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Dublin: 22 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019

Bye-bye guide books, hello virtual tours: The future of going on your holliers

Sarah Harford on the technological shifts that are changing our experience of going away.

In the future, you may be able to tweak hotel room details - like pillow softness - from your phone
In the future, you may be able to tweak hotel room details - like pillow softness - from your phone

The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our Future Focus series, brought to you by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the future. This week: going on holiday. 

IT’S THE TIME most of us look forward to all year – holidays.

About two million Irish people will go on a sun holiday this year, according to the Irish Travel Agents Association, jetting off to destinations near and far.

But going away for a week or two has changed greatly in the past couple of decades, as trips have become more affordable and technology has made it easier to find out what’s happening on the other side of the world.

So as tech continues to develop and permeate all areas of our lives, what could this mean for summer holidays in 2030 or even 2050?

Virtual tours

It’s hard to believe that we used to trawl through guide books and big fold-out maps to help us decide where to go on holidays. Now you can easily browse through online reviews and suggestions, or check Instagram for destination inspiration.

But when it comes to choosing what to do during your week off from work, maybe in the future you’ll be looking at the likes of live streams, or augmented and virtual reality for ideas.

German airline Lufthansa has already created a number of 360-degree videos of destinations such as Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo, which are available on its flights and on YouTube.

At the moment, says Donagh Davern, hospitality lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology, these kinds of innovations aren’t meant to replace holiday experiences – but to help give people a better idea of the destination.

An image of Venice taken by a 360-degree camera Source: Shutterstock/Simone Padovani

“You hear people say, ‘Why would you go to the Cliffs of Moher when you can do a tour online?’ But you still want a sense of being there, so virtual and augmented reality will be used to enhance visitor attractions rather than as a substitute for the experience.”

“People will then have an idea in advance of where they’re going on holiday. They’ll know the places they want to go and what to see because they might have experienced it online.”

Virtual reality could also play a part when you’re booking a hotel. Most hotels now have plenty of photos and videos available online, but some are also dipping their toes into the world of VR, so that potential guests can explore the rooms and the facilities before deciding to book.

“What we’ll see next is you’ll be able to do a virtual tour and pick things out that you want, pick the room you want, and then you know exactly what you’ll get when you check in,” Davern adds.

High-tech hotels

Virtual tours aren’t the only high-tech innovation hotels are starting to adopt. Many are turning to artificial intelligence and new gadgets to help offer more personalised services for guests in the future.

“The hotel industry was slow on the pickup of technology initially, but a huge amount is happening in the whole artificial intelligence space, with a big focus at the moment on individualisation and making the process from start to finish as bespoke as possible,” Davern says.

“Newer booking systems will recognise the needs of the customers and what geographic market you’re enquiring from. So if you’re American it won’t offer you mid-term breaks that don’t apply to you, it will offer packages bespoke to you and the American market. And it will learn from every booking to further personalise the service.”

Some hotels are also starting to introduce apps so you can book and plan things for your trip with the touch of a button on your phone. Like an online concierge service, you could reserve a table at breakfast, pick the softness of your pillows, or order more towels.

“Lots of hotels and resorts are bringing in apps. You download it and then you can book spa treatments and your tee time,” Davern adds.

“They’ll have push notifications, so when you’re in a resort for example it will tell you what’s going on in terms of kids’ clubs or entertainment, and it enhances the experience. Then you’re not going around afterwards saying ‘Oh I didn’t know that was on’.”

In the future this type of app may also be able to recommend activities and restaurants, or produce personalised itineraries based on your interests, location and the amount of time you have at your destination.

Meanwhile, technology is also becoming a bigger feature in hotel rooms, with many now including things like Netflix, Chromecast, Alexa, tablets for controlling lighting, heat and TV, or the ability to use your smartphone as a room key.

“It’s about personalisation and combining artificial intelligence with customer relationship management to make sure guests get exactly what they want. I think you’ll see more and more of that in hotels in the future,” Davern says.

New experiences

An increasing number of people are opting for ‘experience holidays’ – going places they’ve never gone before and doing things they’ve never done, or trying to get the perfect photos of something new to share on Facebook and Instagram.

So what’s next when it comes to unique holiday destinations? How about heading under the sea or into space? It could be a possibility in the future. A number of underwater hotels have been planned in Dubai, while US companies such as Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space are planning to put hotels in orbit within the next five years.

For now, if you’re looking to get away from everyone entirely on your holidays, you could visit the world’s first hotel staffed by robots – Henn-na in Nagasaki, Japan.

“Androids check you in and out, they can switch language to suit you, lunch will be delivered to your room by robots, the room will be cleaned by robots,” Davern says.

Robot receptionists (yes, dinosaur robot receptionists) at a Henn-Na hotel in Tokyo Source: Shutterstock/Ned Snowman

But he isn’t convinced that this is going to be what all our hotels will be like in 2050, as most people still want to some level of interaction with other humans. In fact, Henn-na removed a lot of its robots earlier this year, as people proved to be better than machines when it came to answering guests’ questions and carrying luggage to their rooms.

“Robots kept breaking down and people found them annoying – so I don’t think we’re at that level yet where it will be all robots running our hotels. I think there’s definitely a balance to be had,” Davern adds.

“There’ll be more automation and more tech in the future, but leisure travellers will still want an experience, want to meet people, and want to get a sense of the atmosphere of a place.”

Whether it’s virtual tours or android butlers, it seems that technology is certainly going to have an effect on our holidays in the coming years, but hopefully we’ll still just get a chance to sit by the pool with a good book.

More: Hello brain implants, goodbye forgetting people’s names: The future of your memories>

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