How Travel Is Becoming Smart
Bluesmart - The World's First Smart Connected Carry-on Suitcase [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kemdq9Q49D8]
There's no discounting the human desire to travel faster and farther; to push the limits. SpaceX, for instance, is one of the best examples of how radically the travel industry is changing. It's a private rocket company that suffered a setback about six months ago when one of its vessels, carrying a load of cargo for the International Space Station, exploded three minutes after lift-off.
Yet this December, SpaceX plans to return to outer space with an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket. Private space travel companies have customer waiting-lists a mile long, filled with celebrities, business tycoons, and national leaders. A private space firm like SpaceX can get rockets into geosynchronous orbit faster than I can locate my luggage. I'm joking about the luggage -- well, just a bit.
I believe that the future of travel is being shaped by consumer comfort than ever before. I know what you're thinking: The airport was overcrowded, the security line wait was long, your bags did not get loaded. How on earth does any of that suggest a consumer-centric mandate? It doesn't. These are just problems that are waiting to be solved. There are plenty of smart companies that are innovating to the hilt and, as a result, are soon to disrupt this industry -- an industry that will immensely benefit with disruption.
That's why I'm optimistic about how airlines, revamped airports, digitally savvy vendors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), governments, and other travel industry titans are coming together to present the consumer an entirely new proposition.
Take baggage, for example. There is probably no consumer experience worse than having to bring bags through security monitors, have them randomly unpacked by security agents, or tossed onto a wet tarmac and left to soak up water like a sponge. Enter entrepreneurial start-ups that are offering smart luggage. An U.S. startup called Trunkster will soon offer bags with built-in digital scales that can weigh itself and tell you if you are within airline regulations, batteries for recharging two USB devices, and GPS tracking. Bluesmart Carry-On, expected to be launched in December 2015, has a built-in global 3G SIM card, GPS and Bluetooth, so you can track its location using a mobile app if your bag is lost. Paris-based Delsey is experimenting with its own line of smart baggage (called Pluggage), which will reportedly include features such as, fingerprint ID, interior lighting and interior speaker!
Bear in mind, too, that with smartphones increasingly becoming commoditized, wearable technology will become a traveler's best friend. We're already seeing the emergence of companion devices that can be synched to specific operating systems in order to differentiate offerings. That's good business, especially if you believe a recent study that predicts that smartwatches will replace fitness wearables as the most purchased device in that category by 2017 -- little more than a year away! Indeed, a Juniper Research study predicts that an increase in smart watches and smart glasses (yes, glasses are still a big part of the equation, google devotees) will enable beacons, perhaps the biggest travel trend in development. By 2019, sales of beacons and wearables that are built for travelers could reach the US$ 53 billion mark. Seeing as the market stands at about US$ 4.5 billion this year, we're talking about explosive growth set in motion by digitally-minded consumers who want to travel smarter, safer, faster, and more enjoyably.
What about airlines? Besides the planes themselves becoming better suited to the traveler (The Finnair A350 cabin has two dozen light settings, aligned with stages of a long-haul flight. Warmer, amber colors for flights arriving in Asia and cooler 'Nordic blue' hues when flying into Finland. There's even a 20 minute 'sunset' in the cabin as well as, Northern Lights!), nearly half of all major airline companies plan to leverage beacons in a significant way by 2018. And if the prospect of dealing with airlines still seems off-putting, don't discount the rapid rise in the digital travel agent. This concierge comes in the form of augmented reality, which can act as a live translator, a local real-time deal-finder, a currency converter, and a source to offer new ways of interacting with those around you. By 2016 travel industry analysts estimate that the augmented reality market will have grown by more than US$ 2 billion. Travel operators: Take note. It might be good business to start taking this trend seriously now.
With private space exploration companies sprouting up, some US$ 53 billion-worth of annual travel hardware in the works, and augmented reality taking the pain out of booking long journeys, it's clear that the travel industry is set to take off. Whoever said that getting there is half the fun might be right.