Opinion: Shifting expectations and the future of travel

By Kirby Gordon, vp: Sales and Distribution at FlySafair

My grandmother is visiting me later this week. We’ll be celebrating her 89th birthday and she wanted the opportunity to return to Johannesburg to revisit the house she grew up in before her eyesight completely fades. Her eyes have had the good fortune of drinking up the gorgeous Knysna views for the past 27 years, and it’s not lost on us that she’s going to see a city that has changed remarkably since she lived here.

Of course, she anticipates that the face of Jo’burg will be very different from what she left behind all those years ago, but what I suspect will surprise her, is how differently we engage with our city, thanks to the advances in technology between then and now.

Even 10 years ago, I would have reached into the cubbyhole to consult my map book before departing our driveway. This is something she probably still expects me to do. Instead I’ll be punching the location I want into my car’s navigation system and waiting for it to guide me to our final destination along the most efficient route, factoring in not only the distance, but current traffic conditions too.

What’s so fundamentally different here is how our expectations have shifted. She would have had a higher tolerance for delays and not necessarily being able to determine what time we’d be arriving – give or take 10 minutes wouldn’t be an issue. Conversely, I want efficiency and certainty, knowing that my destination will be on the left and I will reach it in exactly 13 minutes. I believe that these expectational shifts are the most significant ways in which technology affects our lives and, indeed, the way in which we will travel.

DIY culture

Modern technologies have empowered us to help ourselves. We notice that most of our customers at FlySafair would rather make changes to their reservations through our website than call into our Customer Service Centre. The Internet offers us a wide variety of tools and information on how to do things, from using a specific piece of software, to building a house or delivering a baby. If you get stuck, there’s probably a YouTube video to help you out.

Doing it for ourselves has changed the way we approach our world and I would hazard a guess that we’ll recognise this manifesting as confidence in younger generations who will be more inclined to build their own travel itineraries and explore new and interesting places. They’ll have no fear of getting lost in far-flung, foreign places, because they’ve got maps on their phone.

Last-minute decisions

Another undeniable shift is our insistence on immediacy and accuracy. That navigation system on my car had best not take more than 10 seconds to calculate my route, and I’ll be most frustrated if it leads me into a traffic jam. Not only has technology made us impatient, but it has eradicated our need to plan ahead the way we used to. If I want to meet up with a friend I simply call them on their mobile without a second thought of whether they’ll be home to answer the phone. When we’ve not planned what we want for dinner, I simply order in with UberEats, and if it weren’t for Facebook reminding me, I’d probably have forgotten your birthday.

This is a trend that I believe is going to place immense pressure on the airline industry in particular, if not the travel and tourism industry at large. Our whole model is based on the notion that consumers who plan ahead are rewarded with better fares, thanks to our demand-based pricing models. In the few short years that FlySafair has been in business, we’ve definitely seen a contraction on the forward-booking curve, with flights filling up later and later. At some point, someone is going to figure out a system that better fits with the way in which consumers are wanting purchase and the whole system will be turned on its head. Going on holiday could become a very different experience with a far more spontaneous type of approach.

Trusting strangers

The sharing economy is another really interesting trend that’s being driven by emerging technology. Lyft is an app that allows you to offer a ride to paying customers heading in the same direction as you are while on your way to work. Airbnb allows you to rent out your home when you’re not around, and Zipcar has prevented thousands of Americans from purchasing their own motor vehicles in favour of accessing a pool of shared vehicles and simply paying for their ride. While this is sometimes a little difficult for us crime-conscious South Africans to get our heads around, it’s a philosophy that seems to be here to stay, and it’s this philosophy that’s bound to impact the future of travel.

Airbnb already offers a range of interesting accommodation options to travellers, but what’s amazing about this trend is how it’s opening people up to the idea of interacting more with strangers. Stand-alone homes and apartments are a definite option on the Airbnb platform, but there are loads of options where you simply rent a room in a stranger’s home. Even if you rent a whole pace to yourself, you inevitably end up interacting with a local host who’ll take pride in guiding you to their favorite restaurant or picnic spot.

This is the second fascinating element of this technology: it’s creating an ever-wider array of experiences for travellers and, beyond that, we’re placing value on that ‘bespokeness’. Previously the boast at the cocktail party would have been about having stayed at the Four Seasons in Paris, but now there’s more cachet in gushing about the quaint little pied-à-terre you found in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Technology is opening up a whole new world to us and there are loads of amazing gizmos and gadgets that are bound to come along. Advancements in virtual reality and artificial intelligence are incredible and it’s going to be fascinating to see what impact they have on our world, but what’s even more interesting is to see what kind of impact they have on us.

Fortunately, my Google-machine has helped me to establish that Gran’s old house still looks a lot like it did when she left it 64 years ago. I’ve also discovered that it’s now a business premises and the proprietors are very open to let a little old lady step back in her own history, even though we’ve not quite invented a time machine just yet.


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