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2018 - A Non- Prediction

What's next?

It is a curious irony that the travel industry, being one which is so heavily connected with its customers, is working so very hard to distance itself from those customers. Technology is replacing humans, which is most strange for an industry, where the whole ethos lies around generating contact to further its customers' enjoyment.

Travel is slowly losing sight of what it is about. Hotels want to communicate via Apps. Your room key is on a (hackable, it would appear) app, you order via an app, you can arrange to visit somewhere via an app, you can check in via an app in fact, all hotel staff that are customer facing, appear to be redundant. You will still need chambermaids and waiters, of course, but no doubt some bright spark will produce a robot that can make your bed and a drone to deliver your restaurant food

Airlines take the same approach. Minimal human contact at all times. Book online, check-in online, tag your own bags, press a few buttons to board or show a screen your booking code on a mobile phone. If you actually need to telephone an airline, then it is a premium rate line and chances are, a long wait. Airline communication (for customers) relies on running the gauntlet of FAQ's (none of which ever seem to be anything like relevant to your query) and then pressing an endless number of buttons before being told that, due to the "unprecedented number of calls" you will be answered sometime ovr the course of the next century. Not all airlines are like this, of course, so are very good but most are either at or working towards, this point.

Admittedly, this malaise doe not just apply to travel. Anyone who has had to deal with, say, a major utility company or a bank will know about the endless button-pushing, the repeated requests for security information - and the uncomfortable feeling that one has, that everything you say or do will be recorded somewhere and that on some future occasion, one is going to get bombarded with emails for products and/ or services that one neither wants nor asked for.

I do not wish to make any predictions for 2018; but I do have aspirations. The main aspiration - indeed, my over-riding aspiration, is for the re-humanisation of travel (and preferably, the re-humanisation of contact in general). People are cheap, these days. You can get a half-way decent human for (from) £7.50 an hour - a bit more, if you wish a human that has the ability to actually do something. I am sure that many airline problems - and growing holiday problems - with regard to customer behavior are down to the de-humanisation of the booking process, a much as the indifferent attitude taken towards anyone who is not travelling First, Business or Premium Economy Class. As time goes by, these issues will grow rather than diminish.

Where human contact exists, with most airlines as well as many hotels ad holiday companies, it is at a very superficial level. A human can show you which button to press to check in your bag, a human can tell you how to go through a door - but a human does not tell you which door to go through - for that, you need to check the app. A human can tell you which complaint form to complete, but that same human contact cannot resolve your complaint.

In 2018, my aspiration would be that the human face of any airline/ hotel or holiday company is one that can take possession of your problem (or praise) and actually fix it. Dumbing down the level of the human interface between the customer and the supplier is not wise. Travel needs to decide if, as a people business, travel wishes to remain as a people business.

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