Two coaches on coach tour holiday driving along empty road

The biggest travel trends of 2019 for the coach tour industry

By | Coach Tour, Feature, Holiday, Travel | No Comments

As we near the end of the decade, travel is shifting to offer a more personalised experience. Fuelled by the rise of social media and a new appreciation for unique cultural experiences, today’s traveller expects to be able to create their own adventure. 2018 was the year for TV tourism (think Game of Thrones tours in Northern Ireland) and eco-tourism. 2019 will see more of the same, but new developments in technology and changes in traveller attitudes will inspire new trends. So what should tour companies expect this year, and, more importantly, how can they deliver the best experience to their customers?

Wellness holidays go mainstream

‘Self-development stays’ have existed in some form for decades, but they’ve become increasingly popular in the past few years. Wellness tourism worldwide was worth £500bn in 2017, and last year grew at more than twice the pace of tourism overall. An emphasis on better emotional self-care, driven in part by the rise in Instagram-inspired wellbeing retreats, has brought the wellness trip into the mainstream.

In January, VisitScotland published its annual review of travel trends. The review noted an increase in demand for holidays centred around improving oneself, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. The UK coach tour industry, then, is well placed to respond to this trend. 2019 is the year to start offering trips that cater to this new client base, whether through curated retreats, ethically-minded hideaways or traditional local events.

Wellness travel becomes the next travel trend

Eco-conscious excursions evolve

Just like the wellness travel trend, 2019 will be a big year for “green getaways” – trips focused on getting back to nature and respecting the environment. Sure, eco-friendly travel has been a hot topic for a few years now, but it’s only in the past year that travel companies have begun to grasp the potential value of them. Not only do they help conserve the environment for future visitors, but a travel company’s eco-credentials can also entice a new generation of environmentally aware travellers.

A recent study by found that 86% of global travellers would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay. That’s why coach tour companies should use 2019 to begin integrating more eco-friendly features on your tours. If you can adapt your vehicles to reduce the environmental impact, do it. Adding tree-planting, wildlife conservation or wild camping to your tour itineraries could open up a whole new world and simultaneously conserve our own planet. What’s not to love?

Travelling on an eco-friendly coach tour is the new travel trend

Authenticity beats package

Just as eco-holidays grew from an increased awareness of the impact of travel on our environment, the demand for authenticity in travel has been fuelled by an increased focus on the impact on local cultures. Travellers in 2019 don’t want to be a spectator, they want to be an active participant, and, just as importantly, they want to learn. In fact, over half (56%) of global travellers claim they learned invaluable life skills while travelling.

This push for authenticity was apparent in the rise in domestic tourism last year. Travellers want to be immersed in a culture, even if it’s the culture of a neighbouring town or city. For coach tour companies, that means pushing activities over sight-seeing. Partner with local businesses to allow travellers to develop new skills based on local knowledge and practices. The more visual the activity (think pottery-making or gin-distilling) the better. After all, behind the push for authenticity is the ever-present desire for social-friendly photo opportunities.

Personalisation is the travel trend

The one-size-fits-all model of holidays will no longer cut it. Travel companies have responded by shifting to curated experiences that deliver hyper-relevant individualised content direct to the customer. Coach tour companies might want to study the following statistics found in the study:

  • 34% of travellers now expect travel recommendations for them
  • 41% want travel brands to use technologies such as AI to make travel suggestions based on past travel experience.
  • 52% would be excited about tech travel innovations such as a digital tour guide

New technologies are at the heart of helping travellers create their own adventures. For coach companies, this means identifying a customer’s interests and catering subsequent offers to them. A customer who books a hiking tour in the Scottish Highlands, for instance, would be more receptive to additional offers for hiking gear than someone who’s booked a city break.

Personalisation as an essential travel trend of 2019

Social media is still essential

That means try to get your coach tour company included in the post, either by a direct @ of your company or through a hashtag (for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Of course, you can offer incentives to passengers, such as being entered into a prize draw, if they include your custom hashtag in their posts.

Social media will also continue to be an invaluable marketing tool. The only real difference will be a bigger focus on targeted content. Even the smallest of tour companies now have access to tools that allow them to optimise their message for different audiences. Customer personas and social analytics software allow you to narrow down your branding to laser precision. After all, it’s not just about getting your content in front of as many people as possible; it’s about targeting the right people at the right time.

Smartphone in travel

Micro-trips become more common

2019 will see a rise in the number of travellers looking for short-breaks. And when we say short, we’re talking as little as one to two days. This is in part due to financial constraints – paying for two weeks in the sun is not an option for everyone, after all. But it’s also due in part to travellers opting for a genuine ‘travel’ experience over a ‘holiday’. Travelling to multiple locations requires more planning and is usually more expensive than staying in a single setting. That’s why modern travellers will often opt for several short-stay trips spread across the year.

