A Signature Media Publication

Technology revolutionising the landscape of tourism: Sabre Report

The Radar Report is an opportunity to shed light on nine of the trends and technologies that have recently experienced some significant growth or achieved a milestone. Some of the much-talked about technologies are virtual reality or space tourism but there are others one may know less about. The objective of the report is to frame thoughts through the lens of travel: what will these trends mean to how people move through and engage the world?

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Virtually every discussion of AI circles back to definitions. ‘Artificial’ is the easy part–in the context of AI it means ‘digital’ or ‘computer’. Defining ‘intelligence’ is the hard part–and a problem which existed long before computers. Since humans set the terms of discussion, we tend to use ourselves as the benchmark for intelligence. The essential traits of human intelligence are: acquiring knowledge and applying knowledge. Both are necessary to live in an unpredictable world, whether navigating traffic or an emotionally complex conversation.

For travel, the AI layer might provide hotel checkout times or local restaurant recommendations and the human might take over if a customer has a special request or wants to share a personal experience. AIs are also rapidly improving in the area of language translation, which is helping to flatten the world economy, streamline travel and make it easier for people to connect with one another.

The question of the evolution of AI isn’t “if” but ‘when’. AI progress is disruptive. The challenge for our industry and for others is to ensure AI’s disruption is a net positive. It is essential that we build a world in which humans and AIs work together.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality (AR) is turning the world we live in into a multiverse— countless simultaneous, overlapping realities. With the right lens, right window, we can seamlessly move between worlds or even create our own. And AR doesn’t just provide new worlds; as the lines blur between digital and physical, there are a growing number of opportunities for AR to enrich our three dimensional spaces. AR is developing to be far broader and deeper, adding layers of digital content to every part of the real world.

Last year saw launch of three foundational AR efforts: Microsoft HoloLens, Google Tango, and Pokemon Go—a trio of radically different projects, each demonstrating a different element of AR’s potential. It also saw proliferation of real-time video filters and interactive selfie animations added to Snapchat and Facebook. Taken together, these products provide a framework for understanding what’s happening now and what we can expect over the next few years.

Proximate AR

AR depends on having some awareness of a user’s location. Proximate AR knows rough location, but lacks the sensors to accurately map a physical space in 3D, so nearby objects may jump around, but can still exist in an approximate location. Proximate AR is sufficient for many kinds of tasks and is cheap and easy to implement into everyday devices such as smart-phones and tablets.

Precise AR

Precise AR involves sensors that can accurately map a 3D environment and seamlessly integrate virtual objects into that physical space. With precise AR, virtual objects can have a sense of permanence—existing and behaving as if they were real. With precise AR, if you place a virtual coffee cup on a physical table, it will rest exactly on top of the table—not partially inside the table, not floating above it. Precise AR is what’s necessary for the AR multiverse to fully realize its potential.

The real potential of AR is not just in making information ubiquitous and easy to access, it’s in creating new functionalities, new kinds of content and ways of augmenting the real world to engage more deeply with it and with one another. We have infinite worlds to discover and create, and it’s up to us to imagine what those worlds will be.

Autonomous Delivery

Homing pigeons were the first autonomous delivery system, used across the world to deliver messages, including results of the first Olympics almost 3,000 years ago. Drones are the pigeon’s modern day functional successors, capable of delivering goods across great distances without the need for human intervention. On a global scale, regional differences in regulation and infrastructure are showcasing different future paths for an always and everywhere on-demand economy of physical things.

In the developed Western world, we see headlines of Amazon, Google, UPS, etc., promising drones delivering everything from pizza to diapers to asprin. Meanwhile, in Africa, drones are in daily use throughout Rwanda. Drones in rural and even suburban areas are relatively easy to envision becoming a near-term reality. Drones in urban areas present a totally different set of logistic and regulatory challenges. Which is why delivery by ground is still being viewed as the best near-term option for high density areas.


In the past two years, ‘blockchain’ has become a magic word, able to open doors and investor wallets, panic industry juggernauts, and guarantee headlines. But much of its power comes from mystery and misunderstanding—we all know it’s important, but not how to talk about it. And meanwhile, we see headlines touting all the ways blockchain is transforming whole spheres of society: finance, security, transportation, public information and beyond.

Blockchain is self-descriptive: blocks of data are sequentially added to a chain of similar blocks. All blocks in a chain must follow the same set of rules, established from the first block. As each new block of information is added, the entire chain is tested to make sure nothing is out of place. Chains are unbreakable or ‘immutable’–once a block is in place, it can’t be moved or changed without taking the whole chain apart.

Travel Relevance

Blockchain appears to excel when you need a clear and immutable record of any type of information (such as location or ownership) to be accessible to multiple parties who may not trust one another. We’re beginning to see blockchain prototypes emerging in the travel space:

  • Webjet is piloting hotel room inventory on blockchain, to collect exponentially more data with each booking and ensure prompt and complete payment to all parties.
  • Startups are eyeing digital identity management on block-chain. Combining biometric identification with blockchain may provide more secure digital proof of identity, over traditional identity measures like a passport.
  • Hotel and airline loyalty programs may transition to block-chain to help streamline tracking of loyalty points and sim-plify conversion and redemption across all players.
  • Airbus has brainstormed blockchain possibilities, and is part of the Hyperledger blockchain consortium; their test project is to use blockchain to create industry-wide tracking of pilot diplomas, certifications and qualifications.

