The World is Shrinking: How Technology is Affecting the Way We Travel

Technology advancements bring people together like never before, making the world smaller and more accessible, but in no other industry does that reign truer than in travel. New technologies have transformed the tourism and travel industry, affecting and changing every aspect of a trip, from how consumers choose a destination, to how they get there, and how they interact with their surroundings.


Immersive video and virtual and augmented reality are making travel more enticing, and uncommon destinations more approachable.

The country of Jordan is not always considered as a destination for many travelers. But by leveraging immersive video, Jordan is working to raise awareness of all that the country has to offer, for all types of travelers from around the world. With a video experience that puts potential visitors in the middle of the country’s streets, Jordan can show people and potential visitors it is one of the friendliest and most welcoming countries in the world. By leveraging video, consumers will be able to observe locals as they go about their daily life and feel as if they’re already there, giving them a chance to see how unique and appealing Jordan is as a tourism destination.

Virtual reality (VR) is another breakthrough technology for the travel industry and we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. Through VR experiences, destinations, hotels, airlines and other players in the hospitality space can entice travelers by allowing them to explore and deeply understand what they may experience. Similar to the Jordan campaign, VR can ease the fear of the unknown and change perceptions about cities or countries across the globe, which positively impacts global movement patterns and creates new revenue streams for areas that are traditionally less traveled.

Like VR, augmented reality (AR) is changing the way people travel. Instead of being used as a tool to entice travelers from across the globe, AR has the potential to create increased exploration on a micro level. Pokémon Go, the AR gaming app that swept across the U.S. and other regions this summer, inspired gamers to go outside and chase down virtual Pokémon. Yes, it may sound ridiculous to anyone who isn’t eight years old, but because players are so obsessed with the game, they are going to new places and discovering things about their city or neighborhood that may have been previously overlooked. The AR game is literally getting people up off the couch and into new, sometimes odd, places. In this NPR article, one Pokémon Go user describes how he discovered a new wilderness trail in Golden Gate Park that he had never seen before. This is just one example of how AR content can spur activity, create discovery, and produce changes in movement trends and habits.

Technology advances are breaking down common travel barriers.

On the more practical end of the spectrum, translation technology is creating new lines of communication and eliminating language barriers that previously restricted the ways travelers could interact with their surroundings. From the original technology-enabled programs such as Rosetta Stone to the Google Translation app, with machine learning, travelers now have the tools to immerse themselves in a culture and interact with locals. Imagine sitting in a French café with no knowledge of the language and attempting to order dinner. Previously, one would open up a pocket-sized English-French dictionary and flip through pages to try and understand what a Confit de Canard is – and then decide if you want to eat Duck Confit. Now, travelers can use an app to scan the text on the menu and have it translated in real-time. Translation technology creates a better understanding, and oftentimes a deeper appreciation, for the place when travelers can understand what’s on the menu, read the headlines on the local newspaper or understand what the store clerk is saying. Machine learning algorithms that erase language barriers are empowering travelers to interact with their surroundings and creating the opportunity and desire to visit foreign destinations that were not previously in the consideration set.

The ubiquity of sharing economy platforms is also fueling travelers’ confidence and allowing them to be more exploratory. With ride sharing services like Uber, a seamless and consistent global experience is accessible to travelers, bypassing country borders and language barriers. While traveling in Bangkok, my husband and I used Uber – an app we were both very familiar with – and it took away the stress of hailing a taxi, trying to provide an address and directions when we didn’t speak the language and worrying about being overcharged. Even the need to carry around stacks of local currency is slowly being eroded as mobile payment platforms become more advanced and available.

Machine learning, VR, AR, and the sharing economy are transforming the ways people move about their neighborhoods, expanding the destinations that travelers seek to visit, and enhancing the level at which they engage with their surroundings. Technology has made the world more accessible and removed the fear of exploring exotic, far off destinations, by allowing travelers to experience the place before they visit and immerse themselves into the culture once they arrive – all while using familiar tools. This new age of global migration is fueling the next generation of travelers – and creating new opportunities to reach and engage with them.

Yes, hovercraft, autonomous cars and the Hyperloop will forever change how people travel in the future, but what’s more important today, is how technology is changing the way people view and think about travel. So, when these inventions hit the market in two years – or even twenty years – the desire and mindset already exists to make them mainstream. Without a will, there’s no point in inventing a way.

This article was originally published on Huffington Post.