"Do you think we are missing something?" my girlfriend asks tentatively, as we walk into Heathrow Terminal 4 with just a large backpack and our hand luggage. The same gnawing feeling is eating away at me. It feels like we are woefully underprepared. Then I realise, we have:
• No boarding passes
• No city guides
• No maps
• No accommodation details
• No camera
Just one iPhone each, and our luggage. Despite the fact we are travelling to India for the first time, we have very few physical things except for clothes and toiletries. It was only at this moment did it become clear how much apps have changed the way that we travel.
The journey began weeks before, booking through Skyscanner after eventually deciding on our flights. Later, we were able to download our boarding passes to our Apple Wallet, with no physical documentation required except for the e-Visa to India - which by comparison seemed outdated.
As we do on all our trips now, we booked all our accommodation through AirBnB, communicating with our hosts through the app prior to arrival. Once we landed, just like in London, we booked an Uber to pick us up and take us through the streets of New Delhi to our host home using the airport wifi. After dropping off our luggage, we jumped straight on TripAdvisor and looked at our saved list of destinations to go.
Different location, but same digital platforms.
The prevalence of these platforms in the developing world was something unexpected, and felt like a comfort blanket amongst the culture shock of Delhi. The feedback mechanisms in these platforms develop more intuitive trust than certified hotels or taxi drivers. This new experience resides in some middle ground between the separation of backpacking and the organisation of tour operators.
Sure, we still rode in Tuk-Tuks and followed our hosts recommendations. We saw things that were totally unexpected, and had experiences that we could not have predicted; the joy of travelling.
The majority of our time was spent completely offline - only using our host homes' wifi when required. But the feeling of isolation from the world at home in London never came. This could be seen for better or for worse. At the benefit of gaining a more connected and safer trip, we lost some of the escapism that all travellers crave.
A particular difficulty was that nearly every app required a continuous wifi connection, and this was simply not available in lots of places. There is particular room for improvement for some platforms around nurturing the best possible offline mode. TripAdvisor's ability to download city guides and Google Maps' option to download cities to view in offline mode both proved invaluable in getting around, and showed the power these tools can have.
What will this trend of increased app use mean for the future of travel? It is only going to become more connected as these platforms develop to become more available throughout the world, and wifi connections become the norm. Platforms managing to strike the balance between being touchpoints to provide confidence abroad whilst not intruding in the escapism wanted from travelling will be a crucial line to tread for businesses.
For consumers, I expect the 'get up and go' travelling trend to accelerate greatly. With less organisation required as everything can be booked quickly and simply through trusted platforms, going away at short notice and changing plans will become even easier. This way, a generation growing up with the ability to travel quickly and effectively will rise with these demands.
The world is becoming more connected than ever, and no industry will see bigger changes than travel.
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