The popularity of the micro-vacation can also be attributed to the rise in ‘bleisure’ trips, where the traveller combines a business trip with a few days of leisure. It makes sense, after all, to take advantage of time in a new country that you might not otherwise visit. But these ‘bleisure’ trips offer coach tour operators a unique opportunity too. Single day round-trips and even half-day packages could be just the ticket for time-strapped passengers. Be warned, however, as one- day round-trips can entail a significant amount of time on the road, so make sure to stock up on onboard entertainment features.

Retrofitting your public transport

To find out more about the top travel trends of 2019, get in touch with Sygnal today.

Smartphone in travel

How has the smartphone changed the way we travel?

By | Feature, Mobile, Technology, Travel | No Comments

The advent of the smartphone has given the world any number of new innovations. Constant connectivity, new networking opportunities and endless avenues of distraction – the smartphone has changed almost every aspect of our lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than in how we travel.

The world is growing smaller. Cultures can be shared at the click of a button and the smartphone has played a key role, but how else has this window to the world changed the way we explore?

Book as you go

Say goodbye to booking your accommodation and transport months in advance – this is the smartphone era, a time of flexible travel plans, a time of booking on impulse. Unlike just two decades ago, today a change in schedule doesn’t mean losing a deposit or trawling a new city in a desperate bid for rooms.

The advent of high-speed transit Wi-Fi has also given travellers more freedom to choose accommodation and book activities as they travel, rather than months beforehand. In fact, 38% of bookings in 2017 happened the same day or up to two days before the activity, many of them “in-destination”, while consumers are already travelling. As a result, travel plans become more flexible and travellers don’t have to be tied into a rigid schedule.

Perhaps the most notable change to travelling is the freedom our pocket companions provide us with. We now have the power to adapt and improvise on the go – fuelled by access to information that just thirty years ago would have seemed unthinkable.

Woman using smartphone airline app to book flights

Sharing becomes instant

No more phoning your mum on an international calling card from some bus station pay phone, no more sending postcards home only to see them arrive a week after you’ve returned.

The smartphone has empowered everyone to share unique experiences on a global platform. No longer do amateur photographers have to wait for their film to develop, or for access to a computer to upload their new pics. Instead, images can be captured, uploaded and shared in a matter of seconds.

Likewise, emails, social messages and even texts can be sent on the move. Friends can stay up to date on your latest excursions and the anxious parents of first-time travellers can be reassured that their precious progeny is still alive and kicking.

 Using a smartphone to capture sunset while travelling

Information breeds autonomy

In the age of Airbnb and Instagram nomads, there’s a new golden rule to travel: make your own adventure. Travellers no longer want carefully curated tours and hermetically sealed hotel rooms. They want authenticity. They want to be immersed in new cultures, without the ‘safety net’ of local guides or bubble-wrapped tourist-traps. In short, the modern traveller wants a genuine experience. The smartphone has brought this dream to life, giving travellers a means to navigate, explore, translate and engage with locals like never before. The growth of the sharing economy is a testament to this.

The smartphone has put the power back in the hands of the traveller. Connectivity provides a lifeline for those looking to break from the beaten path, paving the way for more adventures and, eventually, a better understanding of different cultures beyond the usual guidebook tropes.

Using a smartphone while travelling on rail network

Navigation made easy

Of course, one of the essential aspects of travel is knowing where you’re going. Navigation is never easy, but the introduction of the smartphone has made finding your way from A to B significantly easier.

With any number of cool apps to help you get around, finding your way through a new city isn’t just easy, it’s actually fun. Citymapper helps you to navigate public transport in a new city, while BackCountry Navigator gives you beautiful offline topographical maps. Still, the crown jewel has to be Google Maps, which comes with just about every feature you could ever need for navigation, including turn-by-turn directions, live traffic updates, info about public transport schedules and options for temporary offline maps.

One of the counterpoints to this endless connectivity is that, with people less likely to get lost, they’re also less likely to stumble upon hidden gems in a new city. While it’s true that the smartphone has made navigation infinitely easier, there’s nothing to stop you from logging off and exploring the old-fashioned way.

Navigating a new city using 4G mobile data

Reviews = informed decisions

With the advent of the internet came the online review. No longer were restaurants subject to scrutiny by just recognised critics; now anyone could have their say on an establishment, for better or worse. With online review websites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, travellers can get a taste of a restaurant, hotel or activity before divesting their hard-earned cash.

