Destination: The Future – how tech is changing travel

Augmenting the travel experience

Travel isn’t only about getting there, of course. Technology can change our holiday once we’ve arrived and checked in at the hotel – as our panel of travel experts notes, phones have changed how we explore new places and what experiences we uncover.

Expedia’s research suggests 60% of young adults want wearables to help them with their travels. They could be used to track children when you’re on the go – theme parks would be a natural choice for a smart band that both holds tickets and tracks location – and to record moments for social media memories, translate on the fly, and use smart glasses à la Google Glass to see directions or historical facts about a place you’re visiting.

“VR is no way to go on holiday – who wants to go on holiday in their living room?”

Then there’s virtual reality. Why risk jetlag when you can see a new place in the comfort of your own home? That’s the promise of VR, but while eschewing carbon-intensive air travel for a headset has environmental benefits, it’s unlikely to remove our desire to get up and go. Dixon said it was “silly nonsense” that virtual reality would replace travel, pointing to predictions with videoconferencing and business travel. “Corporate travel has grown every year… you can’t close a deal without eating food [together],” he said.

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“VR is no way to go on holiday – who wants to go on holiday in their living room?” he added. “No matter what many think of virtual reality, it isn’t the real thing. We have a hunger for authenticity.”

Lonely Planet’s editorial director Tom Hall agreed, but added that VR could help sell travel. “Virtual reality will never replace travelling entirely, but it will play a much more important part in the process,” he said. “Using VR headsets and other tools to give a taste of what life on a cruise ship is like, or how it feels to see wildlife on a game reserve, can get would-be travellers excited about the prospect of a trip.”

Planet hopping

It doesn’t get much more exotic than a holiday in space, and if the likes of Virgin Galactic get their way, it will be possible to vacation among the stars – if you have a bank account the size of Jupiter, at least, with Dixon noting they’re only for the “very wealthy”. He added: “They’re willing to pay anything for another experience, and cost is not the issue.” If you’d like a flight on Richard Branson’s space plane, you’ll need to pay $250,000 up front.

“They’re willing to pay anything for another experience, and cost is not the issue.”

A quick jaunt away from Earth on XCOR Space Expedition’s craft will set you back roughly £75,000 – and you can already book your spot on holiday website kayak.co.uk. The 99% of us without that sort of spare change will have time to save: they may be taking bookings already, but rocket crashes and technical issues have so far held back space travel.

Once the bugs are fixed, you’ll have somewhere to stay, at least: NASA has delivered to the International Space Station an inflatable fabric module to test for two years in the hope of using it to house researchers and, in the future, tourists. Think of it as camping, but in orbit.

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Structures such as the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or Beam, could also be used on the moon or Mars, opening up the long-term possibility of holidaying on another planet – although it’s likely to be your great-grandchildren’s grandchildren booking that trip, and only if they win a few lotteries first.

If you prefer a holiday closer to home then you could consider a drone cruise. A report from Samsung predicted holiday homes would be 3D printed, and could be delivered to any location via a massive drone, while passenger drones such as that of Chinese manufacturer Ehang – unveiled at CES 2016 – could enable us to skip the airport altogether. Now those are out-of-this-world innovations.

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