A vision of the future for holidaymakers
Augmented reality glasses for use on city tours are the latest example of the immersive technologies helping to enhance the holiday experience.
An alternative to the umbrella-waving tour guide could soon see holidaymakers exploring cities and places of interest with the help of augmented reality glasses.
The specs, which are currently being tested by TUI customers in Palma de Mallorca, enable text, photographs, videos and 3D models to be displayed in front of what the user is looking at. The company said the technology offered holidaymakers “new, more exciting access” to historical facts and stories and took into account many tourists’ desire to explore on their own.
In the Palma trial, users have been able to learn more about an artist whose paintings they are viewing, or see an animation of the famous dragon that is said to have terrorised the city.
Try before you fly
TUI is one of the first travel providers in the world to offer the technology, which builds on recent developments revolutionising the holiday booking experience.
This has included Thomas Cook’s “try before you fly” virtual reality feature, which gives web and store visitors a closer look at destinations or the cabin of one of the company’s planes.
Hotels have been using similar technology to give their website visitors a better view of the rooms they have on offer. And once customers arrive at their destination, interactive maps have been providing an extra layer of information on local points of interest when viewed on a smartphone.
In the airline sector, easyJet is now using augmented reality technology to help customers know if their cabin bag is within the right dimensions before they set off for the airport. The company hopes the feature on its app will reduce unexpected baggage queries on arrival.
The scan provides an on-screen 3D box which when combined with a customer’s smartphone camera sizes the cabin bag and indicates whether it fits within the maximum dimensions.
Travelport’s Cormac Reilly, who helped develop the feature for easyJet, said: “Audiences are increasingly demanding digital solutions which improve their travel experience.”
How overseas holidays boost UK economy
Spending by UK travellers before a foreign trip is now higher than it is at their destination, a report on the impact of overseas tourism reveals.
The old argument that holidaying outside the UK is bad for the nation’s prosperity has been cast into doubt by new research examining the economic value of outbound travel.
According to travel association ABTA, the amount spent by residents before they set off on foreign travels reached £45.7 billion in 2017. This is 36% higher than in 2008 and now exceeds the amount spent by UK travellers in the overseas holiday destinations they visit.
The expenditure includes the cost of air travel and insurance services, as well as airport drinks and snacks, holiday clothes and shoes, and lotions and toiletries.
Once tax revenues, the industry’s direct economic impact and employment are taken into account, the report concludes that the outbound travel sector has an “important, and too often underappreciated, role to play within the UK’s tourism mix”.
The outbound travel sector directly sustains 220,700 full-time equivalent jobs, which ABTA says is higher than the UK’s iron and steel or electrical equipment manufacturing industries. Just as many jobs again are created through the supply chains supporting the industry.
The sector also generated £6.4 billion for the Exchequer in 2017, with the bulk of this coming from indirect taxes such as Air Passenger Duty.
The overall economic contribution to the UK totalled £37.1 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2017, amounting to around 1.8% of UK GDP and growth of 36% since 2014.
No tourism deficit
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Too often the contribution of the UK outbound travel industry is overlooked in favour of a myth that overseas travel creates a ‘tourism deficit’ with money going overseas which could be spent in the UK.
“The evidence is clear that this is not the case — the benefits of the outbound sector are being felt by the wider economy in terms of jobs, support for other businesses and tax contributions to the Treasury.
“In order to continue to grow and thrive, government needs to make sure the right tax and policy framework is in place.”
Stricter rules on travel ESTA permits for entry to the United States mean Britons heading across the Atlantic could be barred from boarding.
Passengers are being urged not to be caught out by a change in the fast-track scheme that allows tourists entry into the United States.
Authorities have revealed that last minute applications under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will no longer be accepted, with a minimum three days required before the departure date.
Failure to adhere to this time limit could mean those who have booked late travel deals or forgotten to fill in their online application will be unable to travel. While the rules have always advised applying 72 hours in advance, it has often been the case that travellers have been able to file applications as late as at the airport.
Visa Waiver Programme
Around 3.8 million Britons visit the United States every year, with tourists and certain types of business travellers able to use ESTA under the country’s Visa Waiver Programme.
