By Euan McNeil – The term Internet of Things (IoT) was arguably one of the most overused terms of 2017.

However, if you want to keep up in the world of travel tech in 2018, you’d better join the IoT conversation.

The concept of IoT is simple: Anything that can be connected, will be connected.

In 2018, Ericsson expects the number of IoT connected devices to surpass mobile devices. By 2020, Cisco estimates that there will be 3,4 connected devices per person.

Globally, an estimated 127 new devices connect to the Internet every second. A report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the IoT could have an annual economic impact of $3,9-trillion to $11,1-trillion by 2025 across many different settings.

“In just a few years, some IoT devices have become standard, including thermostats that automatically adjust the temperature and production-line sensors that inform workshop supervisors of machine condition,” says Mark Patel, partner at McKinsey & Company. “Now innovators want to enable more sophisticated IoT technologies for self-driving cars, drone-delivery services, and other advanced applications.”


But, how will the Internet of Things impact your travels in 2018?


Your corporate travel bookings

No more scrambling for receipts, approvals or paper documents. The corporate travel industry will become more ‘connected’ in 2018.

Using an interconnected business travel platform like FCM Connect (developed by FCM Travel Solutions), corporate travellers access a ‘HUB’.

A single sign-on connection point to multiple travel tools and resources, from pre-trip approval and booking, to traveller tracking and reporting.

Across the booking, travelling and management journey travellers become completely connected to a streamlined travel programme.

They say chatbots may be the glue that holds the IoT together and the use of chatbots in corporate travel has also increased in the past few years.

In South Africa, FCM plans to launch its chatbot, Sam, to local markets this year.  Sam has been designed to assist with all aspects of travel: itineraries, gate changes, driving directions, weather and even restaurant recommendations and reservations.

Sam is interactive and speaks to clients in the manner and on the chat platforms they prefer.

With the ability to communicate across numerous supported platforms (Facebook Messenger, SMS and more), Sam picks up on cues, such as travel patterns and preferences, and updates travelers accordingly. For example, if it is your first time in a particular city, you will receive more information and recommendations than if it was a standing monthly trip.


Your luggage

IATA has adopted a resolution which requires airlines and airports to adopt IoT tools by June 2018 to reduce baggage mishandling.

Millions of bags are mishandled every year. Not only does the problem of mishandled bags cause a disruption for customers, it also carries a hefty price tag for the travel industry. The use of Industrial IoT initiatives – in which tagged bags are the “things” in the network – are being developed to address this issue.

So, from mid-2018, there’s less likelihood that your luggage will go missing along the journey. Thanks to sensor-based baggage solutions, you’ll receive a push notification when your bag is loaded, when it arrives and where it is being transferred to.

You’ll also be able to do a quick bag-drop process at self-service points without any human interaction.

In South Africa, Lanseria International Airport has become the first airport to introduce self-service technology for passengers.

The new technology enables passengers to check in online, or via their mobile devices, tag and drop their bags in less than a minute before proceeding directly to their boarding gate.


Your hotel room

Virgin Hotels recently started offering an app that allows guests to control the TV. But IoT can offer so much more during your hotel stay than being a universal TV remote.

Some hotels are installing IoT devices that let guests open the curtains or control in-room thermostats. By switching to a connected thermostat, hotels can adjust room temperatures at check-in and checkout. The connected thermostat eliminates the cost of cooling or heating vacant rooms.

Hotels also use IoT technology to know if a room is empty as intelligent sensors help detect occupancy. If the last-detected motion was near the door, combined with an opening of the door, it may be reasonable to assume the room is empty. So, no need to knock.

Some hotels, such as Hilton, are experimenting with Bluetooth-connected door locks so that a guest can use their smartphone as a key.

In South Africa, Tink Labs Limited launched the Handy smartphone – a complimentary amenity combining an in-room guest services platform to interact with hotels.

Visitors will be able to stay connected with free local and international calls, Internet access, speed-dial to hotel services, as well as access to local emergency services and essential travel information.


Your airport experience

Imagine that an airport could detect who you are at check-in and send you on your way without waiting in queues for passport control or trying to navigate your way through a busy airport.

The airport in Dubai has already started using smart gates to automatically detect travelers based on facial and retinal recognition, cutting check-in time to as little as 20 seconds.

Passengers must first register their biometrics (a one-time process), but once the recognition is made, the gate opens automatically.

Miami Airport is using 400 IoT sensors to help customers navigate the airport via their smartphone app. The app can can geo-locate customers and provide personalised directions to restaurants and gates.

London City Airport allows security checkpoints to communicate with each other, and then to send notification to a traveller’s mobile device with estimated wait times and delays.

We can expect the world to become a much more connected place in the years to come, which will fundamentally change the way we travel.

It’s an exciting time for TMCs, where we can expect the IoT to lead to greater efficiency as well as better customer service throughout the travel industry.


Euan McNeil is GM at FCM Travel Solutions


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