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High-flyers: Five travel tech brands to watch in 2021

Posted by Samantha Browning on 23rd June 2021

Looking back to my last travel-related blog in the good old days of 2017, it’s clear that the world is now a very different place.

While all my predictions might not have come true (except maybe the one about not interacting with other humans), I still maintain that technology and travel go hand in hand — even with current restrictions and disruption to the industry.

Within the first 10 months of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic cost the global tourism industry a staggering $935 billion in revenue. And, with numerous countries still enforcing travel restrictions to contain the spread of the virus, travel across the world has changed forever.

However, despite the considerable disruption, several start-ups are working to tackle the challenges brought about by the latest coronavirus.

In this blog, I’ll be talking through five companies that I think are helping us to change the face of the tourism industry during this unprecedented time:

Explore every avenue

One of the main things I miss about travelling is heading out with no real agenda to simply explore. I love discovering the local area, getting lost in winding little side streets and stumbling upon hidden gems.

While that isn’t possible right now, a new platform called Questo allows you to discover new destinations without leaving the comfort of your own home. With tours and games designed by locals, the app is a fun way to lose yourself in a new location and even give you a taste of a potential holiday of the future once this is allowed and people feel safe enough to do so.

Personally, I’ll be creating a long wish list of destinations!

Up in the air

Picture the scene. You’re sat in your plane seat with a plastic glass full of wine in front of you, rifling gleefully through the glossy duty-free brochure as the clinking trolley rolls down the aisle. Then, that little voice of reason pipes up out of nowhere, asking How am I going to get this all home? Enter Covid-19 and traditional inflight sales understandably saw a huge decline.

French startup airfree has come up with a solution for when we get back in the air again, offering an inflight e-commerce solution that aims to provide a more seamless shopping experience for travellers and allowing airlines to boost sales during a challenging time.

Airfree works by giving passengers access to an unlimited product catalogue (either pre-flight or inflight) on their own mobile devices or on the seatback screen. To make it as pain-free as possible, holidaymakers can then have their product delivered at their convenience — whether that’s inflight, at the airport or even at their home upon arrival. How easy is that?

Plane sailing

A huge issue for airlines, tour operators and travel agencies in pre-Covid-19 days was unsold seats. While travel is still off the menu for most holidaymakers, this issue is likely to raise its ugly head again once free and regular travel is allowed once more.

One techy startup tackling this problem is CitizenPlane, which offers a seats ‘clearance’ solution, allowing excess tickets to be aggregated and sold online via sites such as Kayak and Google Flights.

It’s not just those selling the tickets that stand to benefit. As someone who loves a travel bargain and is always up for visiting somewhere new, I can see real value for consumers too. Not only is it an amazing company name (you might have guessed, I love a good pun!), it’s also a really innovative solution to a genuine industry issue.

Cancel culture

Anyone who had a holiday booked in the last year or so will know how frustrating and time-consuming it can be to manage the refund or rebooking process. Having personally been sat at number 48 in a queue back in March 2020, on hold for two hours and 43 minutes, I can certainly vouch for this.

Tel-Aviv-based RubiQ uses automation to help airlines recover more quickly from flight disruptions and make passengers’ lives easier.

The company’s Disruption Recovery Platform monitors real-time flight data to anticipate cancellations and disruptions, then calculates the optimal alternative flight and instantly notifies them via email, SMS, or the airline’s app. Travellers can quickly and easily manage this through RubiQ’s AI-based, self-service virtual assistant.

Tied up in a Bo

While social distancing is still in place across many parts of the world, in busy locations such as airports this presents a significant challenge.

London-based startup BotsAndUs has developed a customer experience robot that provides passenger assistance while removing the need for human interaction. The robot, called Bo, can autonomously engage with passengers in several ways, including taking them to their preferred locations (gates, lounges, or shops, for example) and answering simple questions.

Bo promises to create a memorable airport experience for passengers and augments the work of customer-facing staff, freeing them from simple but time-consuming enquiries so they can focus on more complex tasks.

Personally, I love this idea and can see airports increasingly embracing robots to simplify and future-proof operations.

Tech and future travel experiences

As the travel industry contemplates how to rebuild itself after a disastrous year, technology and innovation will be powerful enablers — both to get the world moving again and to help redefine the traveller experience of the future.

While we don’t know what the next few months have in store, to quote Albert Einstein: “in the midst of every crisis lies opportunity”.

These are just some of the companies that are tackling these challenges head on. With this in mind, I’ll be sharing a second instalment of tech startups embracing these issues in my next blog. Watch this space!

Samantha Browning

With two and a half years of experience in technology PR gained at a London-based agency, Sammy joined Wildfire in November 2016 and brings with her invaluable knowledge of the consumer and B2B tech landscape and the wider media industry. Whilst gaining her degree from The University of Kent in English & American Literature and French, Sammy spent a year abroad living and studying in France. She continues her love of writing, books and the French language in both her professional and personal life. Sammy is a big fan of food, films, travelling and dogs. She loves planning holidays and would be very happy to hear of any recommendations!