Nowhere have future predictions become reality as quickly as in the travel industry. Blackbook looks at the top trends changing the way we move
Fifty years ago, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke predicted that luxurious intergalactic travel would be a way of life by the 21st century. While that scenario hasn’t yet come to pass, it won’t be long before holiday hunters head beyond the confines of Earth’s furthest reaches. Just this month, two bits of news brought the cosmos “tantalisingly close”, in the words of Richard Branson. His Unity spaceship achieved supersonic speed in the same week that the first luxury space hotel was announced.
Space, of course, is the final frontier for humanity, but the rest of the travel industry isn’t exactly short on big ideas. Intrepid entrepreneurs from Elon Musk to Sergey Brin and Larry Page are pushing heavily to realise their boyhood fantasies, to cater to a market that is set to grow 50 per cent over the next decade. International arrivals will skyrocket to a total 1.8 billion by 2030, up from 1.3 billion in 2017, according to the World
Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). And all these people will be travelling faster and wider than ever.
The sound of silence
NASA awarded a $247.5 million contract to Lockheed Martin Skunk Works to build a quieter version of the Concorde by 2021. This new X-plane could be flying 1,513kmph from New York to Mumbai without sonic booms by 2027. “It is super exciting to be back designing and flying X-planes at this scale,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “Our long tradition of solving the technical barriers of supersonic flight to benefit everyone continues.”
What others are doing: But that’s only if Japan doesn’t get there first—the country recently announced a tie-up with Denver start-up Boom Technologies on a similar supersonic project. Boeing is also working towards this goal. Renditions of the Going supersonic Mumbai to Pune in 25 minutes suddenly looks possible, thanks to the Hyperloop. A low-pressure tube will be the way to travel between the two cities by 2024, following an agreement between the state government of Maharashtra and Virgin Hyperloop One. The new track will pass through Navi Mumbai International Airport and a one-way ride is expected to cost between `3,000 and `5,000.
According to Pune Metropolitan Development Authority CEO Kiran Gitten, super-fast connectivity is the only way to solve congestion problems on one of India’s busiest transport corridors. “About 2.5 crore people will benefit,” he said in an interview on the Hyperloop One blog, adding that the project would have a “huge impact” on the economy of the region.
What others are doing: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is one of the firms hoping to deploy the magnetic levitation system. It has announced a new hub in Brazil’s Belo Horizonte city. The Nevada desert, the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the French cities of Toulouse and Limoges are among the other destinations where the new system is likely to become reality.
Watch this space
Ten years from now, short of a catastrophic tragedy, we’ll all know someone who’s made a sub-orbital flight (Branson’s Virgin Galactic hopes to launch in 2018 and is fully booked to 2021), and maybe even stayed at the Aurora hotel—a fully modular space-vacation station hawking trips of up to 12 days at $9.5 million per person. In March, Orion Span, the company behind the concept, began accepting deposits of $80,000 per person for stays beginning in 2021.
What others are doing: Space real estate is a burgeoning industry with start-up companies having attracted $7.9 billion in investment, according to consulting firm Bryce Space & Technology. Houston-based Axiom Space, run by NASA veterans, recently announced plans to launch high-altitude habitation platforms around the International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace, founded by lodging billionaire Robert Bigelow, also wants to help nations establish their human-space programmes with exactly this sort of platform.
Robots at the ready
Much has been made of robotic threats to our jobs and indeed, whether we will soon be beholden to these metallic monsters—but fewer people are clocking the helpful nature of animatronics. Robots—and by extension, artificial intelligence—comprise one of the most radical reimaginings of the future travel ecosystem. Google Maps, travel apps and voice assistants aren’t even news anymore, they’re an established way of doing things. But a robot filling a room service order? Meet Jeno and Jena, who are tasked with delivering everything from extra towels to breakfast at the Shangri-La-owned brand Hotel Jen in Singapore. How do they do it? Sensors prevent them from crashing into people and WiFi helps them navigate unmanned lifts.
What others are doing: Admittedly, asking Alexa to teleport you to Tahiti is still the realm of science fiction, but machine learning—a form of AI—is already crunching consumer data so travel providers can respond to consumer demands even before they’ve made them. Booking.com says that travellers will look to technology to understand a destination better, and six in ten travellers want to try before they buy with a virtual reality preview. Similarly, UK rail booking service Trainline uses crowdsourced data to help passengers find a seat during peak hours, and help predict prices and ticket availability at a given time. Elsewhere, Kayak founder Paul English’s new invite-only startup, Lola, replaces traditional travel agents with algorithms that parse requests and offer suggestions in exactly the way a real agent might—but faster, more accurately and tailored to your likes. And at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, AI chatbots now deal with 50 per cent of all enquiries.
Show your face
Returning from Dubai? You’ll need to clear immigration before you can leave the Emirates. But chances are you won’t meet an officer, just walking through an aquarium tunnel will clear you for boarding. In October, the futuristic city displayed the new device, which is fitted with Chinese-made elements that can detect explosives while scanning travellers’ faces before clearing them for departure. To be launched later this year, the tunnel will clock registered travellers in the same way your iPhone unlocks itself when you stare at it. “The passenger can finish the procedure within 15 seconds,” Major Khalid Al Felasi, Assistant General Director of Smart Services in GDRFA-Dubai, told the local Gulf News newspaper.
What others are doing: Overall, 63 per cent of airports and 43 per cent of airlines are likely to launch biometric identity management solutions before 2020, new data from travel technology company SITA shows. Among them are Sydney Airport, where your face could soon be your passport, and Air Asia, which has launched a facial recognition system as a boarding pass at its Johor Bahru hub, as has German flag carrier Lufthansa in Los Angeles. Put your best face forward, then!
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