Applying for and securing an ESTA, which costs US$14 and allows trips lasting up to 90 days, is a separate process to providing an airline with advance passenger information.
A note from US Customs and Border Protection on the ESTA application website advises travellers of the stricter time limit. It said: “Apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours before departing for the United States.
“Real-time approvals will no longer be available and arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding.”
US travel insurance
US-bound travellers also need to think carefully about their travel and medical insurance before they set off. They need to remember that policies including the US tend to be more expensive due to the cost of healthcare in the country.
Recent examples from the Association of British Insurers include a £233,000 medical bill for 15 days in hospital following a stroke and £185,000 for a 10-day hospital stay to treat a blood clot.
Passengers at Heathrow will be able to use facial recognition biometrics to streamline their journey through the airport this summer.
The world’s largest deployment of biometrically-enabled products is set to transform the Heathrow passenger experience by speeding up the check-in, bag drop and boarding process.
The £50 million project to use facial recognition biometric services should reduce the average journey time through the airport by up to a third. It will also significantly cut the amount of paper used when flying.
Currently, manual authentication means that passengers need to present different forms of ID, such as boarding cards, booking reference numbers as well as passports. Facial biometrics are more accurate than manual checks and offer increased security.
Reduced boarding times
Research by airline industry body IATA shows that 64% of passengers would choose to share their biometric data if it meant a better travelling experience.
This summer’s trial project at Heathrow is being replicated at a number of other major airports around the world, including Changi airport in Singapore. At the world’s busiest airport — Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson — Delta Airlines has just opened the first-ever dedicated biometric terminal.
When the new technology went online in October, Delta said less than 2% of customers opted out of the process. The airline estimates it saves an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding, or nine minutes when boarding a wide body aircraft.
Heathrow already uses facial recognition at UK border control through the use of biometric e-gates. By extending the technology to more points in the passenger journey, there’s the potential to allow for greater personalisation of services, which could be useful for passengers requiring additional assistance.
Customer relations and service director Jonathan Coen said: “With this technology we’ll be able to offer passengers choice on how they travel through our airport, with colleagues on hand to guide passengers that require it.
“Biometric technology has been well received by our passengers so far.”
Helping consumers to understand insurance is no easy task, which is why the industry has created a series of animations tailored for social media.
With the task of buying insurance generally regarded as a chore by consumers, the industry has devised an eye-catching social media travel campaign aimed at getting its message across on the importance of getting the right cover.
The Insurance Experiments — a stand-alone website promoted on Facebook — uses animations lasting barely 20 seconds that feature a cast of scientist characters finding out more about insurance.
The initiative has already delivered three million online impressions and brought thousands of people to the website by focusing on property, motor and small business insurance. Now it has been extended to cover travel insurance.
The travel pages cover issues such as the disclosure of medical conditions, the need to have adventurous activities covered correctly, and some of the many ways that travel insurance can come to the rescue of the consumer.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is behind the project, although there’s little sign of its branding or logo on the pages of Insurance Experiments. The animations appear in Facebook feeds and face competition for our attention, which is why they look very different to the usual ABI materials.
Charlie Campbell, the ABI’s senior policy adviser for travel insurance: “Our new Insurance Experiments are designed to encourage consumers to spend just a little longer thinking about the cover that they buy for their trips away.”
Correct travel cover
The travel insurance industry paid claims worth £385 million in 2017, the highest since the ash cloud disruption of 2010. While insurers pay the equivalent of a claim every minute, there remain concerns that customers do not always consider all of their needs before buying a policy.
This is highlighted by travel group Abta’s current campaign targeting the 2.5 million British adults who have been on winter sports holidays without checking they have appropriate insurance. Many wrongly assume they are automatically covered for winter sports as part of their cover, putting them at risk of costly medical bills if they have an accident.
The ABI’s Campbell added: “It’s important to not only look at the cost of the policy but to ensure it accurately reflects your personal circumstances, and takes account of where you’ll be going and what you’re likely to be doing.”
The travel trends expected to shape holiday choices in 2019 have been revealed by Abta, alongside its “12 destinations to watch”.