This is great news for travellers keen to avoid souring their trip with a questionable entree or dubious dessert, but, there are some that argue our reliance on review sites may actually hinder exploration. After all, can you really say you’ve got to the heart of a city until you’ve tried a dodgy dish in a less than salubrious setting?

So while they’re great for getting a sense of a venue, travellers would do well to remember that sometimes it’s better to dive in than test the waters.

Using a mobile device outside to explore a new city

Business becomes universal

The business traveller of thirty years ago faced different challenges than the business traveller of today. For one, liaising with clients or colleagues back home thirty years ago required meeting face-to-face or calling from your hotel.

Today there is a myriad of different solutions to keep in touch, organise and even host meetings with prospective clients and colleagues alike.

There’s no doubt business travel has benefited from the smartphone, particularly when trying to coordinate multiple meetings with different people. The convenience mobile tech brings – of being in contact with people, of being able to access every piece of information in the world at a click – gives the modern business traveller an advantage that could mean the difference between a missed opportunity and a successful negotiation.

Conducting a business meeting through a smartphone

Socialisation takes a backseat

Smartphones don’t come without their share of downsides. With a direct line to friends and family, travellers now have less inclination to engage with strangers and the environment around them – both of which are essential to a true travel experience.

In fact, studies have shown that when placed in a new or daunting social situation, people will reach for their phones as a kind of defence mechanism. It’s understandable behaviour. After all, it provides a distraction from the situation, but it also acts as a kind of social validation – “I’m talking with friends right now on my phone, so it doesn’t matter if I’m engaging with the people around me” – but this is the antithesis of travel. Of course, there will be times when you feel uncomfortable or out of your depth, but these are the times when it’s most important to take the leap and start a real-world conversation. You never know what it could lead to; a new kind of confidence, a new friend, a new perspective.

Commuters using smartphones while travelling on the subway

So while the smartphone has had an immeasurable impact on how we travel, it’s important to remember that it’s just a tool to complement your own experiences. As long as you don’t begin to see it as a replacement for genuine interaction, the smartphone can enhance travel and enable you to take more from the world around you.

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Exploring a country by rail

5 reasons to explore a new country by rail

By | Feature, Holiday, Rail, Travel | One Comment

As short haul flights get cheaper and countries become more urbanised, you could be forgiven for thinking that the once great train journey is a relic of a bygone era. With airlines working to cram more people on flights and road trips becoming more motorway-centric, we’re becoming increasingly detached from the idea of travel as an adventure.

But while some countries have seemingly outgrown their rail network, there are still plenty of nations that rely on trains as their central transport system, and with good reason. Not only are trains usually cheaper and easier to access than most flights, they’re more energy efficient too. If you’re planning to explore a new country but want to keep your feet firmly on the ground, travelling by train could re-ignite your wanderlust and give you a unique perspective on this underrated transport.

1. See a country from ground level

Most tourists, when visiting a country with a large land mass like the United States, will opt to jump between locations by flying – but this isn’t necessarily the best way to see a new country. Watching all the different sights of new country zip past your window allows you to study the landscape in a way that’s impossible with flying, and is infinitely more comfortable than driving yourself. Riding by train allows you to enjoy your surroundings without the worry of reaching locations on time or getting lost, meaning you can focus on getting to know a country from the ground up.
Top choice: Riding the Trans-Siberian railway probably features on the bucket list of every dedicated traveller, and with good reason. The longest rail line in the world, it stretches almost 10,000 km across several countries and takes in a diverse range of stunning landscapes. Without a doubt the most renowned railway journey, the TSR is still growing and offers a memorable trip where the journey is just as important as the destination.

View of countryside on train journey

2. Cover travel and accommodation in one

Although now a rare sight in western countries, sleeper trains are still a popular mode of transport around the world. For the discerning traveller, sleeper trains also come with some real advantages over other means of travel. With stop-offs in individual towns, these long-distance locomotives offer a unique opportunity to pull into town and explore from the get-go. 

On top of this, with your sleeper travelling between destinations at night, you can settle down at sunset and wake up in a new city without the rigmarole of driving/flying/trekking. There aren’t many other kinds of travel that can act as both hotel and transport.

Top choice: Although there’s any number of great sleeper train trips around the world, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express wins out thanks to it’s timeless, traditional feel, not to mention the stunning alpine landscapes. Setting off from London, the lovingly restored 1920s style train takes you through Paris and the Swiss Alps before making its stop in Venice. For those who enjoy getting there in style, this is your ideal journey.

Luxury Orient Express train accommodation for rail holiday

3. Get off the beaten track

For the seasoned traveller, one of the biggest attractions to using trains lies in discovering the unusual, the exotic and most tantalising of all, the unexplored. Of course, the accessibility of these hidden wonders depends on the history of a country’s rail infrastructure, but most nation’s rail network will cover areas you had never considered visiting.

