Airlines, hotels, travel & tourism

All about me

Photo albums, gathering dust on the shelf, have gone the way of vinyl, transistor radios and videotapes and only one third of Britons still use them. But photos are burgeoning: Britons take 1.9 billion every month and share 328 million of them online. They keep them on computers, tablets and smartphones. Some don’t even bother, if they have a phone app called Snapchat, which deletes photos after 10 seconds.

Around a third of photos taken by 18-24 year olds are “selfies”, or self-portraits taken with the camera held at arm’s length. Young men are more likely to take them than women. About 20% of people take photos intending to post them on Facebook or Instagram, sometimes straightaway. Considering so many of them are selfies, that’s a lot of people putting themselves out there.

Of course, self-portraits are nothing new – from Narcissus gazing into the pond, to Ancient Egypt, and the 15th century invention of the mirror allowing artists to paint themselves. Instagram was launched in 2010 and, combined with the mobile phone, now everybody can look at themselves for almost no cost at all. Self indulgence, perhaps, but is there anything wrong with it?

Sometimes it can be hard to know when to stop snapping. Some people are so busy taking photographs that they can’t relax and, in some ways, miss the holiday they are having. Researchers are discovering that people can be too distracted by online activity (parents holding up iPads when their little Johnny is on stage at the school concert?).

In fact, a UK Post Office study of 2,000 holidaymakers found more than one in three stage manage their photos to look good on social networking websites. It’s all a far cry from that precious Kodak film of 24 photos, where you only had one chance to get each one ‘right’. But stage-managing photos to make others jealous? Will we ever snap out of it?

Ref: The Daily Telegraph (UK), 17 June 2013, Family albums fade as the young put only themselves in picture. M Hall.
The Daily Telegraph (UK), 30 July 2013, The holiday you never had because you were too busy taking photos. G Cooper.
Ottawa Citizen (Canada), 20 November 2013, Goofy, sexy or drunken, selfies now stretch through generations. L Italie.
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Search words: smartphone, Instagram, selfie, iPad, film, user-generated content, albums, Facebook, self-portrait, narcissism, Snapchat.
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Flying without a pilot

It may be hard to imagine travelling in a driverless car, because you’re used to driving. But imagine travelling in a pilotless plane – now that takes some courage. A new project, the so-called Jetstream mission, is already underway in England to develop an airplane that can safely fly passengers just as today’s commercial aircraft do, but without a pilot. While Jetstream does not carry passengers and still has a pilot at this stage, the chances are, a pilotless plane will be ready before a driverless car.

The $US99 million project is staged by Autonomous Systems Technology Related Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA), and is backed by the government and seven European aerospace companies, including Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems. In America, regulators have been asked to include unmanned airplanes into air traffic control by 2015.

Unmanned planes can do more than take passengers on their annual holidays or business trips. They are practical for traffic monitoring, border patrols, or checking power lines. They are also ideal for potentially dangerous situations, such as forest fires or nuclear accidents, or for carrying freight and express parcels. Clearly there are profits to be made in this global civilian market: more than $US50 billion by 2020 some analysts predict.

Another innovation, somewhat futuristic, proposes that a wing can be clipped on to a train cabin or capsule at a rail station to create a plane that then flies out to the next city. This is the ‘Clip-Air’ project and its Swiss inventors say it will make fleet management more flexible and save fuel, by carrying as many passengers as three A320s, with half the engines.

Airports and railway stations would be transformed. With no need for pilots in planes, trains or cars, travel could become much cheaper. But where are the jobs?

Ref: The Economist (UK), 24 November 2013, This is your ground pilot speaking. Anon.
Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 12 June 2013, The future of air travel? The plane with ‘clip on’ cabins. Anon.
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Search words: Paris Air Show, ‘Clip-Air’ capsules, passengers, cargo, train, fleet management fuel consumption, rail tracks, Jetstream, unmanned, Autonomous Systems Technology Related Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA), traffic monitoring, police surveillance, express parcels, civil airspace.
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Lonely Planet gets lonelier

In When to snap out of it, above, we witnessed the demise of the humble photo album. It looks like the friendly guidebook is going the same way, if the experience of Lonely Planet is anything to go by. BBC Worldwide bought the business in 2007 for 130 million UK pounds only to sell it for 80 million UK pounds in March 2013 to a very rich Kentucky trader. What happened? The internet, through TripAdvisor, Triposo and Gogobot, swept many guidebooks off the shelf.

Who needs to carry a heavy guidebook, written by a limited number of people (British, white) who may or may not have vested interests, when everything you need to know is readily available via WiFi in the town where you’ve just landed? Not only that, people have carefully reviewed the place where you want to stay, told you where the cheapest food is, and recommended a local club. It may be chaotic and patchy at times, but travellers have learned to trust social media, above journalists, for their needs on holiday, as well as at home.

