How will travel change over the next twelve months? Expect crowded planes, bots that can book things on your behalf and – if you’re really lucky – the chance to finally chill out.
1. Technology will continue to take over your travel
Over the past decade, technology has completely re-shaped the travel experience, giving consumers the tools they need to plan their own amazing adventures – and giving traditional travel agents a bit of a rough ride in the process.
Now, with artificial intelligence growing more… intelligent, the whole process of planning trips could get even easier. Facebook’s new Messenger-based personal assistant, M, which is currently undergoing testing, can go beyond just recommending stuff and actually book things like restaurants and travel tickets.
M is still at least partially controlled by humans, but other automated systems are already out there, providing guidance to people on the move. Apple’s Siri has now found its way into cars (remember Knight Rider?) and the flight search website Hipmunk is now home to a kind of virtual travel agent. When users start emailing relatives or friends about flights, they can simply copy in Hipmunk’s AI, which then replies to everyone in the email chain with suggestions for suitable flights. Given permission, the site can also trawl through users’ calendar entries to find openings for other trips.
2. We’ll get places faster
And while it’s unlikely that you’ll be boarding a hypersonic jet anytime soon, it’s clear that ‘getting places faster’ is a trend worth watching in 2016. Work will continue apace on Japan’s ultra-fast new maglev trains, which have already broken speed records, and a prototype based on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop (once dismissed as a pipe dream) will be tested for the first time early on in the year. In theory, at least, it could see people moving around at speeds of more than 700mph.
3. Flights will become a little more tight
As the skies get busier and the sheer volume of people travelling continues to grow, you can expect flights to get more crowded. Airlines are increasingly looking to fill every flight, rather than simply offering more departures, and many have already begun squeezing extra seats into their planes in a bid to increase revenue. At the tail end of 2015, Emirates unveiled an A380 with a whopping 615 seats on board.
But as the number of travellers increases, so to does the number of options for getting around. Several companies that fall into the ‘Uber for aeroplanes’ category have already begun to take off and, with a sufficiently healthy bank balance, it’s now possible to hail helicopters in Dubai and New York.
4. We’re going to learn from the locals
Sites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing make it possible to start chatting with local people before you even arrive at your destination. That means it’s usually a doddle to find out where the neighbourhood’s best bar is, or where the best shopping street is located.
But what about those times when you want more than just tips? A home-cooked meal with a local family, perhaps, or a one-on-one surf lesson with a local? Enter experience-driven websites like Withlocals and Trip4Real, which hook travellers up with local entrepreneurs who have something to sell – be that in-depth knowledge about a city’s art scene, or top-notch photography classes aimed at improving holiday snaps.
“We predict a boom in peer-to-peer travel in 2016,” says Trip4Real’s Natalie Batlle. “Travellers want to meet locals when they travel and discover the real energy of a city away from the tourist traps.”
5. We might just finally chill out
Travelling at breakneck speed lets you cross more things off the bucket list, but it doesn’t much allow time for relaxing, connecting with local people, or appreciating the subtle rhythms of everyday life that make every place unique. Expect to see a bigger focus on slow travel in 2016… and pray that your employer follows the lead of companies like Netflix, which offer staff ‘unlimited’ time off.