Countries originally built their railroads around their industrial requirements – bringing materials, machinery and workers to plantations and factories while ferrying products back to the major cities and shipping hubs. Many of these industrial towns still exist and can provide a fascinating insight into the real spirit of a country.

Top choice:  Despite its small size, Britain boasts some of the finest hidden rail routes in the world, and none is more rewarding to the inquisitive traveller than the Glasgow to Mallaig line. Twisting up the west coast of the Scottish highlands with lochs, waterfalls, ruined castles, the base of Ben Nevis (Britain’s highest mountain) and a historic viaduct best known for its appearances in the Harry Potter films, this is the only way to see the Highlands.

Train on viaduct explore Scotland on a train holiday

4. Travel for less

For those travelling on a budget, particularly younger travellers looking to explore on a shoestring, using rail networks can free up the budget for other activities. With low fares, you can cover a huge expanse at little cost. In fact, many rail companies in European countries offer tickets that allow you to jump on and off trains at no extra cost. This gives you the freedom to adapt your travel plans without incurring additional charges, or having to change your tickets altogether. As if that wasn’t enough, because services are generally more flexible on times than flying, you don’t have to plan your day around your train.

Top choice:  For a truly authentic taste of India, nothing comes close to taking one of the many long-distance train journeys across the country’s diverse landscape. For sheer variety in the landscape, you could do worse than the Nizamuddin Duronto Express, a 20-hour expedition from Pune to Delhi. Taking in everything from desolate deserts to breathtaking mountains, scenic rivers to bustling cities, the NDE gives you every reason for visiting India in one adventure, and at just under £30, it won’t break the travel bank either.

Train passing by sea during a rail holiday in Europe

5. Jump between cities at will

Train stations, unlike airports, tend to be built in close reach of a city. This means easy access for travellers arriving by rail, with no arduous check-in process or invasive searches on the way. Arriving in the heart of a city makes for easier exploration and gives you a central point around which to orient yourself.

Uncomfortable with flying? Jumping between destinations on the rails offers a calmer and more meditative approach. Gone are the intrusive searches, the endless lines at the check-in desk and those pesky limits on liquids. Best of all, there’s rarely a luggage allowance and you can arrive two minutes prior to a train leaving the station and jump onboard without complication.

Top choice: For those with a taste for new experiences, few places on earth can offer such a wide array of different cultures within such easy reach of each other as eastern Europe. The close proximity of capitals within this area of the continent allows you to jump not just between cities but also countries at will. With Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, Ljubljana and Budapest all within a few hours train journey of each other, you can take in the diverse beauty of several countries – in the same day – without ever boarding a flight.

Multiple train platforms in city centre for rail holiday

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Man optimising journey looking down aisle of plane

How optimising your travel time makes long journeys worthwhile

By | Feature, Travel | No Comments

OK, so let’s be honest. Nobody really enjoys travelling more than they enjoy reaching their destination. The rigmarole of packing, checking (and most likely double and even triple-checking) your travel lists, finding transport and making it to the station/airport on time, the endless waiting around; none of it makes for a stress-free start to your travels.

But what if we started embracing the journey as the opportunity it really is? It stands to reason; you’re trapped in one place for an extended period of time, so you have no excuse for doing nothing. By using that time to catch up on tasks you would usually avoid you can keep your mind stimulated, pass the time and start your trip with a clean slate.

“Use your travel time productively to keep your brain stimulated and you’ll arrive at your destination with your wits about you.”

The growth in mobile devices and WiFi on commercial transport has made finding mid-journey distractions easier than ever. Of course, it’s always tempting to settle down with your headphones and a good book after boarding, but this isn’t always the best approach to your mental fitness, something you’re going to need when you reach your destination. By using your travel time productively and keeping your brain stimulated (albeit in reasonable doses), you’ll arrive at your destination with your wits about you. If you’re flying, keeping your brain stimulated can help you navigate the check-in process and reach your accommodation with a cool head.

A red train with in-journey wifi exiting a tunnel

Anxious traveller? Using your time in transit to finish tasks you’ve been putting off can distract from the myriad of worries that usually hound your thoughts. Worried you might have left the front door unlocked? There’s nothing you can do about that now, so why not bury your thoughts in organising your contacts, finishing off that presentation or clearing duplicate files? You don’t have to dedicate your travel time to work alone, however. You can use the time to update your CV, read up on new skills you want to learn or just go over your personal targets.

“Travel time doesn’t have to mean downtime.”

