Although it might not seem like it now, the travel industry has a future. A bright future.
It might seem jarring to read those words now, as the travel industry reels from a coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak has hit the travel industry hard, canceling flights, hotel reservations and cruises. Before coronavirus is contained, the travel industry will lose jobs and there will be bankruptcies and consolidations.
But then what?
The travel industry does have a future. By 2030, there will be 1.8 billion worldwide tourists a year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization — 400 million more than last year. That’s a lot of people clamoring for cheap airfares, affordable hotel rooms, rideshares, and whatever the next big thing in travel will be.
Ten years from now, look for even bigger changes, say experts. Futurologist Ray Hammond predicts the number of airline passengers will double by 2040, and consumers will demand a faster and more efficient travel experience.
“The face of travel as we know it will change dramatically over the next 20 years,” he says.
What will travel be like in 2040?
Among his 2040 predictions for the future of travel:
- Instant check-ins that use facial recognition. The technology, already in experimental use at airports, will become widespread throughout the travel industry. No need for a confirmation number — or ID.
- Super-fast trains. High-speed rail will run at speeds above 125 mph and will be mostly computer-managed.
- Space as a destination. Tourists will be flying to and from the Moon on a regular basis as they seek the experience of seeing the Earth from space.
Other experts and they agree. The travel industry has a future, and here’s what you can expect from it:
Smarter ground transportation
Advances in self-driving technology will profoundly affect the way you travel by car. “Long road trips could be much more tolerable when the vehicle itself does the driving,” says Josh Calder, a futurist with Foresight Alliance, a consulting firm. “This could spur more comfortable cars, and make RVs and camper vans much more popular. Ground vehicles will increasingly be powered by electricity.”
The return of supersonic air travel
Supersonic travel will make a welcome comeback in the 2030s, according to Netflights’ 2050: The Future of Air Travel report. Short breaks to far-flung destinations like San Francisco and Sydney will be possible. “And everyone will have the opportunity to fly on a plane that travels faster than the speed of sound,” adds Andrew Shelton, Netflights’ managing director. “It’ll not just be for wealthy travelers.”
Virtual reality is the new reality
A recent global traveler survey conducted by Travelport found that 61% of travelers believe that virtual reality and artificial reality experiences will help them would make for better trip planning. “With the emergence of 5G, travel brands will be able to create more immersive digital experiences with friends and families,” says Sharon Doyle, a global vice president of product management at Travelport. “We are already seeing companies offer ways of discovering and experiencing travel through virtual and augmented reality.”
Trains running at 700 mph?
In 20 years, new forms of transportation could whisk passengers between major cities at speeds rivaling today’s commercial jets, predicts futurist James Patrick. “Above-terrain high-speed tube trains will reach speeds of 500 to 700 mph as they connect population centers of greater than 250,000 people,” says Patrick, a former airline executive who also owns a bed and breakfast in Denton, Texas.
A carbon zero future
Travel companies are serious about cutting their dependence on fossil fuels. For example, United Airlines already uses more sustainable biofuel than any other airline. “When thinking about the future of travel, particularly in the aviation industry, the move towards making operations more sustainable is going to continue to be a priority that shapes the industry,” says United spokeswoman Christine Salamone. “Looking ahead to the next 10-plus years, we want to take the carbon out of flying – from more supply of sustainable aviation fuel to investing in new technologies in the air and on the ground.”
The final frontier for travel?
Space tourism isn’t science fiction. Just visit Cape Canaveral in Florida to see all the private contractors who are preparing for the next phase of travel. Just as Port Canaveral is a big tourism destination, so, too the Cape may soon welcome space tourists. “The prospect of space tourism seems very real with all the companies that are currently working on this,” said Peter Cranis, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.
But some things probably won’t change, says Joe Mason, chief marketing officer at Allianz Partners.
“Though some aspects of travel should be much less stressful by the year 2040, there will still be some familiar risks for travelers to contend with, along with some new ones,” he says. “Unforeseen trip cancellations, delays and emergencies abroad will continue to happen, meaning that travelers will continue to need travel protection and assistance services to travel with peace of mind.”
So what does the travel industry’s future mean for you?
It’s one thing to talk about the possibilities. Faster trains and planes, self-driving cars and biometrics are exciting. But what do they mean to you?
More competition and lower prices. The airline industry’s monopoly on America’s skies will end as new transportation options become available. That means the days of overpaying for bad airline service will end.
A faster experience. Everything about the future will be faster, from the way you check in for your trip to the length of time it takes to get there.
A more connected world. As more people travel, walls will break down. The insular politics that have defined the last few years will can’t thrive in a well-traveled world.
The future of travel looks bright, but let’s hope that the customer experience also improves dramatically.
That’s the thing about the future, though. No one knows what will happen.
“With the rate of technology, the next 20 years are up for debate,” says Parag Khanna, founder of FutureMap, a data and scenario-based strategic advisory firm, “anything can happen.”