27 Nov 2017
Travel Tech Show

Review: Travel Technology Show at World Travel Market

A world of travel tech 

From rock stars to rising stars, the Travel Technology Show at World Travel Market (WTM) earlier in November was abuzz with innovators who were all committed to one goal: providing cutting-edge technology-powered solutions designed to enhance the travel experience – whether that’s back-of-house operations, front-of-house delivery or smack-bang-in-the-middle-of-the-house servicing.

Year after year, WTM has continued to be a place of inspiration, a place where the world’s leading and emerging destinations converge under one roof, united by their devotion to travel. But what was especially encouraging this year was the overwhelming sense that any past fears associated with tech had finally been put to bed.

Travel agents who were once apprehensive about a ‘machine-takeover’, were openly embracing the opportunities that tech could bring them. Hoteliers were inquisitive, keen to learn how they could integrate solutions to streamline efficiencies and enhance the guest experience. DMCs scouted out the best planning and booking systems to extend and manage their current capacities. Airlines – well, we’ve all see Emirates’ latest first class cabin with zero gravity horizontal beds… Need we say more?

And so, fuelled by a passion for travel (and maybe a few large lattes) and driven by a need to feed my inner geek, I made my way through the labyrinthine halls to soak up some of the latest products and trends that are shaping the future of travel.

Here’s just a glimpse of some of the leading suppliers and topics of debate that caught my attention.


Emotional measures

According to a Euromonitor International report, facial and emotional recognition software has the potential to become so advanced that it could influence travellers’ decisions.

When it comes to facial recognition, we tend to first think of security and passport control. But Expedia Inc has been using it to understand how users respond to its mobile and online brands. Sensors placed on research subjects’ faces at its Usability Labs gave crucial insight into the different emotions they experienced whilst using the sites.

Also highlighted in the report was AccorHotels’ collaboration with startup Travelsify to launch ‘MoodMatch’ earlier this year, in a bid to create an inspirational new search experience based entirely on the moods and experiences of travellers.

Having analysed guest and expert comments posted in relation to some 1,000 properties in Accor’s portfolio, the startup established a HotelDNA scoring system. The hotel giant’s homepage allows users to search for these properties by mood rather than by destination. By inputting a mood, the results reveal a selection of hotels, along with their ‘mood match’ percentage between the mood (of the user) and the DNA score.

Whatever next? Brain activity trackers? It’s not a joke – San Francisco-based Emotiv has already produced ‘brain wearables’ – quite literally, brain-measuring technology so you can find out what’s preventing you from achieving peak mental performance!


Smart growth

The smart cities debate was a hot topic across the show floor this year, with Asia – specifically, Hong Kong – hinted to lead the way. At the heart of this debate was the digital payment revolution.

Cited as the world’s most visited city in the Euromonitor report, Honk Kong expects to have welcomed 25.7 million visitors by the close of this year. Its smart development thinking was first demonstrated within the public transportation sector upon the launch of the world’s first contactless payment scheme, some 20 years ago.

As residents, businesses and visitors increasingly show a preference for a cashless experience, the evolution of the digital payment landscape will be key for societies and economies wanting to show off their smart thinking prowess.


Let the train take the strain

Back on home turf, but still in the world of public transport, it was encouraging to learn that a UK rail revolution could be on its way.

With aviation’s impact on climate change, an overcrowded UK airspace – not to mention localised pollution from increased congestion on our cities’ roads – rail travel is finally getting a share of positive light. Tesla may have also had something to do with that…

His latest venture, Hyperloop One, was quite a talking point. While Abu Dhabi and Dubai are inked to play host to the first Hyperloop connection, it was the possibility of a London-Edinburgh route that caught the attention of tourism professionals in the UK. 50 minutes, via Manchester or Birmingham. Imagine the possibilities. Edinburgh Festival at 10:00 am, arrive for some shopping in Knightsbridge by lunch.


Other conversation highs included:

  • Not new in the world of tech, but chatbots are proving their potential worth for the hotel industry at long last and could be seen as influential innovations that can actually offer up a warmer service to travellers.
  • Instagram is here to stay! Anticipated to achieve a billion users this year, the travel industry is convinced that the power of the picture will continue to pack a punch for globetrotters.
  • With an upswing in people who want to ‘live in the now’, channels such as Facebook Live and Periscope are fast becoming an integral part of travel industry professionals’ strategies.


Who got me all of a quiver?

There were so many innovators in one place that it’s hard to pick just one, but Media Monks over on the Abu Dhabi stand gave me my ultimate real head-turning moment. Using tech to produce creative campaigns for their clients, they wowed the crowds with a VR experience in a custom-built buggy which gave participants (of which there were many) a 360-degree experience of the UAE capital. Along with other sensory capabilities – you could even feel the desert breeze – it gave a unique opportunity to ‘try before you buy’.

The thought of having to complete the tedious task of working out my expenses post-trip was gnawing away at me like a dull toothache, and so when I came across Xpenditure, they got top marks from me. Infectiously enthusiastic, smarter than smart, and downright charming too, the team told me how they are transforming the expense reporting process. There’s a lot to be said for automation!

With payment technology stealing much of the limelight this year, eNett was music to my ears. Reducing the risk of fraud, simplifying complicated travel processes, automating monotonous tasks – they were ticking all the payment solution boxes.

Kigo also impressed with their vacation rental software too. This is a particularly challenging area in the accommodation sector as properties are so geographically widespread, and managing them remotely can be a headache. They’ve really looked into the pain points for customer and provider alike, taking into account the friction of the process, fraud prevention and payment processes. In a field that’s riddled with security question marks, their security-first approach for the client – combined with their techno-know-how to automate and innovate – will make them ones to watch.


And finally…

The Travel Technology Show is evolving! Its continued success is a clear indicator of how pivotal tech is becoming in the travel sector. As such, organisers of World Travel Market, Reed Exhibitions have announced it will transform into a stand-alone event next year.

The Travel & Hospitality Innovation Summit will aim to bring together suppliers and buyers of the travel industry who are tasked with delivering on strategies and employing tech innovations and applications. In terms of content, payments, digital marketing, consumer insights and needs, connectivity and big data, and advances in AR, VR, AI, robotics and machine learning will feature as prominently as established travel technology topics such as booking engines, revenue, yield and property management systems and end-user tech.

So let’s make it a date. November 5-7, 2018. See you there!