If you’re travelling on business, you’re probably looking to make the best impression on a prospective client. And while you’ve no doubt done plenty of research and prep ahead of time, some last minute groundwork could mean the difference between landing the sale or going home empty-handed. Optimising your travel time requires preparation. Spend time going over talking points for your meetings, do some research on your clients or just run through scenarios in your head. Remember, you can never be too prepared and you’ll be able to enjoy your leisure time more in the knowledge that you’re prepared for whatever they throw at you.

Bus with in-journey wifi turning in street at dusk

If you know you’ll be using transport that doesn’t have access to WiFi, try to prepare for the journey as much as possible in advance. Whether this means setting your mobile devices to function in offline mode, or just packing an extra notepad, you’ll be glad you did.

“Try to remove any reason you might have for ducking the work, even if it means switching to good ol’ pen and paper.”

It’s also vital that you make sure your devices are fully charged and meet the requirements for the type of travel you’re taking (you should probably leave that Galaxy Note 7 at home). In doing so, you can ensure your workflow goes uninterrupted and you reach your destination ready for anything.

Of course, travelling can be a tiring experience in itself. Make sure you have a game plan to avoid mentally exhausting yourself. Get your space ready for the work ahead and break tasks up into smaller times, with breaks to reward yourself with something less mentally challenging. By setting time limits for yourself on individual tasks, not only can you get a number of usually agonising tasks out the way in one go, you’ll be less focused on the remaining time in your journey.

Plane taking off with sun setting behind

Today there are all sorts of distractions to help pass the time on long-distance journeys, and it’s understandable that you want to reach your destination well-rested. But there are few other scenarios in which you have to sit in one place for an extended period of time outside of work. Finishing off work on your journey can be a nice last hurrah before a holiday starts or a great way to brush up on the essentials before a big business meeting.

So what’s your favourite way to pass the time when travelling long distance? Let us know in the comments below!

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10 handy travel hacks for the business traveller

By | Business trip, Feature, Travel | 2 Comments

Travelling on business can be a stressful experience. You’re not going to soak up the sun or sample the local delicacies, you’re there to land a client, attend a conference or deliver a knockout pitch. In short, you’re there to work. But with all the rigmarole of just getting there, it’s difficult to stay on top of your game when you’re crossing time zones.

That’s why it’s essential you travel smart. Luckily, Sygnal is on hand with some top travel hacks to help you do just that, from booking to landing and everything in between.

Man stood in airport terminal waiting to board business flight

1. Hide your browsing history

Even if you’re not paying for your business trip, it helps to get the best prices. That’s why it’s important to remember that airlines often put the price up according to perceived demand when booking your flight. By using a hidden window (‘Private’ or ‘Incognito’ window for Firefox and Chrome, respectively), there’s a good chance you can find the same flight for cheaper. The same goes for your location, so opting for the non-localised version of an airline’s website (with your location turned off, obviously) can actually yield cheaper options for the same flight. Regional pricing can make a significant difference to the price depending on the location from which the site believes you’re searching.

2. Pack smart

This means, don’t just throw your kit in your suitcase right before you leave. Packing smart can save space but also makes the whole travel experience easier. For instance, placing belts in your shirt collars will keep them stiff, meaning you can step off the plane, reach your hotel and change into your shirt ready to hit the conference, board meeting or business dinner confident you’re looking your best. Likewise, putting socks inside shoes and placing shoes at the bottom of your luggage helps with balance and saves space.

Use your tablet onboard your next business flight with this travel hack

3. Have your rentals sorted in advance

If you’re planning on travelling by car when you reach your destination, make sure you’ve already arranged a hire with a reliable rental company. There’s nothing worse than arriving after a long flight to realise you don’t have the resources you need. If you’re planning on wining and dining clients, investing in an upgrade could mean the difference between a new contract and a lost sale. Inquire with the rental company when you arrive, but always have a standard option prepared in advance.

4. Have multiple copies of everything

Everyone knows it makes sense to bring multiple copies of your travel documents, but not everyone has extended this to cover different formats too. Before leaving on your business trip, ensure you send your flight itinerary, any addresses, photocopies of your passport and driving license, and any travel insurance documents to your own personal email. Be prepared to print physical copies of these documents too; your device might fail, but paper never runs out of battery!

Passport and camera laid across a map for business trip

5. Always request an upgrade

This one relies on the laws of probability – ergo, if you ask often enough, eventually you’ll be rewarded. When booking your flight, request an upgrade. The airline should mark down your booking as having requested one and, should a seat open up in another class, you’ll at least be on the list for consideration. It’s difficult to identify with any certainty the criteria required to bump yourself up that list but flying frequently with the same airline seems to increase your chances.

