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The six biggest trends in travel innovation and technology

“Uncertainty” may be the one word that best captures the continued disruption we’ve experienced over the past few years, from the pandemic to extreme weather events, inflation, high interest rates and geopolitical tensions. In unsettled times, a deeper understanding of important trends becomes all the more critical. While uncertainty in the world may be increasing, it’s clear that several things in travel are certain:

  • Travel demand is resilient, having shown that it can and will bounce back from even the direst circumstances
  • More than ever, travel businesses that don’t embrace emerging technologies are on a path toward obsolescence.

If 2023 was the year that generative artificial intelligence (AI) grabbed all the headlines, 2024 will be the year that companies start operationalizing it. AI has transformed from something esoteric into something nearly everyone has heard of, and every company needs to embrace. And while generative AI may have seemed like the only tech story of late, there are plenty of other developments in travel and technology that will influence how travel businesses operate in the coming years.

Each year, Phocuswright's expert analysts identify the technology and innovation trends that will significantly influence travel distribution and the wider industry in the coming year and beyond. In 2024, of course we’re giving generative AI the attention it deserves. But we’re also bubbling up underappreciated technologies, preparing for a future of digital identities and currencies, and keeping the focus on sustainability.

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© Phocuswright

Here are the 6 biggest trends in travel innovation and technology in 2024:

At a Crossroads: Underappreciated Tech in Travel
The main limiting factors to tech adoption stem from concerns about the costs of integrating new tech, fear of wasting time on fads, and not wanting to compromise on travel’s essential human touch. AI aside, the relative lack of funding points to an underappreciation of new technology in travel, which leads to underutilization in the industry, and ultimately to an underwhelming traveler experience.

Who Owns the Customer Profile? How About the Customer?!
Momentum is building to decouple identity from individual vendor-driven profiles by embracing a self-sovereign digital identity (SSI) that is owned and controlled by the individual. Digital identity could play a crucial role in generating more meaningful, personalized quotes from vendors. It also may present an opportunity for forward-thinking businesses to capture market share from competitors.

How Cutting Emissions Cuts Into Corporate Travel
It's hard to predict the exact impact of sustainability actions on corporate travel, but it’s in the billions of dollars if nearly half of companies plan to cut back. Considering pledges from the world’s largest enterprises, what’s good for the environment might not be so good for travel businesses.
By understanding how large corporations plan to achieve sustainability targets, we can better predict corporate travel’s recovery.

From Buzzword to Bottom Line: Keeping Pace With Gen AI in Travel
As the industry moves beyond the initial hype, 2024 will be all about leveraging what has been learned so far to focus on the most beneficial use cases – and avoid wasting resources on those without a clear ROI. Travel companies in 2024 are expected to accelerate investment in generative AI applications. But separating the winning use cases from the losers will be an ongoing process of trial and error.

Autonomous Agents in Travel Are Coming
GenAI increasingly enables the autonomous creation of complex types of content in text, audio and even video format. But how will it affect the industry in the long term? The concept of autonomous agents has the promise of truly automating the travel planning and booking process, but what will that interface look like?

Get Ready to Accept the Digital Euro, Rupee and Yuan
Something that may be going unnoticed by some in the industry is the fact that central banks around the world have begun issuing digital currencies. These Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) have many characteristics similar to cryptocurrencies, but they are promoted and controlled by existing central banks rather than by companies or decentralized organizations.
The stated goals of CBDCs are to increase privacy, transferability, convenience, accessibility and security, but the centralized control of CBDCs has sparked major concerns about these same issues.
Travel can be a powerful force for good, and we can all do our part to rebuild trust where needed, whether between companies and customers, between nations, or between humans and computers. Generative AI has its share of problems that engender a lack of trust, from bias to hallucinations and copyright infringement. Indeed, all nascent technologies struggle with trust-related issues as they make the journey from marginal to mainstream. Keeping abreast of the latest innovations is the bedrock upon which we can understand how to effectively leverage new technologies while establishing and enhancing trust within our ecosystems.

Read more about each trend in Phocuswright’s Research Insights article here.
Get the full Phocuswright report Travel Innovation and Technology Trends 2024.