Responsible tourism is set to be a key factor in holiday bookings in 2019 as consumers pay closer attention to the sustainability credentials of tour operators and the trips they offer.
Other travel trends for the year ahead — revealed in industry body Abta’s annual list — include the resurgence of the “trusted expert” who is able to meet demand for personal and tailored travel advice.
The influential report, which is based on market information and consumer insights, also suggests that people remain committed to taking holidays despite the ongoing political and economic uncertainty.
Rise of wellness travel
According to the report, two-fifths of people cited sustainability as important when booking a holiday, a sharp increase from 24% in 2014.
There’s now much greater awareness of plastics and tourism’s impact on local communities, prompting many companies to announce plans to make holidays more sustainable in the long term.
Abta highlights the rise of wellness travel, with this market growing twice as fast as general tourism as people look to alleviate stress and boost wellbeing.
There’s also a focus on services-based technology to make the lives of travellers easier. Examples include airport luggage drop-off services, facial recognition technology replacing passports and suncream booths.
12 destinations to watch
With 46% of people likely to visit a country they’ve never been to before in 2019, Abta’s 12 destinations to watch showcase the diversity available to UK holidaymakers.
The report reveals the hidden gems of familiar destinations, such as the extensive mountain biking opportunities in Madeira and the city break destination, Thessaloniki.
Many of the places on the list offer good value breaks, thanks to cheap flights to Poland or a favourable exchange rate in South Africa. Bookings to Bulgaria next summer, a longstanding value for money destination, are already up 30% on this time last year.
The other destinations on the list are Costa Rica, Denver in Colorado, Galicia in Spain, Japan, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Western Australia.
Single-use plastic is being eradicated from planes and holiday resorts as companies look to preserve the oceans they rely on for business.
Plastic pollution and its threat to oceans and marine animals is being tackled in a series of environmental initiatives by airlines and travel companies.
Thomas Cook’s #noplaceforplastic campaign has pledged to remove 70 million single-use plastics — equivalent to 3,500 suitcases full — within 12 months.
The holidays giant said research from WWF showing that the amount of plastic litter going into the Mediterranean increases by 40% during the summer months proved the direct link between the travel industry and plastic pollution.
Thomas Cook is taking action on items such as straws and stirrers, as well as establishing a pilot scheme in Rhodes to trial sustainable alternatives to plastic products.
As more than a fifth of holidaymakers say they are more likely to throw away plastic rather than recycle while away from home, the company has also announced a scheme to turn discarded plastic inflatables, lilos and swimming armbands into bags and holiday accessories.
Other tour operators and hotels have participated in this summer’s ABTA Make Holidays Greener campaign, helping to remove an estimated 49 tonnes — equivalent to the weight of around 30 cars — through schemes such as offering filtered water instead of bottled water.
Elsewhere in the holiday industry, Hamburg-based TUI Cruises has pledged to give up plastic disposable products on its Mein Schiff fleet by the end of 2020.
And budget carrier Ryanair has said it will eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from its operations by 2023. This will include using environmentally friendly alternatives such a bio-degradable cups, wooden cutlery and paper packaging.
A debate at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London recently considered the efforts of the travel industry in tackling plastic pollution.
WTM London’s Paul Nelson said documentaries such as the BBC’s Blue Planet II had greatly increased awareness among consumers and spurred the industry into action. He added: “The speed with which companies have pledged to tackle plastic waste has been remarkable.”
Solo holidays are growing in popularity, driven by travellers not wanting to compromise on where they go.
The number of Britons going on holiday alone has jumped by a third since 2011, research from travel industry body ABTA has revealed. One-in-six (15%) people have taken a solo holiday in the past year, up from 12% in 2017.
Being able to do and go where they want was the most common reason cited by solo travellers in the ABTA research, aided by the widespread availability of wi-fi and smartphones.
The solo trend is prompting many tour operators to expand their offer for individual travellers, with some also reviewing their single supplement charges.
There are now many more options for those who want to travel alone, such as being able to join a group activity trip or take a cruise.
Asia is a particularly popular destination, with 22% of solo travellers going there over the last 12 months, compared to an average of 15% among all types of holidaymaker.
