Imagine checking-in with your thumbprint, using your smartphone as a room key or opening your hotel door to find a robot butler handing over the extra towel you requested from front desk. It may all sound pie-in-the-sky, but these are the types of initiatives operating or being researched and tested in the travel industry. Here we've rounded up eight of the travel technology trends that could shape your trips in 2015.
We already have Google Glass – smart specs with a digital lens showing information in smartphone-format, fed through technology built into the arm of the glasses – but all eyes are now on the Apple Watch, due to launch this spring. Apple’s first wearable gadget will beam messages, Facebook updates and apps to your wrist, with functions such as summoning Siri and using ‘taptic’ feedback to contact other Apple Watch wearers. Its competitor, Android Wear, lets phones send directions, messages, flight information and more to their watches.
Virtual reality travel
Armchair travel once meant travel documentaries and coffee-table books, but now we’re entering another dimension. Thomas Cook’s virtual reality holidays let potential clients view different holidays on a headset in selected stores in the UK, Germany and Belgium, following a successful trial at their Bluewater store. And with Marriott Hotels’ immersive 4D ‘Teleporter’, an Oculus Rift headset transports the users to other destinations and hotels. The next step is augmented reality; using gadgets like Google Glass to enhance the real-world or tools like Past View (a gadget that lets users experience Seville as it once was and interact with historical characters) to step back in time.
Smartphone room keys
Having one thing less to lose is always a good idea, and the Starwood hotel group are leading the pack after trialling the travel industry’s first mobile, keyless check-in this year. The Bluetooth technology has guests checking-in via the Starwood SPG app on their phone, bypassing front desk queues and using the device to enter their room. Hilton is also planning similar room upgrades next year, and aboard super-tech cruise liner Quantum of the Seas, the RFID (radio frequency identification) WOWband wristbands lets passengers tap to navigate around the ship, make onboard purchases and use as their room key. RFID luggage tags also mean passengers can use an app to track luggage to their room.
Fingerprint boarding passes
One airline exploring this potential biometric breakthrough is Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. It’s early days for ‘e-thumb’, but if successful, fingerprints converted into an encrypted code could replace travel documents, drivers’ licenses and credit cards for boarding and in-flight purchases, saving queuing time at security, bag drop and in airport shops. The airline has a history of thinking ahead – it led the way for online ticketing in 1999, introduced wireless check-in in 2001 and in 2013 it was the first airline to accept virtual wallet app Google Wallet and let passengers test bag-tagging at home. Be sure to watch their plans for 2015.
If free wifi and flatscreen TV in the bathroom no longer impress you, the latest in-room tech might. At Madrid’s NH Collection Eurobuilding, four "living lab" bedrooms are testing features such as video support via tablets so guests see the receptionist when they call. They’re also the first hotel offering 3D holographic technology so people can be ‘present’ at events. Meanwhile at Arrive, a high-tech hotel in Palm Springs owned by Facebook millionaire Ezra Callahan, opening in summer 2015, not only will smartphones enable mobile check-in and serve as room keys, housekeeping requests will be arranged via in-room handheld devices.
Watch out, Botlr’s here. Aloft Hotels has introduced the brand’s first robotic butler, Botlr made by start-up Savioke, which makes small deliveries to guest rooms. On arrival, the system calls the room, alerting the guest their delivery is here and that they can then leave a review on the robot’s panel display – a positive one generates a small dance. Botlr can also wirelessly open lift doors and plug itself into a recharging station until next needed. Meanwhile, aboard Anthem of the Seas, due to launch out of Southampton in April 2015, guests can order drinks via tablet at the new Bionic Bar manned by robotic bartenders.
Connected household devices
Be at home when you’re not is a growing travel tech trend, using remote access via connected gadgets to control your house. This could mean sending a message to your central heating to adjust the thermostat, or switching on the radiators a day before you return from some winter sun. It’s not just about comfort though – security also has its role. Apps such as TaHomA and Z-Wave allow you to control lighting and other features to make it look as though someone is home even if the house is empty, giving you peace of mind throughout your holiday.
Until now, travel apps have had the greatest success when they’ve done one job and done it well – think handy currency converter apps, accurate mapping apps and user-friendly restaurant-reviewing apps. But that’s changing. Take Google Maps for example. When you tap ‘nearby bars’ into the search box, the app not only plots the nearest options on the map but it directs you there too. We think this is just the beginning as the travel technology world flourishes in 2015.
Read the Rough Guide to 2015 for advice on the best cities, countries and best-value destinations to visit in 2015. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
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