20 MAR 2018: Technology has always played an integral role in how the travel industry functions. Travel has led other major industries utilizing technology while at other times it has lagged far behind. Aircraft Autopilot, computerized airline, car rental and hotel reservations systems, and e-tickets are just a few examples how technology has had a direct and positive impact on how people travel. It can also have negative consequences when reservation and software systems are hacked or break down. Do you ever yearn for a simpler time with less technology?

I've been involved in the travel industry for almost 30 years. On a recent long-haul flight to Africa I was in a reflective mood. Despite all the technological advances, the travel industry is still first and foremost a people industry - a knowledgeable travel agent, a passionate local guide, a friendly flight attendant and a patient tour reservations person. Natural and man-made attractions can impress me but it's the people who I meet on travels that bring the destination alive and are the icing on the cake.

I fully admit to being a nostalgia buff. The Big Chill is my favourite movie. I think as one passes through life, simple and easy to digest has its appeal. Seeing how a five-year old can use a mobile phone or iPad compared to my rudimentary ways puts me to shame. Technology at times becomes a blur for me, so yes, there is a desire for less technology and more people interaction.

ARE MAPS ON THE ENDANGERED LIST?

I have exhibited at and attended numerous travel shows in Canada and world tourism fairs like ITB Berlin, Latin Travel Mart, IPW, Indaba and Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE). Doing the rounds of these shows you don't see as many flashy large booths that you used to see. Budgets have been cut and staff reduced so trade shows are not the same priority they were in the past.

Tourism boards and travel suppliers can now reach their customers electronically -- e-blasts, email and various social media channels. What happened to personal contact? I've done live online chats with various types of businesses and the responses on the other end are pre-packaged and robotic. Give me an in-person voice anytime.

Maps are becoming a thing of the past. I like the perspective a map shows of a destination. Can a 3 x 4 inch Google map screen do that? It's becoming a collector's item now to get a physical map from a destination. When I visit a city or country I like to spread out the map and get a total overview of how I might get from point A to point B or plan a walking, bike, car or transit route. Google and other map software show me only a fraction of that perspective.

Whenever I do an office file cleansing, maps are never relegated to the trash bin. I believe I am not alone and thought of starting a Map Support Group. Long live the map and its legend and scale!

A BROCHURE BOOST

Brochures are also dear to my heart. They seem to be in a death spiral along with its map companion.

For exhibitors and suppliers the brochure was a love-hate relationship. For tour operators' product and marketing departments the brochure represented endless hours of negotiation with suppliers on rates and obtaining tour/hotel information and pictures. The marketing and design departments put it all together in an enticing and colourful publication to lure agents and consumers into booking packages. For the tour operator it was their pride and joy.

On the hate side, I can relate to schlepping heavy boxes full of brochures to trade shows, sales calls and special promotions. The worst was packing up any leftovers after these shows.

I'm a texture guy - I like to feel the ink on a newspaper or pages of a brochure. I appreciate all the sweat that went into producing the brochure. It's real and tangible. Reading a brochure online doesn't evoke the same emotion in me. I may think that's a nice picture or description but I'm not as emotionally involved.

Is there a push-back to technology? I think in some quarters. Just look at travel agents. How many times have we heard the death of the travel agent is upon us? Yet thousands still remain across Canada and the world. In fact, a travel agent's value has seen a resurgence the past few years. Many surveys have shown millennials are using travel agents. It's not just the boomers (that's me) and older generations. We all use technology in the research and booking process. What an agent brings is knowledge of the product or destination, sage advice and peace of mind. I've never heard of a robot that can do all that.

HERE COME THE ROBOTS

Robots, for all their glistening metal, don't win me over. For one they aren't visually appealing. I don't mean you have to look like a model but just look human please - or at least talk like one. The robotic voice and gestures don't give me the warm and fuzzies. I'll never warm up to a piece of metal. I love interacting with front desk staff, check-in agents, bell hops and wait staff - I don't want to carry on a conversation or ask "How's your day?" to a robot and it responds, "Good but my battery is running low."

Robots, in their current form, are slow moving. I don't see a robot "running" to an elevator to stop it from going up or getting people out in the event of a fire.

I don't want to be stuck on a long elevator ride with a robot to my hotel room. I can't imagine what I would ask the robot. "Do you have a favourite machine repair shop if you break down?"

To the tech lovers set I would be considered an "Old Fart". In fact, I was invited recently to join a group of other travel old farts at a social non-business luncheon. In some ways I wear that as a badge of honour that I have endured many years in the business and come out as a survivor.

I welcome technology but it can be a pain -- just ask anyone who has their e-ticket on their phone and then their battery died while in the security line. I'll still keep my printed boarding pass thank you. Technology has been a blessing and has helped me and millions of others involved in the travel industry as well as travellers.

Technology and travel however is not always a match made in heaven. Sometimes it goes to hell. We should embrace both the technological advances as well as respect the methodologies of the past. We shouldn't disregard either.

The travel industry needs both for it to survive.

 

 

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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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