WiT Community Blog: Simon Akeroyd on ‘Wearables: the next travel tech frontier?’ – Web In Travel

This a contribution from Simon Akeroyd, VP corporate strategy & business development (pictured below), Amadeus

In just a few short years since the launch of the Apple Watch in 2015, wearable technology has gone from niche applications to being everywhere, changing the way we exercise, communicate, eat and even sleep.

Asia Pacific is already the most concentrated region for
device ownership in the world, and the market for
smart watches has become even more competitive since smaller local companies have
also got in on the act – with local players like Shenzhen-based OPPO and
India’s Noise offering lower-priced models which are finally making wearables accessible to a much
broader customer base.

Until recently, wearable adoption within the travel industry
was a ‘nice to have’, driven predominantly by a desire to improve traveller experience. However, Covid-19 has accelerated the need for
industry-wide adoption as a necessity to ensure passenger safety and hygiene
through contactless processing.

Simply put, wearables and biometrics are now
an imperative for post-Covid recovery that the travel industry has to move
quickly on.

Here are the four wearable applications that have the biggest potential for changing the way we travel in the post-Covid landscape, and considers what the industry needs to do to get on the front foot.

Contactless and seamless passenger processing at airports

Travel restrictions are starting to ease in some
geographies, but social distancing and high levels of hygiene at airports will
be here to stay for the near future.

One solution is for wearables to be
used as the new ‘ticket’ so that passengers can pass through airports
seamlessly, without even having to touch their surroundings.

smart watches the technology already exists for a single code to be locked on
the screen. Or for an app or digital wallet to push travel documents to the
wearable user at the exact time that they are needed, based on their location within
the airport.

Ultimately, the
wearable carries the traveller’s trip ID, allowing passengers to pass from
baggage drop to gate with minimal ‘friction’ and ‘contact’.

and airlines would need to ensure that implementation goes hand-in-hand with
advances in biometrics (like facial recognition) to guarantee that safety and
security keep pace with ease of movement, but the ability to eradicate points
of physical contact from passenger processing could be well worth the effort
for airports seeking to reassure travellers that it is safe to fly.

Once the infrastructure around this is in place, the possible applications also extend to the potential for the passenger to receive real-time information about their trip and destination – this could be anything from a push notification to inform a customer that their baggage has arrived, to weather and traffic updates – all conveniently displayed on a smartwatch or announced directly to the passenger via their earpods.

Parallel reality for safe airport experiences

Other exciting applications of wearables are hyper-tailored wayfinding and crowd management, which have obvious benefits in a post-Covid world for helping to reduce queues and thereby maintaining safe social distancing, particularly at busier parts of the terminal.

This is done through what is known as ‘parallel reality’ technology, whereby hundreds of passengers can simultaneously share a digital display, sign or light and each see something different – all made possible by wearables. Display screens can be tailored to communicate individual messages to each passenger in their language and at the exact time they need it. This is already being beta tested by some airlines and, if successful, could quickly become mainstream to provide completely personalised wayfinding and travel information in the terminal, from personalised flight updates to boarding time and upgrade status.

Beyond the benefits to crowd management, the possibilities for enhanced customer service and marketing, once this technology is up and running, are enormous too.

Enhanced inflight services

the terminal, wearables have the potential to also shake up the in-flight
experience. In the post-Covid world, this may be more important than ever to
tempt reluctant flyers back on board.

In 2014, British Airways trialled a ‘Happiness Blanket’ using portable neuro-sensor technology to measure passengers’ moods during the flight. It allowed the airline to monitor passengers’ sleep and relaxation patterns during the flight, with the results then being used to identify which aspects of the onboard experience can be improved.

in wearable technology in recent years means that everything from a passenger’s
temperature to hydration levels, anxiety and their body clock could be measured
and used by cabin crew to pre-empt specific needs and make the flight as
comfortable as possible – from handing out extra blankets to cold passengers,
to making sure water is given to passengers showing signs of dehydration. Not
to mention, the ability to monitor temperatures post-pandemic will also make
passengers feel safer, as they know crew members can act accordingly if needed,
to minimize health risks on-board.

in-flight data could also be used by airlines to make real-time strategic
decisions – from what entertainment to offer on flight, to overall cabin
temperature and lights-out timing on certain routes, to re-shuffling passengers
if needed.

This could signal the start of a new era in flying experience and force airlines to up the ante in their quest for customer loyalty. 

In-trip add-ons

resorts and cruise ships can apply the same principle as airports and airlines,
in using wearables as a single passenger ID to facilitate movement through the
terminal.  This can have enormous
benefits for traveller experience, as long as they are offered on a
transparent, ‘opt-in’ basis and customers are comfortable with how their data
will be used.

Disney’s MagicBands are a good example of this in action – waterproof wristbands that serve as the holiday-maker’s room key, ticket and wallet for buying food and merchandise.

adopters like Disney have used this technology to enhance customer experience, and also to take a more sophisticated approach to
cross- and up-selling – one that is sensitive to each customer’s needs, likes
and price points. Not only does the data collected by the wearable help with
this, wearables also present the ability to geo-target.

As humans we don’t want a search engine – we want recommendations. And this is exactly what wearable technology enables, to a highly-personalised degree. Imagine, for example, being able to send a push notification to a coffee lover in close proximity to a popular local café while exploring a lesser-known neighbourhood. Or partnering with a visitor attraction to offer bespoke discounts to passing tourists that match their needs or circumstances, such as offering discounted family tickets to travellers with children when they pass by a museum that they might be interested in – this is likely to be much more useful than recommendations given during a guest’s initial check-in.

Likewise, notifications can be
sent through satellite navigation systems to offer travellers the option to
extend their car rental for another day at a preferable rate if the wearable
shows them to be stuck in traffic, miles from the collection point, on the day
of return. 

Beyond these benefits, wearable
IDs could also become a boon for the hospitality sector in the post-Covid
world; satisfying customer demand for ‘cashless’ and ‘contactless’, and
potentially also playing an important role in tracking and contact tracing as

Overall, it is clear that although the use of wearables in the travel industry is still in its infancy today, the potential is huge and immediate, and Covid-19 has only accelerated the need for pan-industry integration. Asia has led the world in the development and adoption of mobile technology over the past decade –  from WeChat’s super app to Bytedance’s now-ubiquitous TikTok platform and Alipay’s game-changing mobile payments offer – so it’s likely that this region will continue to set the agenda and pace for the rest of the world in what comes next, too.

In all
of this, safety and security must be kept front of mind as wearable
applications are scaled, and long-term it is also important that the industry
finds a way to start integrating the traveller’s own wearables, via opt-in
apps, rather than loaning them devices like British Airways’ Happy Blankets and
Disney’s MagicBands, to ensure the most seamless experience. This will require
collaboration across the entire travel eco-system.

Ultimately, the wearable question is one of when not if, so the airlines, airports and hotels who invest now will be in the best position to capitalise and benefit in their post-Covid recovery.

Featured image credit: anyaberkut/Getty Images


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