Airlines, hotels, travel & tourism

Dumb and dumber?

According to some of the inventions displayed at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at Las Vegas last year, the future of travel will consist of lots and lots of robots. We’ll see. One idea that might catch on, especially for elderly or obese travellers, is a robotic suitcase that follows you around like an obedient dog. The bag, designed by a Chinese company, is a Segway-like creation on two wheels featuring ultra-wide-band radio positioning that enables it to follow a passenger carrying a beacon in their pocket (or presumably a phone in the future). OK, that might work. So might a wearable UV sensor developed by L’Oréal. It sends you a message via your phone when you’ve been in the sun too long or might need to reapply your sunscreen.

Then we have Travis the Translator, a modern-day Babel Fish device. Why bother, when there’s Google Translate and various other contenders? But the prize for the most stupid idea (or maybe not) must surely go to LG, who have unveiled no less than three travel-bots, called the Porter, the Server and the Shopper. I’m probably wrong, but if you spend your days (and nights) surrounded by tech, surely the one thing you don’t want when you go on holiday is even more tech? The future is human and high touch, not machine-driven and high tech.

Ref: Sunday Times (UK) 14.01.18, ‘The future is here – and it kicks bot’ by C. Haslam.

Feedback fatigue

Have you got feedback fatigue? No? Then you must have missed the explosion of happy-or-not smiley buttons constantly asking how your airport security/seating/toilet cleanliness experience has been. Believe it or not, “Happy Or Not" is actually the name of a Finnish company behind these smiley-or-not faces and they’ve now been installed in 160 airports across 36 countries, thereby giving real-time feedback on which travellers are happiest and which are angriest.

So how long before this idea is extended to school lessons, hospital visits, work, or even your death bed? Personally, I’ve had enough. I no longer leave feedback on eBay and tend to avoid Uber for this reason alone.

Ref: Daily Telegraph (UK) 10.03.18, Smiley faces hit the right buttons by G. Dickinson.

Peak tourism

In 2016, 1.2 billion people travelled abroad for leisure purposes. Overall, tourism employs one in ten people globally and is responsible for ten per cent of global GDP (£5.8 trillion). The industry still has huge potential for growth too, with only one in ten Chinese citizens currently holding a passport. The sheer scale of tourism has significant impacts on climate, resources, sustainability and most of all, perhaps, overcrowding, with many cities like Venice being overwhelmed. The consequences include destinations such as Ibiza and Majorca in Spain capping tourist bed numbers and sea ports limiting the size, or number, of ships that are allowed to dock. Small destinations such as Mount Athos in Northern Greece are directly limiting tourist numbers during peak summer periods too, in this case to just 115 people each day.

In the future, whole countries may impose limits on tourist numbers, with the result that travellers may have to book years in advance to see various sites or sprawl on various beaches. At the extreme, there are even people who regard all travel as a sinful, selfish luxury and believe that all tourists should either be heavily taxed or banned from travelling outright. (Best not to mention to these people that the fashion and textile industries contribute more to carbon emissions than air travel and shipping combined.) As the global middle class expands and people earn the chance to travel for the first time, things are heading for a crunch, especially in Europe, which is overcrowded in many areas even before you add tourism to the mix.

Part of the problem, of course, is that almost everyone wants to go to roughly the same places at roughly the same times of year. Out-of-season travel is one solution. Out-of-the-way places is another, but as many of the world’s regular tourist destinations become unsafe due to either terrorism or climate, things are further constrained.

Pricing is another solution, especially via tourist or entry taxes, but unless this is income-related, it favours the rich just as travel did over a century ago. As with most things economic, the decisions regarding how to tackle this will inevitably be political.

Ref: The Times (UK) 12.08.17, the price is right: how to fix the world’s tourist problem’ by E. Lucas.

Plane crazy

Following on from planes featuring standing room only comes the equally silly idea of planes with no windows. The thought, according to Emirates, is that a fuselage without windows is not only structurally stronger, but lighter, meaning a plane could fly faster and higher and burn less fuel. Aerodynamics would also be marginally improved. But would you really want to be on a plane with no windows?

One solution might be to project images from outside the plane onto virtual “windows” on the inside, but surely this still falls foul of some basic human psychology. People want to see where they are and where they are going. It’s a bit like the idea of business-class-only planes. The guilty pleasure of turning left is eliminated if there’s nobody else turning right as you enter the plane.

Ref: ‘Would you like an aisle, middle or wall seat sir?’ Possibly Daily Telegraph (lost source)

Staying closer to home

At what point does a nation stop looking outwards and start turning its gaze inwards? It’s long been known that many Americans do not possess a passport and have never travelled beyond the US border. This perhaps makes some sense when you’ve got such a vast and wonderful space to explore on your own doorstep. But the curiosity to explore whatever is over the horizon has surely been fundamental not just to US economic development, but to an empathetic foreign policy too.

A survey by the Center for American Progress (a think tank) says that, while 59 per cent of baby boomers believe that the US “should take a leading role in the world”, just 45 per cent of millennials and 46 per cent of generation Xers agree. The fact that US policy increasingly prioritises the domestic also suggests that the liberal international order that evolved after 1945 may now be breaking down. Is this the end of globalisation, or merely the end of a global order created by Western interests? Watch those outward travel numbers to see how this trend unfolds.

Ref: Financial Times (UK) 9.05.19, ‘America’s young have little interest in the word’ by J. Ganesh.