Everything the internet changed about travel

Remember travel agents? I do. They brought a spot of cheer to a gloomy winter’s high street with their windows full of palm trees and promise. Now they are an endangered species and have almost entirely fled the high street and physical shops.

The internet opened up the process of checking flights and hotels, booking, and organising the information. Travel agencies got better and more up-to-date information but once the information went live it was something anyone could do. We didn’t need the middleman of the travel agent any more and enjoyed the lower prices.

It’s now completely normal to book our own flights and accommodation and organise every detail of the holiday ourselves. No specialist knowledge or connections needed.

So travel agencies upped sticks and migrated online. Without the expensive shopfronts but with huge advertising campaigns. Competition got fierce

Thomas Cook, the first tour operator, still has some stores and books by phone but their website is where the action is at. The experience is getting more innovative too — using virtual reality, video tours, 360 views and more.

That’s not always what everyone wants. There’s still a market for boutique travel agencies for high-end customers both online and off, as well as specialty agencies like STA Travel that caters to students and gap year planning agencies.

Those complicated trips are more likely to be handed over to the experts. And some people have the money to outsource routine things like travel plans. Of course, a lot of this is done over the internet.

Many new companies have changed the face of travel and Airbnb is one of the most well known. Originally more akin to a couchsurfing network it has come to dominate the industry.

But there were plenty of innovators beforehand. Skyscanner was founded in 2001 and is now one of the most popular flight information aggregators, helping people find the cheapest flights. Kayak wasn’t far behind in 2004 and is now in the top thousand most visited sites on the internet.

The travel industry had rich pickings for those looking to disrupt an industry. It was inefficient and outdated, slow to adapt to the burgeoning internet and travel agencies needed a significant markup on the price of holidays to keep their high street stores open and staffed.

Another big change is the local ratings site. TripAdvisor being the biggest and most common. But there are plenty of others to help you find accommodation, things to do, food, drinks, and more.

This makes competition fierce and there are plenty of accusations of playing dirty in the fight for the top spot.

More personal ratings in the forms of likes and favourites also play a much bigger part in our travel. Social media gives friends, family, and strangers alike an intimate glimpse at our holiday — no more postcards but a curated feed. Getting swoon-worthy Instagram pics and an enviable Facebook update are a top priority for some people’s holiday and the industry has started catering to it.

We tend to only notice it when it goes wrong but the massive infrastructure behind the scenes of travel — airports, airlines, and so on — has been revolutionised by the internet and the connectivity it offers.

Flight control, scheduling, baggage handling, plane maintenance — all have been revolutionised by the Internet of Things, a vast network of sensors, terminals, and machines running things out of sight.

No printing your tickets, early check-in online, hotel reservations on your phone… travel now is less about paperwork and more about saving time and getting on with it. Saving time and hassle is always nice. But for frequent flyers this really adds up and can shave hours off every week.

Travel insurance can be brought instantly and ready to go the next day, with documents emailed to you. Hotel reservations made on your mobile and once at the hotel a lot of the traditional concierge duties can be done from your phone.

You don’t need to take great wedges of cash on holiday with you. And traveller’s cheques… what are they? Paying on holiday is just like paying at home — use your card or even a cash machine with no worries.

Get a mobile prepaid card and you don’t even need to take your regular debit card with you — adding another layer of safety. Just transfer money around online.

We all know the internet is not a futuristic utopia. The worst parts of offline activity have proliferated too — very much including scams and fraud. Sure there were rogue, incompetent, and fraudulent businesses ready to take holiday-makers money before the internet. But the internet made their jobs a whole lot easier.

Travel scams are one of the most common, and heartbreaking. People save up for a wonderful holiday only to find it was all a con.

This has undoubtedly held the industry back in the internet age. Customers have to do their own due diligence — and keep track of which airlines, tour operators, and so on, have gone bankrupt in order to organise their own refunds.

  • The online travel industry is facing its own issues. Airbnb is facing rough waters as locals fight back and legislators try to regulate and control its expansion.
  • The rise of sustainable travel sites and public concern about the environmental impact of travel might change things once more. Can the planet continue to support a massive boom in flights? Possibly not.
  • There’s a new generation of influencers looking to travel and make money, plus the rise of “digital nomads” travelling and working all over the world thanks to the internet.
  • Travel companies, tour operators, and hotels will benefit from all our personal data and will be able to customise offers and the experiences available. You can already chat with the front desk in some hotels on Facebook to order room service or discuss issues.
  • Global positioning allows up-to-the-minute information about events, attractions, and facilities. Hotels and travel agencies will be able to message you with recommendations based on your location and money-saving deals.

http://EpicTraveller.co provides travel gear, kit and equipment for all travellers heading out on epic trips and journeys.