6. Get the airline app

Pretty much every air travel company now has a mobile app. Not only are they great for finding out about new offers, they also send up-to-date on airline delays and gate changes direct to the app, meaning no more crowding around communal departure screens in a desperate bid to find your flight. The cherry on the cake has to be paperless boarding, as you can download the ticket direct to your phone, saving you time and effort in the boarding process and giving you one less item to remember as you pack.

Woman checking phone using in-journey connectivity

7. Always try the airport lounge

Just because you haven’t booked for a lounge doesn’t mean you can’t gain access to one. There’s any number of ways to get yourself access to some of the best airport lounges in the world, including buying an international priority pass or seeking out generic, non-affiliated airline lounges. The latter may ask for payment to access the lounge, but it’s always worth chancing it if you’re looking for somewhere with a little more privacy – after all, fortune favours the brave.

8. Try to avoid bringing packed luggage

This one really depends on the length of time you’re going for and the type of transport you’re using. If you’re just catching a train to a week-long business conference, you’ll probably need that additional bag. But if you’re flying out somewhere for a two-day business meeting, your trip could become infinitely easier by choosing to only bring carry-on luggage. Most people tend to overpack but, when you’re sailing through customs and out the door ahead of everyone else, you’ll begin to appreciate the minimal approach to travel.

Boarding your business flight looking between rows of seats

9. Stay connected in-flight

With laptop and tablets banned on flights coming from six middle eastern and north African countries, this may be the beginning of the end for using personal devices on planes. However, with smartphones still acceptable carry-on technology, you would do well to invest in a micro Bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard can be connected to your smartphone, allowing you to continue work without needing to furiously tap at a tiny phone screen. Of course, you’ll have to ensure you have access to the necessary programs on your phone to allow you to keep working.

10. Get your jet lag routine in order

Again, this one is only for those flying to a business event or meeting, but sorting your sleeping pattern can mean the difference between a boardroom bore fest and a business meeting masterpiece. Try to get a gauge on the time difference when you’re booking, and slowly adjust your sleeping pattern accordingly in the build up to the flight out. Part of tackling jet lag is in figuring out your own limits and creating a ritual to get the optimum sleep. Avoid alcohol and salty foods, as they lead to dehydration and will make you feel worse. And, of course, try to avoid organising any meetings for the same day you land, nobody wants to jump off a long flight and straight into a presentation.

So there you have it! Some top travel hacks to get you through your next business trip. Got some top travel tips of your own? Let us know in the comments!

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Woman using virtual reality headset on blue sky

Is VR technology really going to revolutionise the travel industry?

By | Feature, Technology, Travel | One Comment

It may sound like a redundant statement, but technology is changing every aspect of how we live our lives. That’s doesn’t just mean in the way smartphones have become an extension of our bodies, but also in the way we experience the world around us.

So it should be no surprise then that VR is being touted as the next horizon for the travel industry. After all, it makes sense that virtual reality and selling a travel experience would go hand in hand – you want to preview an experience before shelling out your hard-earned money, and donning a VR headset is the closest you can get to experiencing a location without actually being there.

Woman using virtual reality headset for travel tourism

With a market value estimated to hit US$70 Billion by 2020 and new research showing virtual tourism to be in the top five most popular activities for virtual VR users, the next few years will be interesting for VR and travel, to say the least. Tom Harding, director of VR and immersive products for Samsung Electronics America summed up the technology’s potential, “VR is incredibly powerful because it allows travel businesses to intimately showcase their expertise as curators of experience — be it destination options, restaurant suggestions or hidden gems that only the locals know.” While this is true, there are still some issues we have to work through before this VR can be adopted across the board. For one, VR today only covers one or two senses at the most. IN the future, travel companies will look to integrate the other senses to create a totally immersive experience, including adding location-specific scents – picture sea air and paella for Spanish beach holidays – and a temperature controlled environment.

Before you book

The location
Sure, VR isn’t the same as actually being there, but it’s the closest travellers will get to actually experiencing locations without visiting them. As detractors line up to argue against getting too carried away, developers are slowly filling in the gaps with what is still a relatively new technology. Plus, with additional sensory features like immersive audio, moving platforms and, as we mentioned earlier, even ‘smellovision’ on the horizon, VR use as an original visual marketing tool is becoming more relevant by the day.

The accommodation
Booking a hotel comes with its own unique challenges – not least of which is deciphering the size, scale and layout of a room from the cleverly-placed camera shots found on-site. But with VR, travellers can get a virtual walkthrough of potential hotels and choose from more than just the standard 2D thumbnails afforded by most booking sites. Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts trialled their own VR experience as part of a worldwide sales push. Brian Windle, vice president of sales and marketing for the Americas for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts argued, “It’s easy to talk about square footage and hardware, but VR lets clients virtually step into event spaces to envision not only the space but also an experience for their customers.”

