The Future of Travel? (Not.)


According to the folks over at Skyscanner, travel in 2024 will include:

  • holographic virtual assistants who notice you’re working too much, plan perfect trips for you, and subtly motivate you to take them by injecting images from those destinations into the photos you see during the day
  • 3D immersive tours of potential holiday destinations projected on wall-size screens, enabling travelers to watch resort staff preparing rooms and meals as a way to “build engagement and trust between the traveler and the brand.”
  • holidays in extreme locations, including underwater or low-orbit space hotels
  • digital “travel buddies,” designed to look like your favorite star, who reside in watch, appear to you through special contact lenses, and direct you to local points of interest selected just for you
  • on-body devices permeate our clothing and flesh, making it possible for us to feel the textures of virtual fabrics or stream whatever we’re seeing and doing directly to folks back home.

It’s all very Star Trek: Next Generation, isn’t it? As much as I’d like to imagine having a holodeck at home or staying in an orbital hotel, I doubt any of the above will come to pass by 2024.

Consider this: how much as travel changed in the last decade? In 2004, Clyde and I visited Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Bangkok. For each of those trips:

We planned our travel online, on a laptop, using Expedia and Priceline to find low prices on our flights and hotels. (And even back then, participating hotels were saving their worst rooms for discount customers. The first room we were offered in Hawaii, for example, had no windows!) We still use these sites — and others — and, today, connections are faster and the pictures on the sites are prettier, but a decade later, the basic process (using web sites to find deals and pursue discounts) remains unchanged.

We reviewed the places we visited on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor now has apps and downloadable tour guides for key cities … but, at its core, the service hasn’t evolved all that much, and it remains the only go-to reference for those of us who like crowd-sourced tips on what to do and where to go.

We flew to our destinations on jets. Today, there’s a new class of air travel (Economy Comfort, a clever plot to charge people more for the legroom they should have had in the first place). Lie-flat beds in business and first class make long trips easier for well-heeled or well-connected travelers. Prices continue to rise. But, somehow, all the predictions about supersonic or low-orbit ballistic travel (or flying cars!) turned out wrong.

We took lots of photos with digital cameras. Our digital cameras in 2004 were clunkier and had lower resolution, but the process (recording images on digital media) remains very much the same. The biggest change — and one that no one really saw coming — is that my iPhone camera has finally become so good, I no longer bother to carry a digital point-and-shoot camera on vacation. In 2004, no one imagined carrying a combination digital camera, computer, and phone in their jeans pocket– and it’s interesting that this one revolutionary change was predicted and foreseen by no one, apart from the company that made it happen.

We shared our adventures online. We didn’t use Facebook — it was founded in February of 2004, and open only to college kids at the time — but has been online since 2000, and even back then, we shared stories and photos there with friends all over the world.

In other words: over the past decade, more competitors entered the online booking space. Thanks to the iPhone, we’re more likely to use apps than websites when interacting with online information — but we’re still looking stuff up online. We can spend a few more bucks for a little more comfort. Our cameras are smaller and more capable. And many people, rather than maintain personal blogs, are now sharing their stuff exclusively on Facebook (where it gets used, without your conscious consent, in ads … and where it will disappear, without warning, someday when Facebook goes out of business).

So I’ll be surprised if, come 2024, a holographic Jake Gyllenhaal is walking us through a computer-selected list of best spots to visit in a gravity-free low-Earth-orbit hotel. Here’s what I do expect:

Passports, charge cards, and tickets will give way to some kind of identity and payment system that’s passively embedded in our clothes or bodies. Glance at a monitor to prove you’re you, wave your hand to make a purchase, use your fingerprint to board a plane. You’ll still need local cash or an old-fashioned credit card in most third-world countries, though.

Shopping for an experience may overtake shopping for a destination. Instead of using the internet to say, “What can I do if we go to Seattle for the weekend?”, we’re more likely to be asking, “If I want cooler temperatures, access to a waterfront and a mountain, and a vibrant food scene, where can I go for $300 this weekend?” Your online agent won’t be your constant holographic companion, but will be smart enough to apply an “If you liked this, you’ll love this” logic to travel shopping, helping you discover destinations you hadn’t imagined.

Medical tourism will continue to grow as the population ages. America will continue to have draconian rules that hold back anti-aging research, so more and more of us will be flying overseas for stem cell  treatments designed to keep us feeling younger, longer.

You’ll still get there by jet. Sorry, no transporters. But thanks to bigger, cheaper, flatter, full-spectrum screens, even inside cabins and windowless hotel rooms can offer realistic-looking windows that gaze out onto pretty much whatever view you’d like to see. The same folks who prefer going to Disney’s version of Morocco over actually going to Morocco will have many options for “travel” that don’t involve anything more than riding around in a simulator, gazing out at pre-recorded environments.

Vacations will have more to do with escaping technology. In reaction to the enthusiastic adoption of the screens above (and the digital over-sharing of the 20-teens), high-dollar vacations will be about escaping technology: locations so remote, they’re free from digital alerts, advertising, and interaction … and destinations where being “in the real world, in the moment” (instead of recording and sharing that moment).

Desirable destinations will change. Long-time havens (particularly coastal areas) will be too hot and too wet to enjoy thanks to climate change. But shifting climate will mean areas once too cold or too dry will open up as new and more comfortable destinations. Getting there will be harder, though, because the increased cost of food and clean water will limit the funds we have on hand for travel.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Time will tell. What do you expect the future of travel to be?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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