The (Near) Future of Experiential Travel

Mickey’s 5th generation Google AR sunglasses are telling him that what he’s looking at is the Alter of the Chians at Delphi, and asking him whether he wants to know more about its history, composition, discovery or geometry.  Or whether he wants to overlay an image of something else, a friend or a dragon maybe,  to create a composite.  But for a few minutes he’s happy to enjoy the unaugmented site, and he mumbles to his glasses to lose the display.  He glances at Sam, a few feet to his right.  She’s captivated by the beauty of Mount Parnassus, but Micky can see the faint flickering of her contact lenses.  They’re working hard to filter the other tourists out of the image she sees, giving her the illusion that she’s alone on the mountain.  She’s also a recreational life-logger.  She’s on holiday, so she has no professional need to do it, but everything she experiences is being recorded.  She doesn’t even need the Cloud – there’s more than enough capacity in the cell she’s carrying to record her lifetime several times over.

Something occurs to her, and she raises her hand to let her pico-projector brooch shine a keyboard onto her forearm.  The ambient light is a little strong and she strolls off to find some shade, then starts tapping away with her free hand.  Micky turns his attention back to the Alter, and mumbles to his glasses to power up again, preferring his natural language voice recognition software to Sam’s ethereal keyboard.  He calls up the codex for Keiko,  the game that the tour operator has put together, and he scowls at the last few entries.

They needed no one (apart from their semantic search engine) to arrange their flights to Greece of course, or their self-guided hire car.  Their hotel in Athens they booked directly; the smaller one near Delphi was reached through a legacy bed-bank.  They have no need for a human guide – like most of their generation they have never had any experience of being lost.  But last year their unstructured holiday was a little dull, and this year they’ve opted for Keiko.  The extra cost is minimal.

Micky can see that Lee is currently in the British Museum in London, and he pings him.  They’ve never met, but they started chatting on the group microsite for this game soon after the tour operator started posting teaser material a few months ago.  “It’s not here Lee,” he says quietly. They’d been expecting Micky and Sam to pick up an artifact at the Alter, visible only in augmented space of course.  Lee responds in text, presumably so as not to disturb the peace of the museum.  “We missed a clue.  I backtracked via the British Library.  It was the Evans-Pernier connection.  We need to head to Phaestos, on Crete.”  “We?  You’re meeting us there?”  “Sure.”

That’s not supposed to happen, thought Micky.  Take away the game layer and Lee was basically on a west European city tour, while Micky and Sam were exploring classical Greece.  It will probably create a headache for the tour operator, but he guesses they’ll be able to flex Keiko to cope.

Micky can see that Sam is already on the case, checking flights and hotels through her search engine, iterating with the same checks that Lee is processing in London so that they get there about the same time.  She pings a request for quotes for the transfer from Heraklion to Phaestos through a reverse bid site and notes that a family of three holidaying on the north coast has the flexibility to share with them at their preferred time.  Provided the plane isn’t delayed too much.  The flight leaves tomorrow afternoon, giving them a romantic night in Delphi to enjoy.  Sweet.

Micky wonders idly whether they will get around to meeting up with Lee and the others at the operator’s after-tour party, once they’re all back in Beijing…

Actually of course I have no idea whether experiential leisure travel will look anything like this – this is just a bit of fun – but all of the technology referenced here already exists (see below).  Some of it may turn out to be a damp squib (who remembers VR?), but equally it is not hard to see that some kind of disruptive impact on the travel sector is entirely possible.  Something not unlike this scenario is perfectly feasible.  As William Gibson famously said, “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Augmented reality has been a live technology for some time of course, see for example Parallel Tracking And Mapping, iKat, mtrip, Great Stories at Places and Holiday Inn.  Migrating the technology from smartphone apps to true head-up-displays could take AR to a whole new level though, as with Google Glasses and Augmented Reality in a Contact Lens.

All of which is well and good, but demands a solution to the ‘input problem’, which might mean pico-projectors with gesture tracking, such as Sixth Sense, or
voice recognition.

Gamification  is an execrable ‘word’, but the emergence of game mechanics as a socio-technological tool may yet be in its infancy, see The New Games People Play, the Game Layer, Urban Adventures and especially Beyond Facebook.

Geolocation technology and application continues to evolve, and Charles Stross (see below) has made the point that “we’ll be raising a generation of kids who don’t know what it is to be lost”.

Lifelogging, being the film directors of our own lives becomes increasingly feasible as the Cloud evolves and scale improvements in storage technology show no signs of abating, while autonomous vehicles may mean that we are raising the last generation that has to learn to drive.

Finally, the potential penetration of Peer-to-Peer business models into the travel industry  is something I’d like to explore in a later blog…

Author Charles Stross has spoken with authority about the social impact of many of these developments, several of which have long been foreshadowed in his writing.  Daniel Suarez has also entertainingly fictionalised some of these developments in his novels Daemon and FreedomTM, and Walter John Williams has fictionalised the idea of meta-gaming in This is Not a Game.

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