Sales of Lonely Planet guidebooks fell 46% between 2005 and 2012 in Britain, and by 40% between 2007 and 2012 in America, just about the time social media unleashed a new business model. Google bought Frommer’s in 2012 for a mere $23 million, only slightly more than its 2011 revenues.

What’s next? The very reclusive and private buyer of Lonely Planet may well use it to further his strong environmental interests. Or the brand may have to recreate itself in a social media guise to survive. According to the founder of, the new model is not even travel apps per se, but social apps – just people talking to each other about where they’ve been. And trusting what they hear.

Ref: The Sunday Times (UK), 28 July 2013, The Lonely Planet looks rather empty from up here in cyberspace. O Thring.
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Search words: Lonely Planet, guidebook, BBC Worldwide, internet, WiFi, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Gogobot, Triposo, social media, nostalgia.
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Telepresence meets virtual reality

Not only is the era of travel guidebooks ending, but the very concept of travel is being redefined. Watching a documentary of a place you want to go is nothing, compared to being able to experience it in 3D. New technologies offer the experience of travel without even leaving the room. Now the combination of telepresence and virtual reality (VR) is being used for long-distance communication and for a massive archaeology project in northern Italy.

Using 3D glasses and Microsoft Kinect (a motion-sensing input device), lifesize images of up to six people can be sent to distant locations and recreated in virtual space, like holograms. Sensors on the 3D glasses track each person’s location, movement and angle of their head, so each person sees something from their own perspective (unlike a movie where you all see from the same angle). Each person can see the others, interact, and manipulate virtual objects. This means in practice, for example, that car designers in California can walk around a car in Germany and point to different features – even point to them – without getting on a (pilotless?) plane.

The archaeology project, called Pitoti, is something else entirely. It captures in 3D, using satellites, scanners, cameras and drones, in minute detail, tens of thousands of figurines cut into the rock faces of the Val Camonica valley 10,000-2,000 years ago. The project also recreates the appearance of the rock at different times of day. This is crucial as it may be the earliest form of 3D proto-cinema where, when the light is low, all the marks on the rock pop out in a spectacular show. The project has been dubbed an “immersive recreation”.

Virtual worlds and games were the early beginnings of immersive recreation. Immersive technologies, which blur the line between the physical and digital or simulated world, are likely to dominate in the early future as we continue to want to ‘step outside ourselves’ into other desired worlds. They may be real or imagined. How will this affect our experience of home? And how will it affect our desire for physical travel?

Ref: New Scientist (UK), 13 April 2013, There in person, virtually. C Brahic.
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Search words:virtual reality (VR), Microsoft Kinect, telepresence, 3D glasses, VR-Hyperspace, avatar, car designers, IEEE Virtual Reality, Pitoti, rock art, satellites, scanners, cameras, 3D proto-cinema.
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Travel in the sharing economy

If you’ve never heard of Airbnb, the chances are you don’t travel much. Airbnb, shortened from ‘airbed BnB’ is part of what is called the ‘sharing economy’, where ordinary people rent out a room or entire home to a traveller for an agreed period. Airbnb takes 6-12% per booking and one booking is currently made every two seconds; its growth is exponential. The well-established Intercontinental hotel chain sells 100 million nights a year, but Airbnb is not far behind with 55 million. From 1 million to 4 million users of the site during 2012 alone, there is no doubt it has found a niche.

Tourism is the biggest industry in the world, surprisingly, even bigger than oil and gas, or finance, generating 10% of global GDP. Airbnb has found a valuable piece of it. It offers everyone the chance to make money, a form of microcapitalism. Anyone who has a spare room, or wants to go away for a trip themselves, can capitalise on their empty space. It is democratic. Moreover, Airbnb comes with a 24-hour hotline, $50,000 damage guarantee, and every place, host and visitor is reviewed.

There are others like it. and Roomarama are two. Onefinestay is a more ‘curated’ experience with the fluffy towels and toiletries. It says you have the chance to “stay in an unhotel – someone’s place while they’re out of town”. The idea of the unhotel is interesting, as it implies almost that people are fed up with hotels and are looking for a more intimate experience. At the same time, Airbnb allows everyone to play at being a hotelier, albeit limited by law, and tap into their own sense of hospitality, rather than one ordained from a company boardroom. It’s non-corporate room service, with the human touch.

Ref: The Observer (UK), 15 September 2013, A spare room website: game over for hotels? C Cadwalladr.,,
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Search words: Airbnb, sharing economy, hotel industry, bookings, Hilton, tourism, Ramada Inn, guarantee, microcapitalism, illegal hotel.
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