As well as having the freedom to do what they want (76%), other reasons given to ABTA for taking a solo trip include wanting to take some time out (63%) and to visit a new destination (37%).
The most likely group to travel on their own are those over 75, with one in five respondents having done so in the past year. But the trend has been most noticeable among 35-44 year-olds, with an increase of 11% from last year.
Navigating the world alone is now less daunting thanks to the availability of wi-fi and use of smartphones and travel apps. Solo travellers can keep in touch with friends and family, sharing holiday experiences via social media. The “solotravel” hashtag on Instagram has more than 3.5 million posts.
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Going on holiday by yourself means you don’t have to compromise on your choice of destination, your itinerary or the activities you take part in.
“Whether they’re single or just want some ’me time’, people now have an incredible choice of holidays and destinations to choose from.”
The value of buying travel insurance as early as possible is highlighted after figures show a big jump in cancellation claims last year.
The travel insurance industry paid out claims worth £385 million in 2017, the highest figure since £455 million was awarded during a year of disruption caused by the Icelandic ash cloud in 2010.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said the 2017 increase reflected a significant rise in cancellation claims due to airline disruption, bad weather at home and abroad, and the rising cost of the average family holiday.
The total number of travel insurance claims also increased by 30,000 year-on-year to 510,000, amounting to one case every minute of the year.
Medical expenses again accounted for the bulk of the claims expenditure, with 159,000 travellers requiring treatment costing insurers around £201 million.
One Briton needed £90,000 of treatment for a fractured rib and punctured lung, whilst another required a £20,000 payout to treat a blocked intestine. Even a smaller injury, such as damage to a knee ligament, cost £3,800 to treat.
Medical expenses far outweigh non-medical claims, with the ABI pointing out that the average medical bill of £812 for a millennium traveller was three times more expensive than their other claims.
The £145 million paid out on 174,000 claims for cancelled holidays was up £15 million from the 159,000 seen in 2016. There were also 86,000 people who received £17 million worth of support for baggage being delayed or money lost whilst travelling.
The spike in the number of claims for cancelled holidays reinforces the industry message that consumers should not wait until the last minute to buy travel insurance.
Charlie Campbell, the ABI’s policy adviser for travel, said: “Medical expenses can often cost tens of thousands of pounds, whilst the large increase in cancellation claims shows just how important it is to purchase your cover as early as possible.
“Our question to consumers is: can you afford to not have travel insurance?”
A ban on cold calling by claims management firms is a further step in the fight against fictitious holiday sickness claims.
The campaign to stop fraudulent food poisoning claims by British holidaymakers continues to gain momentum after new rules were introduced on nuisance calls.
The new Financial Guidance and Claims Act means firms that make unsolicited calls touting for personal injury or PPI business will first need the recipient’s consent. Failure to do so risks a fine up to £500,000.
A 500% rise in holiday sickness cases between 2013 and 2016 has been blamed on claims management companies (CMCs) encouraging holidaymakers to submit exaggerated or false sickness reports.
The problem cost Mallorcan hoteliers an estimated £42million in one year alone, even though the number of illness reports in resorts stayed the same.
Big drop in claims
There have been recent signs that the travel industry is winning the battle against the fraudsters, amid reports in Spain of a big drop in claims.
The turnaround follows high-profile court cases in which holidaymakers have been found guilty of making fraudulent claims and fined thousands of pounds, given community service orders or sent to prison.
There’s also been a concerted effort to tackle misconduct in the claims management industry. Its government-backed regulator said holiday sickness cases were now back to levels seen in 2015, with the number of CMCs operating in this area down to 140 in January from 225 the previous summer.
An audit by the regulator involving CMCs that handle holiday sickness cases resulted in warnings being issued to seven firms, while another eight surrendered their authorisation either before or after the checks.
In one case, the regulator listened to recordings of marketing calls in which sales agents told clients that they will be entitled to £2,500 if they say they had been ill and that they didn’t need any evidence of their illness.
A fixed costs regime for solicitors that handle sickness cases has also helped control the problem, while the Solicitors Regulation Authority has reminded its members about the need for proper due diligence checks.