Self-driving vehicles will, along with Blockchain, perhaps, be the next big industry-wide invention to make and break companies.
Vehicle transport is a foundation layer service within the travel industry and includes airport transfers, car hire, city taxis and vehicle based sightseeing.
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Replacing these services with autonomous vehicles will create major disruption to long-standing entities that are used to working with human drivers.
In short: the industry's pack of cards will be reshuffled.
Industry redefining cars, really?
Providers that interact with these existing services will be impacted - for example, hotels, airports and attractions.
Think about it:
- Will hotel location remain as important in customer selection criteria if the customer is getting in and out of the hotel via autonomous vehicle rather than walking?
- Will retailers sell autonomous vehicle services in the same way that they sell conventional car hire, airport transfer and tour services today?
Why, then, is no one talking about autonomous vehicles in tourism?
With other new technologies such as blockchain, AI, AR, VR, voice UI etc there are endless blog posts, white papers and even entire travel industry conferences dedicated to these up and coming technologies.
But with regards to the concept of autonomous vehicles within tourism, I haven’t seen more than a couple of blog posts and, frankly, I have been the only person talking about this topic at recent travel industry conferences (with the next slot at ITB Berlin - do come!).
Still, one well-known travel industry leader who IS talking about autonomous vehicles is the new Uber CEO, ex-Expedia Inc boss Dara Khosrowshahi.
This week he reiterated Uber’s plan to have flying cars zipping around US cities within ten years and robot taxis on our streets within 10-15 years.
Self-driving cars and AI will leave a third of the population unemployed and cause people to slip into a meaningless life of misery!
He suggests that it is challenges around mapping and the cost of street sensors that is holding back robot taxis vs flying cars.
With a timeline now on the public record from a well-resourced travel industry company, and team who can deliver, we are moving from dream stage to reality. It's action time.
Although discussion within the travel industry has been light, the impact of autonomous vehicles has caught the attention of some U.K. newspapers, with the inevitable, rather dramatic headline.
This may or may not be an over exaggeration - not everyone who works in transportation will lose their job overnight, but this at least sounds like an impact that we should be preparing for as an industry.
What is the impact of autonomous vehicles on the travel industry?
My background is in sightseeing retail technology. By sales volume, sightseeing is dominated by motor vehicles.
As such I have been taking a close look at the challenges and opportunities that autonomous vehicles will bring:
New opportunity for sightseeing via autonomous vehicles
Travellers will be able to take totally personalised tours on demand, obsolescing existing city sightseeing tours, especially those currently by motor vehicle. I call this an auto-tour.
Multi-day tours will be available as easily as day tours
A traveller will be able to go place A to B to C on a multi-day route. This will compete strongly with existing itinerary based multi-day tours that specialist local tour operators currently offer.
The hotel contracts that will be used within these tours will be the OTA contracts, not local tour operator contracts, creating further OTA centralisation of hotel buying power.
Attraction entry areas will need reconfiguring
Car parks will become less important and can be positioned away from the attraction. Instead new drop-off/pick-up zones will be needed directly outside attraction entrance areas.
Autonomous vehicles will provide an alternative for private space. This will compete with airport rest pods, hotel rooms by-the-hour and small meeting room bookings.
New role for the retailer
Autonomous vehicle tour retailers will need to evolve to become customer profile gatekeepers.
In order to totally personalise a tour the vehicle will need to know much more information about a customer than retailers currently transfer to the provider for a tour or hotel booking.
If retailers don’t evolve to handle this, autonomous vehicle tours will be booked directly.
Changes for hotels
Hotels will be able to retail autonomous vehicle sightseeing tours directly from the concierge (or their digital replacements), specifically programming an itinerary designed for that hotel guest.
There is interesting scope here for spending loyalty points in new ways and changing how left-luggage is handled.
With estimates varying as to when autonomous vehicles will be on the streets, there is no immediate rush to prepare for this future.
However, many of the changes required at hotels and attractions are architectural and therefore could take several years to implement.
If this has whetted your appetite for more information about this interesting subject, please read the full white paper available now.