I recently was asked to comment on a story about a Microsoft video which probably everyone in the travel industry has seen by now. From my perspective, Co.Design's John Pavlus said exactly what I would have, only better. His take on the Microsoft video is fascinating, and it sparked an equally fascinating set of comments.
The video features a future vision of business travel, which of course means a few things cry out for critique. My initial take on what it has to say about future travel actually is aligned with Pavlus's opinion. While no one can know exactly what our business travel future will hold, it will surely include things he mentions, such as "imperfect lighting, dog-eared magazines, and chipped coffee mugs."
In the first few scenes we see a woman named Ayla, whom we are to imagine is just three years old back in good old 2011. In effect, those of us watching the video lived in what is now the past. I was immediately struck by a couple of things; surprisingly these things were not technological in nature. For example, at the airport Ayla is picked up by a car service (disguised as a hotel shuttle). If you have never had this done for you, you are truly missing out—but I would be wrong not to mention that this particular travel practice is old, not new. Some would even say (although not me) that private car hire is a classic vestige of the 1%; after all, it's much more accessible than helicopter service or private charter jets. I also noticed that although Ayla's hotel doesn't appear extravagant, there is an attentive bellman awaiting her. Again, this is a nice touch showing how what is today a service found only at the finest luxury hotels will become a commonplace—although I find it a bit anachronistic that they are seen to be carrying paper notepads and ballpoint pens. Long story short: whatever Ayla's doing, good for her.
There are a few things which I do wish to call out as intriguing possibilities, which we actually might see in the next few years.
Screens. Wireless HDMI could become standard in hotels, so you could use screens for more than just TV. Look at the scene where our heroine uses her hotel room's flatscreen to run through a presentation about water pumps with colleagues. I could see myself doing something like that. Having access to a high-quality screen as a monitor for your computer, or being able to use it as a peripheral for video chatting with folks back home is a great idea, and certainly the type of functionality which many hotel guests would pay. This type of technology already exists and would enrich the work/life experience of the guest. So I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing this feature rather sooner than the video prophesizes.
Digital Hotel Room Key. Many of us have been talking about this one for a while, just as we've been imagining our phone serving as a platform for digital payment—the latter having already arrived. So why not digital keys? The boarding pass thing works when there's no easy access to a printer. Sure, it might play hob with movie cliches in which the protagonist slides a room key across the bar to a beautiful stranger. It would be less than elegant to have to dig out a cellphone and fumble for the code. Imagine if one partner has an HTC and the other has an iPhone. In real life I bet they might work okay, for those who find themselves in morally compromising situations infrequently.
Itinerary. I've saved my favorite one for last. A clean, interactive, agenda-integrated itinerary for travelers would be amazing. The issues of sourcing and harmonizing content are terrifying, but I think Gregg Brockaway and the team at TripIt have created a terrific starting point. A well-designed digital itinerary is so desirable that someone has to pounce on this soon and nail it. For an app which could pull my airline record locator, keep my rewards program data, aggregate info on missing hotels, keep restaurant reservations, link to mapping, and pull any updates or changes—well, I would happily shell out for such a thing were it well executed. I doubt very much that this sort of development would originate from a corporate travel environment. I would expect the consumer software world to drive something this far-reaching. If anyone posts a comment that this exists and I just don't know about it, you'd better not be gaslighting me. I've been looking.
So there are my insights on the travel side of Microsoft's vision for the future. There are definitely several key travel innovations for which I fully expect Microsoft and their peers to be leading players or influencers. There is also very little doubt that nice hotels and top-notch service will ever go out of style.
Someday soon may we all travel like Ayla.