The journey
When Thomas Cook trialled their ‘Try before you fly’ campaign, commercial VR and 360-degree video were still in their infancy. The campaign invited customers to try on a VR headset and try to decipher clues from the surrounding environment. In the video, users are seated aboard a Thomas Cook plane and can choose between economy and premium classes, with clues indicating to which exotic location the flight is headed. The campaign proved a big hit, earning the travel company a 190% uplift in their New York excursions and a 40 % ROI.

Thomas Cook uses VR travel technology to sell holiday experience

When you’re there

The way over
With its myriad applications, VR isn’t just limited to the booking process. Qantas is already experimenting with putting Samsung Gear VR headsets onto flights for first-class customers. The headsets allow passengers (or those lucky enough to be in first class, anyway) to escape the humdrum of flying with virtual tours of different exotic locations – also acting as a nice precursor to the passenger’s own adventure. While the scope of VR use on planes is limited today, it could point to a wider trend for years to come.

Finding your way around
It’s easy to envision the uses for immersive multimedia technology in the booking process, but what about when you actually reach your destination? You don’t need to visualise the sparkling beach or the luxurious hotel room when you’re there. Augmented reality, on the other hand, could hold some real applications after you’ve arrived. The popularity of Pokemon Go proved people are more than ready for AR, and that’s good news for the travel sector. Augmented reality allows you to find all the top spots in a new location – presented in a ‘Google Street View’ like display with markers identifying all the nearby cafes, bars, restaurants and public attractions.

Your own virtual travel guide
As one of the better-known AR travel apps, Wikitude stands head and shoulders above the rest. Utilising a range of resources to present the best in bars, restaurants, activities, attractions and more, Wikitude is like having a digital pocket tour guide with the added bonus that you can curate your own unique journey. This is the true future of travel – sharing experiences through insightful, mobile-oriented apps that give you the information you need while allowing you to construct your own narrative.

Augmented reality as travel technology showing streets with attractions and reviews

Back home

The future of holiday reviews
Just as AR apps now allow travellers to document their journey with reviews and pictures, VR can capture your experiences and share them in an immersive environment for other travellers. Reviewing a travel attraction through VR gives you an entirely new dimension with which to work. Imagine, witnessing a travel review through the eyes of the reviewer – watching the waiter bring the wine, seeing which hotel offers the best sunset views or comparing walking tours, all without leaving your living room.

A new kind of slideshow
Down the line, travellers could compose their own VR experience to show friends and family back home – probably a welcome relief for anyone who’s had to sit through hours of monotonous slideshows from recently holidayed relatives. Grandma can’t make it to the wedding in Barcelona? With VR, you could film the entire day and allow her to enjoy it as if she were really there. Want your parents to witness your first bungee jump without the nerve-rattling experience of having to stand on the bridge alongside you? With VR, they can see for themselves without taking the leap themselves.

Virtual reality shot of a beach

Travel VR: some unresolved issues

Getting the footage
Right now, there aren’t enough professional companies capturing locations with high-definition, virtual reality technology. Of course, this will change over time, but right now the content just can’t keep up with the technology. Likewise, only the most renowned locations, like Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower, have actually been captured in a way that would allow travel companies to curate a truly immersive experience. As time goes on and the technology develops, we can expect far more locations to become accessible through VR, but until then our experiences will be limited.

Just how accessible is it?
The same is true for those wishing to view locations using their own technology. With high-end VR kits (such as Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive)  still out of reach for the majority of people, experiencing locations in full HD requires attending travel conventions or shelling out large amounts of money. Of course, there are cheaper options out there. Google Cardboard, at only $20, can give you a unique VR experience without breaking the bank – but for that truly immersive experience, you may want to wait until the high-cost models come down in price.

Man using VR on Qantas flight as entertainment

A technology that provides a visual medium to showcase destinations certainly sounds like the holy grail of travel marketing. Despite its relative success, the sheer cost of hosting VR devices and of capturing locations for use in these virtual realities makes it unlikely we will be using the technology to book our next holiday. However, to the sceptics in the travel sector that argue the real-world costs and difficulties will drive VR back to the realms of contrived novelty gadgets – be patient. Costs invariably go down as we discover new, more efficient means of capturing those high-quality visuals and transporting customers to new worlds.

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Data on a computer screen used in transport Technology

The transport tech that will revolutionise the next generation of travel

By | Feature, Technology, Travel | No Comments

Technology and, by extension, the mechanics behind travel, are perpetually evolving, but the rate of new developments can be hard to keep up with. The growth in mobile computing, GPS and data — not to mention the myriad forms of automation – are all shaping the future of travel in ways we can’t imagine, but some of these evolutions are closer than you may think.

