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From smart parking to delay prediction: how technology is shaping the way we travel

We’re experiencing unprecedented growth in the travel industry. The global number of annual flights has almost doubled in just five years. We now take 70 million flights compared to 37 million in 2014.

Quite apart from the environmental concerns, we’re facing new challenges to keep up with this demand. That’s why the travel and tourism sector is arguably one of the most disrupted. New tech must streamline our journeys, allay security concerns and stay green.

From data management to “sentiment analysis”, tech impacts every facet of the way we travel.

Peace of mind for operators and customers

At Netsells, one of our best-known forays into the travel industry is our work with YourParkingSpace. This intelligent parking management solution is the perfect example of modern digital transformation. It allows users to:

  • Make booking easier with cashless app payments
  • Use optical character recognition to read number plates
  • Obtain data from the DVLA for use with automatic number plate recognition
  • Measure customer satisfaction by recording repeat visitor numbers
  • Report crime
  • Maximise value for operators and customers.

None of this would be possible without the technological advances we’ve seen in data acquisition and mobile apps. Thanks to better data management, YourParkingSpace users can get a better idea of their customers’ wants and needs, helping to improve future services.

“Plan B” for flight delays

There’s no doubt about it – delays cost us more than just our patience. In 2018 alone, train delays lost us a total of 448 years’ worth of working hours!

The same goes for delayed flights. However, in two landmark developments, both Lumo and Google are investing in contingency planning. Following a $1.75 million investment in 2015, Lumo was set up to analyse drone traffic and forecast delayed flights.

Using predictive analytics, the company claims it can predict up to 50 per cent of delays – crucially, before airlines can. Not to be outdone, Google followed suit in 2018 with their artificially intelligent Google Flights software.

Rather than analysing drone traffic, Google Flights will pull historical data to make predictions. Once it’s 80 per cent confident a flight will be delayed, it will display this information in the app.

These developments may not speed up our flights, but they can give us a Plan B.

Data-driven decisions in travel marketing

The tourism industry relies heavily on customer data. Before the age of digital transformation, travel companies were limited in how they could promote their products.

Shifts in data analytics mean we now know more about the customer than ever before. Just ask the Genisys Group. The Traveler360 model pulls data from airlines, third parties, Frequent Flyer information and even social media to make decisions.

This allows them to segment customers and target specific promotions towards them. They can even factor in the on-board customer experience for a truly personalised service.

Changing perceptions with machine learning

As third-party review sites like TripAdvisor continue to influence the way we travel, one company decided to take a science-led approach. They conducted a “sentiment analysis”, using machine learning and natural language processing to look for positive and negative reviews of Barcelona.

By analysing opinions on social media, they were able to give weighting to various aspects of travel. They discovered that hotels and attractions were the main factors affecting travel decisions. Pubs, bars and nightlife attracted a lower number of outwardly positive or negative reviews.

This invaluable data demonstrates the value of “word of mouth”, and helps tour operators adjust their marketing based on user sentiment.

Tech-forward hotels

Gone are the days when a tech-forward hotel meant a free WiFi connection. Right from the booking process with chatbots to virtual reality, the whole experience has changed.

Thomas Cook recently collaborated with the Samsung Gear VR to launch a “try before you buy” experience. This allows viewers to visualise their holidays through virtual reality. With this immersive viewing, travel agents can rely on tech to really “sell” the dream getaway.

In the hotel room itself, the Internet of Things (IoT) allows us to connect our devices to adjust heating, televisions and lighting. We’re even seeing enhanced security thanks to facial recognition, while biometric hotel keys are set to take the world by storm.

Planning made easy

One of the best ways travel agencies can make use of tech is for holiday planning. This starts with AI chatbots, which can usually answer queries within five minutes. These bots can also provide travel updates in real-time, like flight delays and check-in times.

AI is taking it one step further with itineraries. A new app, Welcome, asks users a set of simple questions and automatically recommends tourist spots as soon as they land. According to its creator, Matthew Rosenberg, 85 per cent of travellers have no idea what they want to do before they arrive. The app uses geotargeting and users’ personal data to make bespoke recommendations.

What about green travel?

While the travel industry is booming, it does pose some ethical conundrums. So, what role does tech have to play in making travel sustainable?

Booking.com has teamed up with Travalyst to offset carbon emissions. One of Travalyst’s aims is to combat over-tourism – an initiative which is making waves on social media. In 2018, Vienna’s digital detox campaign rallied against “Insta-tourism”, which is largely blamed for overcrowding.

Likewise, Booking.com is teaming up with the Global Himalayan Expedition to install solar power in local villages. Chairwoman Gillian Tans says that this encourages visitors to travel responsibly. “We’re providing new light to villages with every online booking.”


Katie Thompson

Katie Lingo


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