The digital era has made travel all over the world almost effortless. According to a Google Travel study, at least 74 per cent of travellers today plan their trips online, while only 13 per cent still use travel agencies.
One can surf the internet for ideas on destinations, choose and book activities, compare accommodation facilities on travel apps, make bookings online, get an e-visa and even share their adventure with the world.
Besides exposing seasoned and new travellers to different, exotic locations the internet has become a logistical facilitator for the travel industry.
On the flip side, probably propped up by the need to manage this burgeoning travelling populace better, is a technological revolution of sorts.
Among the most important and common smart travel offerings that have come up are solutions like e-passports, electronic visa on arrival, e-visa products, biometric smart gates and other smart infrastructure, which are increasingly being introduced at several border and immigration checkpoints.
The United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that about 1.8 billion tourists are set to travel globally by 2030.
Head of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, said these could be 1.8 billion long-lasting “opportunities” or a “disaster” for the planet.
In the wake of trends in artificial intelligence, block chain automation and machine learning, it is only a matter of time before the travel trade and allied industries integrate these advancements in their day-to-day operations—win-win for both companies and customers.
Take for instance, Google’s mapping programme via Google Maps and its latest addition, Local Guides. The app connects tourists with actual people to help them navigate their location.
“We’re thrilled to announce that we’re piloting a new in-app feature in Google Maps that will allow people to discover new places with help from local guides,” said Google in their Maps support website.
Trials of this new addition started in September last year in nine cities worldwide and “people will soon be able to follow select local guides for recommendations on places and experiences to try nearby. The nine cities are London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Delhi, Osaka, and Mexico City.”
People exploring these cities can see featured local guides by using the ‘For You tab’ of the Google Maps app.
VFS Global’s regional group COO, Jiten Vyas, said the use of technology in document issuance has also changed the overall travel experience for the better. Technology has streamlined and customised the traditionally stringent visa processes.
“A case in point is the innovative ‘Visa at Your Doorstep’ solution, which brings the visa application and biometrics process to the customer’s doorstep. Technology has allowed the application setup, including the biometric kit, to be taken to customers living far away from visa application centres,” said Mr Vyas.
He added that VFS had also come up with Location Independent Document Processing (LIDPro) for client governments, to allow consulates to remotely process visa applications submitted in another country, resulting in considerable time and resource savings for the government.
However, technology has also heightened concerns of data protection and privacy.