with one PhoCusWright study revealing that a huge 83% of people use reviews to help them choose a hotel. 80% will read between six and 12 reviews before booking, while just over half will not book until they have read reviews.
The Rise Of Social Media And Its Impact On The Travel Industry
A central component of the marriage of travel and technology is social media. Since their launch, sites like Instagram and Facebook have become the playground for holiday bragging. They’re the place where holidaymakers can share their holiday snaps — much to the envy of their followers.
Many travel brands nowadays have accounts on these social media platforms and use their presence to inspire their followers to travel. Whether it’s a shot of a stunning location shared on a grim Monday morning or posting a too-good-to-be-true deal, travel brands are making social media work for them — and it’s paying off.
87% of Facebook users find travel inspiration on the site, while over on Pinterest, there are over 1,000 boards titled ‘travel inspiration’. 60% of travelers overall — and a huge 97% of Millennial travelers — share travel photos online. Although not directly posted by travel companies, this level of exposure is fueling the travel industry overall by inspiring people to visit new destinations. In fact, you could argue that social media is the modern-day equivalent of a travel brochure.
Powered By Smartphones & Mobile Applications
The rise of smartphones has affected how people search for and book holidays. While not directly responsible for this shift, credit must be given to Apple’s iPhone. The first iteration was released in 2007 and marked a major milestone in how and where people access the internet. It also gave rise to the App Store, which quickly became home to many dedicated travel apps.
With access to the internet available 24 hours a day, 20% of all holidays booked online in 2017 were done via mobile phone, according to the ABTA Holiday Habits Report 2017. When looking at younger generations, this figure jumps to 37% of 18-24 year olds and 35% for 25-34 year olds.
In fact, research has shown that smartphone users are more likely to make a last-minute booking. 89% of last-minute bookings are done on a mobile, likely a result of the increased convenience the devices offer.
To further target this smartphone user, some travel companies have created mobile applications. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the booking rates on these apps is high. Because a user has downloaded the app to their device, rather than making a fleeting visit to a website, it can be assumed that their purchase intent is greater. Research has found that for those companies who offer mobile applications, mobile accounted for 60% of their total bookings.
Apps quickly became available to support each stage of the holiday-booking process. In 2010, TripAdvisor launched their own review app, while Skyscanner is used by millions to find cheap flights.
Of course, many smartphone users have also installed social media apps on their phones. This combination of a growing mobile audience with dedicated travel and social media apps is unlocking opportunities for travel companies, allowing them to better connect with potential customers.
The Rise Of Digital Detox Retreats
Despite digital transforming how travelers find and book their holidays, there’s actually a growing appetite for travelers to escape their devices and ’log off’ as part of their travel experience.
Introducing ‘digital detoxes’, where the individual does not use electronic devices in order to achieve more balance and mindfulness. Businesses like itstimetologoff.com are dedicated to helping people achieve more balance, by offering digital detox retreats and advice on breaking the habit. Some of their facts are:
- UK adults spend an average of 8 hours 41 minutes a day on screens and 25 hours a week online.
- 62% of UK adults say they ‘hate’ how much time they spend on their phone.
With regards to holidays, 60% of people polled by itstimetologoff.com admitted that their holidays did not relieve stress, and that they still checked emails and calls, which can cause stress.
How To Travel Without Technology
If you are interested in taking part in your own digital detox, there are now a number of ways you can travel successfully without relying on technology. Here are some tips for turning your next holiday into something of a digital detox:
- Leave your devices at home. If you feel like battling technology’s influence cold turkey, leaving your devices behind is a great first step. If you are concerned about contacting home, use the facilities at your hotel.
- Limit your screen time. If leaving your device at home is a step that is too big, aim to reduce your screen time. Designate a certain time a day for your party to check devices and lock them away the rest of the time so you aren’t tempted.
- Tell people you’re switching off. By informing people getting in touch that you’re taking a digital detox, you give yourself permission to disappear from your devices for a small time.
- Delete your social media apps. This will remove the temptation of checking them.
- Get active. A change to routine like going for a walk will distract you from being away from your device and help you to appreciate your chosen destination more.
Have you ever considered a digital detox when traveling? Where you successful? What steps did you use to make it work for you? Let us know in a comment below!
Author Bio: An experienced traveller across the American continent, Laura Driver packed her bags and moved to the South of England for some time working as a copywriter, before moving back to the North East to really immerse herself in her Geordie roots. Laura currently loves writing about her trips to the USA and Mexico, as well as for Journey Latin America: https://www.