Mobile and Wearable Travel Technology

According to the travel flash report Online travel’s never looked so mobile, mobile bookings are growing faster than desktop. As it is stated in the report in the first six months of 2014, mobile bookings were up to 20%. Moreover, the average booking value for air was 21% higher on mobile devices than on desktops and 13% higher for car rentals [1]. 

The world of wearable technology is also moving fast (Table 1). There has been an upward trend in the market of wearables in the first quarter of 2015 as new vendors, including Apple, prepared to enter the market. Based on the new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker it is estimated that 72.1 million wearable devices will be shipped in 2015, up to 173.3% in comparison to the 26.4 million units shipped in 2014. According to the same report, the shipment volumes are expected to reach the 155.7 million units in 2019. The annual growth of the shipment is expected to be 42.6% over the five-year forecast period (2014-2019) [2].

Product of Category

2014 Shipments

2015 Shipments

2019 Shipments

2015 Year-Over-Year Growth

2014 - 2019 CAGR

Basic Wearables






Smart Wearables






All Wearables






Table 1: Worldwide Wearable Device Shipments, Year-Over-Year Growth and CAGR by Product Category, 2014, 2015, and 2019 (Units in Millions), Source: International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker

Categories of wearable devices
The term wearable devices refers to advanced technologies incorporated into items which can be worn on the body, such as clothing and accessories. These wearable devices can perform many of the same computing tasks as mobile phones and laptops. Wearable technology comes in different forms in order to cover head, back, waist, arms, body, wrist and legs. The wearable devices tend to be more sophisticated than mobile and laptops on the market today, because they can provide sensory and scanning features not typically seen in the aforementioned devices, such as biofeedback and tracking of physiological function [3]. The most common wearable devices in use, are the following: 
     Smart watches 
     Smart bracelets 
     Smart rings 
     Smart clothes 
     Smart cards 

Applications of wearable devices 
Wearable technologies have been mostly applied in the following areas: 
     Personal health and fitness management: 
          Activity trackers 
          GPS monitoring 
          Devices for fitness management (e.g. improper posture notifications) 
 Management of disease within healthcare: 
          Remote management of patient status 
          Ongoing updates regarding patient status 
          Feedback to patients 
          Empowers patient to self-manage 
 Performance enhancement in elite sport: 
          Sports performance enhancement 
          Chemical Sensors in Sports 

Wearable Technologies and Travel 

Wearable Technologies – such as smart watches and heads-up devices like Google Glass – could bring about real step-change in the way businesses market and sell travel, and the way consumers experience it. With technology and gadgets already a critical part of travel, wearable technology is predicted to become the biggest thing since the release of the smart phone. Companies should find ways in order to incorporate wearable technology in the travel industry. The companies should consider why consumers want technology connected to their bodies and how it could augment their lives. The travel industry as stated in different reports is ready to adopt wearable technology in their business cycle. Amadeus which is a leading provider of advanced travel technology solutions, highlights some of features and functionalities of the wearable technology and the opportunities it presents for the travel industry [4], [5]. 

Virgin Atlantic is another industry that recognised the opportunities for the travel industry of wearable devices and launched their wearable technology pilot scheme in February 2015. The staff of the company used Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch2 to greed the company’s passengers arriving at the Upper Class Wing at Heathrow airport. The cutting edge technology was developed in collaboration with the air transport IT specialist SITA. The passengers were greeted by name and the personnel wearing the Google glasses or smart watches was able to start the check in process. Moreover, the personnel was able to provide to the passengers information regarding their flight, as well as regarding the weather and events at their destination. The wearable technology can provide a unique personalized experience to the customers and in future the devices could provide info regarding passengers’ preferences to the staff, in order to enhance passengers' travel experiences, increase efficiency and exceed consumer expectations [6]. The prototype Google Glass Flight search app is another application developed by the global technology company Sable, which has been showcasing potential uses and applications for wearable devices in travel. As stated in the description of the app, the application can find flights based on a user’s simple voice command: “Ok Glass, find a flight from London Heathrow to the beach in December” [7]. 

For travel, smartwatches basically become a mini-screen that would perform many of the same functions as a phone. Weather, boarding pass reminders, gate updates, reservation information, QR codes, and all of the related information that fuels a traveller’s trip, would be available right there on the wrist. Directions are also a very useful area for smartwatches. Rather than having to stare down on a phone, travellers can simply use the watch – and a Bluetooth headset – to get the necessary directions. This would also reduce the likelihood of a distraction-related injury or a handset snatching thief. Another implication would be battery life.

Theoretically the watch should have a better battery life, and offload some smartphone interactions – thus increasing range of batteries during travels. Based on the Delphi study of the project Guide2Wear: mobile devices for the future traveller [8], wearable devices can be used in the following services: 
     Intermodal routing 
     Car/bike sharing bookings 
     Local navigation 
     Location based services 
     Access to public transport 

Based on the same report the smartphones, followed by smartwatches and glasses will be the optimal device for finding intermodal routes in the future. 

Virtual journeying 
The virtual reality technology has been mostly used in games, but now it seems that the travel industry is exploring how to use this technology as a marketing tool in order to sell more effectively. Virtual travel is in its infancy but it seems that it will become a new form of selling experiences. The travel industry has seen the potential of virtual reality technology, as it can be used as a 3D taste of a destination that will in the end, convince travellers to buy that taste. 

Thomas Cook, Qantas Airways, and Destination British Columbia in Canada are some of the companies that are using this technology in their own promotional VR videos. Thomas Cook, In August 2014, announced a trial pilot in which they placed virtual reality headsets at one of its stores in England that allowed visitors to explore the Sentido Resorts, as well as virtually experience a flight with Thomas Cook Airlines [9]. As stated by the company’s Chief Innovation Officer, Marco Ryan, the company sees the virtual reality technology as an innovation which will change the travel business, moreover he added that "The closer you get to the destination, the more excited you are to have that experience"—i.e., enhance the shopping experience. 

Destination British Columbia has just launched The Wild Within VR Experience, using Oculus Rift technology. The Wild Within VR Experience is an interactive video used as a marketing tool in order to promote the destination. The users can experience British Columbia in an interactive way. Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination BC stated that “We think virtual reality is a great fit for tourism marketing. It lets our travel trade and media partners experience our destination in a new and unique way that has not been possible before. And, as the headsets become more widely available to consumers, virtual reality gives them a ‘360’ experience – immersing them in the extraordinary travel opportunities that British Columbia offers, from raw wilderness to refined cities.” [10] 

The idea behind the use of virtual technology in travel is not that it will replace real-world travel. As it seems nobody in the travel industry would be interested in that. As it is stated in the Scyscanner’s Future of travel 2024 report in the future virtual reality headsets will offer travel companies the opportunity to provide virtual ‘try-before-you-buy’ holidays [11]. 

Moreover, virtual reality technology will let travellers explore digitally rendered hotels before booking their stay or get previews of local landmarks before deciding on a holiday location. In 10 years’ time, a traveller will be able to take a virtual reality walk through the hotel he is planning to book in real time, says Nik Gupta, Director of Hotels at Skyscanner. ‘He will be able to watch staff preparing his room as it happens, see the staff in action and watch chefs cooking his favourite food. That will be ground-breaking an incredibly powerful tool for building engagement and trust between the traveller and the brand [12]. In this way the traveller will be better informed and he would be able to evaluate the hotel in a more personalized way. 

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