We've all felt like Neal Page, the highly-strung marketing executive played by Steve Martin in the 1987 comedy classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, when our travel plans go awry. Perhaps, it's inclement weather or just plain bad luck - but whatever the reason, frustration can creep into our travels faster than Del Griffith (played by the indomitable John Candy) can steal your taxi. Compound this frustration with the disjointed travel booking process and it can be a recipe for disaster.
When we book travel, we have a simple objective in mind: to get from A to B in the most efficient manner possible. Of course, there will be variations in travellers' priorities, but what all travellers have in common is the need to be able to search and book a journey that is tailored to their individual needs.
Often, travellers need to use many different modes of transportation during a single journey, for example, a coach to the airport followed by a flight, followed by a train to the final destination. This is hardly a new idea for travellers - but it is now getting a lot of attention from travel providers, technology companies and regulatory bodies, who recognise that, given the variety of travel modes and traveller preferences, searching for and booking a suitable journey today can be a tricky and fragmented process.
At the moment, we're a long way from the ideal scenario where anyone, regardless of their travel preferences, can seamlessly search for and book a journey that includes multiple modes of transportation. The situation is far from ideal and can prove to be hugely frustrating for the would-be traveller.
We are increasingly seeing the need for a more united, 'multimodal' approach to the search and booking stage of travel. Travellers are becoming more demanding, and want to be able to easily view all the travel options available to them. In an ideal world, a traveller would be able to search and book all legs of a multimodal journey in a single, integrated system that aggregates information from different travel providers and transport modes and displays a range of potential journey options that they could then book and pay for in one simple transaction. Once on the journey, the traveller would be able to see real-time travel and disruption information, allowing them to easily rebook onto another mode of transport in the face of delays or cancellations.
At the moment, some transport modes, such as rail, are not yet fully integrated into the travel ecosystem. Travellers don't always know there is a potential train service for their particular journey, because it's just not visible at that particular point of the travel selection process. Rail operators need to make their information available and connect themselves with other transport modes in order to provide the customer with genuine choice.
We have seen some encouraging progress with companies investing in search mechanisms to create door-to-door journey planning websites that allow travellers to search for multimodal routes by entering the start and end points of their proposed journey, before presenting them with all legs of the suggested journey on one page. Use one such site, Rome2Rio, to search for 'London to Warsaw', for example, and you're presented with multiple options to get to your destination with accompanying cost estimates and expected journey durations. There are a host of similar search engine sites which have emerged over recent years, but while they may boast wonderful search functionality, capable of returning hundreds of different journey options, what they don't do is offer the ability for the traveller to actually make a booking! Instead, having selected a journey option, the traveller will find themselves redirected to the travel providers' sites to book the different legs of their journey, where they will often have to begin the search process all over again!
It's clear that more has to be done to link the process of shopping and booking. Any system that facilitates the booking element of a multimodal journey would need to have access to content from a wide variety of operators across different transport modes, which from a technical standpoint is a serious undertaking. But the potential opportunities to pave the way towards a truly multimodal travel experience are huge.
This is the vision being championed by the European Commission, which is aiming to create a multimodal transport infrastructure across Europe. The EC is the driving force behind projects such as the Amadeus-led All Ways Travelling (AWT) consortium, which is working to address the need for a multimodal, pan-European passenger transport information and booking system. While many companies have been involved in trying to crack the code in this complex challenge, AWT is the closest the industry has got so far in potentially coming up with concrete examples of how multimodality could become a reality.
We can't control the weather or luck for that matter - but travel providers have it within their power to make the travel booking process smoother and easier for everyone. Looking forward, it's an exciting time for the traveller as demands for a seamless multimodal journey will become the impetus for change. It's then up to the travel industry to listen and respond so there are less scenes like Neal Page's frustration fuelled tirade at the car rental agency.