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The State of Travel Tech

a smartphone with a 3D plane emerging from the screen, the future for travel tech startups

It’s a wonderful time for the world of travel technologies, with a number of disruptive software and hardware improvements shaking up the industry in the past few years. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and many other bold ideas, travel tech is at an all-time high in decades. It’s not just big names taking advantage of this amazing time – even travel startups all over the United States and around the world are increasing their investments.

Travel Tech Investment Trends

Most Active Travel tech VCsTravel tech, along with online startups, raised an impressive $15 billion to date since 2013. Based on data from CBInsights, not only has this happened across at least 1,300 deals – it turns out that 2017 and 2018 are the perfect times for these deals to increase.

In fact, CBInsights data also revealed that in 2017 alone, there were 348 investment deals amounting to nearly $5.3 billion – the top deal coming from Virgin Galactic, a space travel company aiming to launch commercial flights by this year. Backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, this was part of the country’s diverse plan of adding more to its economy other than its main source: oil. 

Other notable 2017 investments were Airbnb’s Series F investment amounting to $447 million, Indonesia’s Traveloka and their $350 million Series B funding from Expedia, and TuJia’s $300 million Series E funding from Chinese OTA Ctrip and other venture capitalists (VCs).

On the subject of VCs supporting the travel tech industry, companies like 500 Startups from the US have led the path. They invested in 16 unique bold ideas since 2013, including Voya, a personal travel agent powered by AI, as well as home sharing startup Misterb&B, an LGBT-friendly platform similar to Airbnb.

Travel tech is changing, and more established names like Expedia, TripAdvisor, and other similar online travel agencies (OTAs) are banking on the disruptive tech in order to stay relevant. For instance, Expedia also acquired Germany-based Trivago, while Priceline acquired United Kingdom-based Momondo.

Bold Travel Tech Ideas

With more and more innovations coming to light over the past five or six years, the travel industry keeps experiencing shakeups in the most positive ways. The rise of mobile tech allowed companies to cater to the rise of spontaneous or on-demand travel situations, such as booking a flight just a few days away or getting accommodation through home-sharing apps and hotels only after arrival.

On-Demand Mobile Tech

Kayak’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Giorgios Zacharia revealed that their users often book spontaneously and have the nomad lifestyle in mind. “More than half of our searches are for one-way flights,” he said, as plenty of their users book for only one or two nights then move on to another destination. Kayak’s sister site Booking created an app called Booking Now to address this demand for short hotel stays, similar to how apps like Couchsurfing and Overnight help travelers book bed spaces akin to popular on-demand car services Uber and Lyft.

Biometric and Cloud Passports

The idea of not needing to carry a passport around is ideal for many travelers, especially since it means no more lost passports, passport renewals, and identity theft. Australia is one of the first countries to establish a biometric passport, allowing its citizens to travel to certain countries effortlessly through a “SmartGate.” Julie Bishop, their Minister for Foreign Affairs, wants to introduce virtual passports as well, taking advantage of cloud computing and blockchain.

In the US, border control in the Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and Seattle airports have been testing Mobile Passport Control, an app that lets users submit their information electronically. The US Customs and Border Protection officer just needs to scan their QR code. At present, American passport holders using this tech still need to take their physical passports with them, but the idea of eventually not needing to is there.

Automation and Robotics

Another big trend in travel tech is having apps and robots do certain tasks such as when travelers request housekeeping, checking into a hotel, or contacting a concierge. Big hotel chains like the Hilton and Marriott have already invested in such apps, and world-famous Burj Khalifa’s Armani Hotel in Dubai offers 24-karat gold iPads with a built-in concierge app for their guests.

At airports and airlines, automation plays a big role. United Airlines offer rebooking of missed flights through their app, while Delta Airlines allow virtual boarding passes and help users track their luggage through all stops in their app as well.

Personalized Travel

Experts from Carlson Wagonlit Travel noted that the personalized travel trend not only helps people individually – it can boldly impact the travel industry as we know it. Big data analytics have helped apps like Hopper predict the increase or decrease of airfare pricing. Today, this same technology has helped Disney’s MyMagic+ wristband personalize visitors’ Disney amusement park experiences through data collected both from online and when the person visits the resort.

Virtual Reality (VR) Travel

Marriott released their Travel Brilliantly campaign in 2015, making the thought of armchair traveling a reality. Through gear from Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, people can “travel” and explore faraway destinations – a virtual tour that can “help you make better travel decisions” according to Michael Dail, Vice President for Global Brand Marketing at Marriott International’s Hotels and Resorts.

Virtual Travel Agent

Artificial intelligence is really taking the world by storm for a few years now, and travel tech is no exception. Services like Hipmunk take the burden out of planning through their Hello Hipmunk feature – a service that automatically finds and emails a person a list of options similar to how a chatbot works. A sentence like “@hipmunk, find me airfare between Seattle and New York.” The user (and their friends, if planning with other people), will then receive an email with Hipmunk’s suggestions.

Maybe it’s the demand of millennials who prefer to sit behind a screen, or the dramatic increase of wonderful pieces of technology. Either way, travel has become less of a burden and more of an enjoyable experience thanks to these amazing ideas and innovations. We could only expect for more bold ideas to go from imagination to reality in the years to come.

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