The booking process

Big data is already influencing the passenger experience in commercial travel. From airlines using it to gauge which additional features to offer you to subway systems tracking your journey to learn more about your travel patterns, big data already informs several key commercial transport decisions. In the future, data will be used to define every element of your travel experience. Already, some companies have coupled automatic vehicle location data with signal prioritisation systems to improve scheduling.

As the technology develops and data becomes a more pervasive aspect of route planning, the way we travel will shift too. Likewise, data gathered from booking processes online are already influencing the way travel companies market and supply their journeys.

Mobile ticketing will become the means of boarding transport, with mobiles saving on costs for travel companies (passengers pay for the equipment, not the company). Add in that passengers have confirmed they would be willing to pay more for mobile ticketing – as it centralises the entire ticket booking and collection process – and it’s a wonder every travel company hasn’t already embraced the power of the mobile ticket.

Man using transport technology tablet and smartphone while drinking black coffee

Getting onboard

Travel tech covers more than just the vehicles used to get us around – it includes the way we board these vehicles. As technology develops, so does our understanding of the other factors influencing our journey. Chief among these factors is how the design and layout of a building affect the way in which we move around and interact inside it.

Optimising airports, in particular, is fast becoming of major interest to travel companies and aviation authorities. While bodies like the International Air Travel Association (IATA) dictate how big an airport must be, engineers, architects and designers have more technology at their disposal than ever to streamline the boarding process and improve the often frustrating waiting experience.

Analytics quantifying boarding times, as well as data detailing waiting times, the number of visitors and their behaviour whilst inside the building, are all factors that will have an increasing influence on the way the airports, train and bus stations of the future are designed.

Woman in green dress walking with red suitcase to get her flight with in-journey wifi

The journey

Despite being the most over-hyped technology of the modern age, AI has all kinds of potential when it comes to travel tech. AI already plays a role in commercial transport but, of course, when people hear AI and transport, they’re most likely to picture the self-driving car. Whilst self-driving commercial transport is certainly in development, it’s too soon to say to what extent it will be incorporated into everyday journeys.

Automation is already being integrated across different transport modes, but they still largely still require some level of human input. Likewise, AI that provides companies with adaptable eco-driving support systems are being trialled across Europe, but it’s too early to say how they will impact on the passenger experience. What is known for certain is that AI will influence how passengers experience their journey.

Of course, no piece on the transport of the future would be complete without mentioning the Hyperloop. The brainchild of Elon Musk, the train-like concept has been under development by American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services SpaceX for several years now, although the project is still frustratingly short on expected dates. Despite this, the project has received significant coverage in the media and is being touted as the future of commercial transport.  With speeds supposedly reaching 760mph, it would cut travel times dramatically and usher in a new era of transport. Whether the Hyperloop will ever become a viable means of transport is another matter.

Using in-journey wifi as transport tech while looking out of a train window

Greener transport

Energy efficiency is this generation’s hot ticket, with travel companies investing substantial amounts of time and money in developing more environmentally friendly means of transport. While traditionally transport companies focused on developing and integrating technology into infrastructure, companies are coming round to the idea that a more technology-driven approach can be used to cut down on costs through increased efficiency and reducing wastage.

Through the use of intelligent systems, companies will continue to improve each stage of the process, from fare collection to scheduling, further decreasing energy consumption. However, the changes to commercial transport efficiency have, so far, been largely unremarkable. That was until Beijing-based company Transit Explore Bus unveiled the ‘bridge bus’ – a raised rolling bus that straddles two lanes of traffic and allows cars under 7 feet to pass beneath it.

While the timeline is still sketchy, Transit Explore Bus announced several successful tests late last year. The bus, which can transport up to 1,400 passengers, is cheaper and more economical than underground transit systems because it doesn’t require digging underground.

Model Chinese rail bus as an example of green transport tech

Onboard entertainment

Whilst most airlines already have an internal LAN system that allows passengers to access a range of movies, music and TV shows, they’re by no means standardised and are far less common on other modes of transport. This is rapidly changing, however, with Sygnal in particular dedicated to bringing the latest content to passengers going by rail, road and sea. The key difference between the standard airline entertainment system and the next generation of onboard entertainment is the way in which it’s delivered.

While most in-flight entertainment systems rely on seatback screens to view the content, the new generation of passengers has brought their own screens with them. With almost everyone bringing their own mobile device onboard, commercial transport systems are adapting. The next generation of travellers will be able to access centralised content platforms once onboard from their laptop, smartphone or tablet without the need for an external internet connection or the limitations of trying to store large amounts of content on their device.

Using a smartphone as transport tech for travel booking

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