How will automation, authenticity and blockchain help define the future of travel?

Technology provider to the global travel industry, Sabre Corporation, highlights automation, authenticity and blockchain as key areas of the evolving travel technology landscape and has investigated their evolution in its recently released ‘Sabre Labs 2018 Emerging Technology Report’ a forecast focused on evolving technologies and trends that will impact travel over the next decade.

“Increasingly, people are coming to understand that the travel business is really a technology business,” explains Philip Likens, director of its Sabre Labs innovation team. “Even the simplest journey generates huge amounts of data. Collecting, indexing and understanding that data – and how we apply that understanding to improve every traveller’s experience – is what will drive real innovation across the entire travel ecosystem.”

Whether it is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automate and optimise tasks, the counter-intuitive ability to deliver authentic experiences digitally, or using new protocols (such as distributed ledgers) so a traveller can head to the airport and leave their wallet and identification at home – on purpose – technology is clearly going to reshape the travel experience, highlights Sabre.

The report offers an extensive analysis of these three major areas which the innovation team at Sabre Labs believes will have the most significant impact on the industry over the coming years.

Automation

Automation is not a new idea. However, advancements in AI and machine learning offer the “potential for step-changes” in how we may be served in our digital environment, acknowledges Sabre.

“The industrial revolution was about technology augmenting our muscles; The digital revolution is about technology augmenting our minds.” Sabre Labs 2018 Emerging Technology Report  

Awareness and cognitive capacity for machines suggest a huge range of opportunities for those serving the travel space to completely rethink when and what to sell, how to staff and operate their businesses, and how to anticipate and exceed their own customers’ needs.

“The broad arc of near-term automation is full of challenges, but also full of potential,” says the report. “There are incredible opportunities for the travel industry to turn the expected economic growth of digital automation into a more prosperous and human-first experience.”

But, success in the era of digital automation will depend largely on adaptability and as Sabre notes: “As it’s always been, automation is a means to an end: all automation is augmentation of the broader human experience”.

Authenticity

In our current age, trust is in low supply – so authenticity and authentic experiences are more valuable than ever, but can be hard to define. As the report notes “authenticity swims amidst a sea of interwoven concepts: trust, transparency, reliability, fairness, novelty, scarcity, certainty, credibility, integrity, simplicity, justice, confidence, meaning, friendship, #nofilter”.

“Authenticity is about being able to create—or recreate— an experience of simplicity, certainty and trust.” Sabre Labs 2018 Emerging Technology Report  

Together these form part of a digital age paradox: limitless information has delivered amazing value, but it has also made it hard to filter what is real and know who to trust. As the report highlights: “authenticity is valued because it builds trust, but authenticity should never be conflated with truth”.

But parallel to this, businesses do increasingly need to rely on technology and digitisation to interact with their customers at scale, but many see technology in tension with authenticity and businesses find it hard to reconcile augmented and virtual realities with authenticity.

“Authenticity is about agreement, and it benefits all parties to be honest, and to often strive to provide novelty. The evolving on-demand, sharing economy is a key way this is playing out in travel,” Sabre highlights in the emerging technology report.

Personal experience—and sharing your experience—has become the highest commodity in travel, highlights Sabre, and no amount of loyalty points, status, perks or discounts can replace the customer experience. Within the travel ecosystem, emerging technologies should be “seen as tools, not as mandates,” it recommends

“Travellers have no shortage of options, but they do have a shortage of time and of attention. In a world of infinite choices, reliably simplifying decision making is one of the greatest services a brand can provide,” the report adds.

Blockchain

A buzzword of our current time, but still a term of confusion to many as cryptocurrency headlines overshadow the value in the underlying blockchain technology. But separating crypto hype and its price volatility from the actual potential of distributed ledger technology – which enable secure, “trustless” transactions to take place – can be hard to do, says Sabre.

“Blockchains don’t eliminate the need for trust. instead, they shift where the trust is placed and how it’s distributed.” Sabre Labs 2018 Emerging Technology Report  

Cryptocurrencies are just one of countless possible uses for blockchain, but getting to other uses and the broader blockchain landscape “requires pushing through the noise,” says Sabre, but it is certainly worth the effort from a travel related standpoint.

If 2017 was the year blockchain exploded into public consciousness, 2018 could see a “shift to focus on regulation and its role in long-term growth and adoption,” notes Sabre. “Imagine heading off on a round-the-world trip without having to bring your passport or wallet,” says Sabre, selling the potential value of blockchain technology to the everyday traveller.

The report says the long-arc of blockchain is likely to prove the near-term problems of the technology will “largely be solvable with more experimentation and continued maturity in the blockchain space” as the rough edges of the technology are smoothed out.

Despite its youth, it appears blockchain is poised to grow up to achieve great things, changing the global perception of digital value,” predicts Sabre, but warns that as “a new kind of creature” no one “can accurately predict how quickly it will mature” in the current environment”. “Regardless, all appearances are that blockchain is a powerful tool only beginning to see its potential,” it concludes.

LEARN MORE – Download the full Sabre Labs 2018 Emerging Technology Report