In travel, centralized players are necessary to help ensure proper identity, policy compliance, reporting and security. The cost and potential regulatory liability of moving billions of transactions to a new and barely-tested eco-system is extremely prohibitive, as is the challenge of consensus around a new platform. This is not to say that travel distribution functions will never be provided via a blockchain. But when these develop, they will most likely be on a private blockchains, and implemented only after extensive testing and validation of the security and safety of the platform. And there would still be a central, trusted authority, helping manage compatibility and compliance within the block-chain system.

Regardless of which projects get off the ground, blockchain looks to have significant long term impact inside and outside the travel industry.

Neural Interfaces

There’s an old story of a king who has a dream he doesn’t understand. He brings in his wisest advisors and magicians, demanding they explain his dream or die. But there’s a catch: to prove their power, they also have to read the mind of the king and tell him the pictures he saw in his dream. In the story, the wise men fail; no magic on earth could see inside the mind. Yet today, peeking into the images in the brain is only one of many capabilities envisioned for neural interfaces. Research is also under way on telepathy, telekinesis (moving objects with thoughts), expanded memory, and a whole array of medical applications.

The next few years will see a host of different neural interfaces attempting to make sense of the signals in our brains. Control will be limited, but applications as simple as directing your autonomous luggage to move with just a thought could have practical, everyday functionality. Neural interfaces promise a rich and exciting future, and the process of getting there will stretch our minds and our dreams.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computers have long been the stuff of spy thrillers and conspiracy theories, promising to make pass-words and encryption obsolete. But as quantum computers get closer and we better understand their potential, it appears their first “killer app” is likely to be optimization–finding the most efficient way to chart a path or engineer a system. And this has tremendous potential for travel!

To understand what kinds of tasks quantum computers will be good for, it helps to have a basic understanding of how they work. Conventional computers store and process information as 1’s and 0’s—on and off states. Quantum computers utilize ‘qubits’, which have a state of superposition that is both 1 and 0 at the same time. Think of superposition like a spinning coin— until a spinning coin lands, it’s both heads and tails. (Or, in the classic thought experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat, the cat in the box is both alive and dead.) Until a qubit is read, it’s both 1 and 0.

Much of travel—along with other common things like internet search and social media—relies on optimization across large data arrays. Flight scheduling, crew allocation, aircraft routing, traveler itineraries, etc., are all optimization problems with countless variables. Traditional computers work on these problems with limited toolsets; quantum computers may be able to find entirely new solutions and efficiencies.

Space Tourism

The human journey into the unknown ignites the imagination. Stories of exploration and adventure fuel the advance of science, focusing resources into new technologies. Now, for the first time since the last moon landing in 1972, we’re poised to see human beings set foot on extraterrestrial soil: Mars.—this is the new ultimate destination! Boeing publicly challenged SpaceX for the Mars crown last October and is working with NASA on its mission. NASA has set a goal of putting humans on Mars ‘in the 2030’s,’ but to-date, Boeing is less specific… it doesn’t claim to know when it will get a human to Mars, it just claims it will be there before SpaceX.

The planned SpaceX trip around the moon in 2018 is expected to have two private passengers at a cost of somewhere between US$175 million and US$300 million each, and deposits have already been paid for both seats, though the identity of the passengers has not been disclosed.

Some of the aircraft technologies being developed— particularly for near space flights—may see broader commercial applications within the next decade. Various patent filings and prototype tests for hypersonic aircraft are under way. Hypersonic craft travel at Mach 5 and above—at least seven times faster than the top speed of an Airbus A380 or Boeing 787. These speeds could shorten Atlantic-crossing times to an hour, and London to Sydney times to as little as two hours, radically shrinking the world and changing the shape of global business.

The privatization of space flight is also serving to bring satellite launch costs down, opening the doors for a host of new space-based research and businesses. Access to cheaper and more frequent space launches is also accelerating competition among satellite internet companies.

Trusted Presence

‘Grab and go’ has been a retail dream for decades. The idea is encapsulated in a 1999 IBM ad called ‘The Future Market’. It’s a 60-second depiction of a man walking through a grocery store, tucking items inside his trenchcoat. As he exits, a security guard stops the man, but it isn’t an arrest. Instead, it’s setup for the only line of dialogue: “Excuse me sir, you forgot your receipt.” The ad shows shopping without registers, checkout lines, or credit card scanners. Instead, every item and identity is tracked, providing instantaneous verification and resolution when a customer walks out the door. At its root, the narrative is not just about seamless commerce—it’s about trusted presence as a fundamental shift in security, privacy and identity.

The travel industry is in the business of establishing trust— knowing the location and identity of people and objects is one of its most important responsibilities. And the technologies to make that possible mirror the retail world. Going through airport security is very similar to checking out at a grocery store: put everything on a conveyor belt, every item is analyzed, and identity is verified.

Unfortunately—for both travel and retail—vetting trust via these processes is a common pain point for people, bottle-necked by finite physical space and staffing.

VR Gets Physical

Virtual reality is about more than just immersing users in the sights and sounds of other places. The incorporation of tactile environments and sensory feedback is blurring the lines between VR and the physical world, becoming less ‘virtual’ and more ‘reality’.

The simplest kinds of immersive stationary VR experiences are for seated activities like watching movies, sports, concerts and theater. These don’t require any physical sensation, and can be done from anywhere with very limited equipment. A growing number of events, performances, speeches, etc., are offering VR livestreams, allowing virtual attendance. Some platforms even allow social interaction—you and a friend watching the same event half a world away. VR will never replace travel, but instead will augment and inspire travel experiences. VR is a natural technology for inspiring real world travel and upselling premium experiences. In part, because VR helps make new kinds of experiences possible, especially around education. For instance, a VR tour through a simulated Rome at the height of the Roman Empire can provide deep historical context to make visiting modern Rome even more meaningful.