The Digital Renaissance in Travel: A Journey to the Future

By Petrina Steele, Business Development Senior Director at Equinix.

The travel industry's renaissance, driven by digital innovation, is reshaping the way we explore the world. As modern travellers seek personalised experiences, the travel and transportation sectors need to re-think their data architectures. With airports and airlines leading the way, and the market poised for continuous growth, the future of travel is promising and exciting.

As the demand for travel grows, the process of booking flights and accommodation has undergone a remarkable technological leap. For instance, the Eurobarometer survey on Attitudes of Europeans towards tourism highlights that online platforms are the preferred method for making travel arrangements in various countries. Whether it's using booking sites for professional accommodation services, combining travel services, or relying on websites of hotels and airline companies, travellers are increasingly turning to digital solutions for their travel needs. With cutting-edge online travel agencies, metasearch engines, and a plethora of mobile apps on offer, people can easily hunt down the perfect deal. Travelers can compare prices, read genuine reviews, and seize unbeatable offers, all with a few taps on their device. They are now empowered with the freedom to make reservations on the go, whenever and wherever they please. As highlighted by a report by Sensor Tower, a data insight firm, which reveals that travel apps in Europe surpassed 130 million downloads in the second quarter of 2022, representing a substantial 56% year-over-year increase. The growth in this sector is projected at USD 3.70 billion from 2021 to 2026 according to Technavio. This upward trajectory is expected to continue at a growth rate of over 7.6 percent, reflecting the industry's dedication to using digital solutions.

Categories such as vacation rentals and ground transport are just some of those experiencing significant growth, indicating travellers' reliance on digital services for various aspects of their journeys. According to industry insights, an astounding 94% of airlines are expected to invest in mobile applications for passenger services, showcasing a considerable increase from 88% in 2021. This shift is fuelled by the growing preference from travellers to manage their journeys digitally.

With this shift to online-first, data has naturally become the lifeblood of the aviation, travel, and tourism sectors. Growing connectivity among systems allows companies to collect, exchange, and analyse data from various sources, optimising customer experiences and providing valuable insights. As a result, digital platforms that enable ecosystem alliances are continuously emerging, promoting asset and information sharing for business growth.

At the forefront of this digital transformation is the aviation sector, with airlines and airports adopting cutting-edge technologies to create a seamless, contactless passenger journey. According to SITA's 2022 Air Transport IT Insights report, 76% of Airlines are looking to implement self-boarding gates using biometric and ID documentation by 2025. Moreover, real-time information about baggage sent to mobile devices is becoming increasingly prevalent, with 25% of airlines offering this service, and 42% planning to implement it by 2025.

To enhance the customer experience, airlines and airports are extending the usage of biometrics beyond security controls. Biometrics now facilitate payments, health checks, lounge access, and priority boarding, offering a touchless experience that combines convenience with security. Lufthansa City Centre (LCC) and Kansai Airports are excellent examples of companies that have harnessed Equinix's digital services to create flexible, scalable solutions for their travel services.

Frankfurt-based global travel agency LCC developed a virtual solution for high-availability booking services for franchise agencies. They collaborated with Infrastructure as a Service provider IONOS by 1&1 (formerly ProfitBricks) through Equinix Fabric, ensuring fast, secure, and low-latency connections while prioritising data sovereignty and security.

Similarly, Kansai Airports in Japan adopted an innovative approach to enhance operational efficiency and streamline real-time information sharing among airlines, partners, and aviation regulators. By actively utilising Equinix International Business Exchange (IBX) data centres and connecting to a range of partners and customers through Equinix Fabric, Kansai Airports achieved a high-speed, secure, and dependable connection with Amadeus's overseas network. This ensures Kansai Airports remain at the forefront of the aviation industry's digital transformation.

Digital twins, computer programs that uses real-world data to create simulations predicting the performance of products or processes through digital 3D models, are transforming airports by optimising operations like baggage handling and passenger flow. Digital twins enable real-time analysis and optimisation of baggage flows, offering valuable insights into the identification of recirculating bags, manually encoded bags, mishandled bags, and bottlenecks. This deeper understanding allows for necessary changes and improvements in flow and processes to be identified and implemented. By harnessing digital twins, airports can continuously monitor, track, and optimise their operations, leading to a more efficient and personalised experience for travellers.

Keeping travellers informed about their baggage in real-time has become a priority for airlines. Currently, 25% of airlines offer this service according to SITA's 2022 Air Transport IT Insights report, and an additional 42% are planning to implement it by 2025. Such innovations eliminate the anxiety associated with lost or mishandled luggage and improve the overall customer experience.

The expectation of personalised services is also driving the use of AI and machine learning in the travel industry. AI-powered chatbots on social media platforms and instant messaging apps are assisting customers online, providing real-time support and tailored recommendations.

The aviation sector has faced unparalleled challenges in the past several years, including the significant drop in airline traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic and the complex recovery process amidst labour shortages, high fuel prices, and supply chain constraints. Despite this, the industry has proven its remarkable resilience and adaptability. The industry’s focus now extends beyond mere recovery; and aspires to elevate the customer experience to unprecedented heights. To truly optimise the passenger experience, modernising digital infrastructure becomes imperative. Distributed, interconnected digital infrastructure enables agile responsiveness, especially for airlines, which operate in constant motion across various locations. With the right infrastructure, we can unlock innovative "airport edge" use cases, leveraging AI and data for enhanced security and streamlined processes. Equinix has witnessed the transformation of leading airlines like Delta and Vueling Airlines through their partnership. The provision of scalable, resilient, and interconnected digital infrastructure is the key to unlocking the industry's full potential, enriching the lives of travellers, and opening new horizons for growth.

The travel industry has been completely transformed, thanks to the advancements in digital technology. Dreaming about a vacation now involves browsing through travel websites, following travel influencers on social media, and immersing oneself in virtual reality experiences that allow travellers to explore destinations from the comfort of their homes.

And that is just the beginning. With European travel on the rise, the industry is shifting to digitally transform its infrastructure to allow for an easier end to end travel experience. According to a survey by The European Travel Commission, 77% of European travellers intended to take a trip during the first six months of 2023, marking a 16% increase compared to the previous year. All very positive for the sector – but a call to action for those that have yet to fully embrace the opportunities of digitisation.

Meanwhile, for those passengers returning to their favourite holiday destinations, gone are the days of having to flip through brochures to plan a holiday, queuing at airport counters to buy a plane ticket and the need to carry physical boarding passes. Today, travelling has entered a new era, where the world is at their fingertips, and just a click away.

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