As we come to the end of 2013, I find myself in a reflective mood as I look back at the many things the travel industry has got to thank innovation for. As we prepare to usher in 2014 in a few hours, the future can only be bright.
Allow me to take you down memory lane as I re-examine some of the great innovations that changed travel forever.
As usual, I shall do this differently by not just limiting the events to 2013 and going really back in time to retrace some of the outstanding innovations that were game changers for the travel industry.
When Airlines started issuing electronic tickets in the mid 1990s, which was later followed by on-line check-in and self-service kiosks, the age of the paper ticket looked doomed to certain extinction (Do they have a CITE-like list of endangered innovations?).
More than a decade later in 2008, the International Air Transport Association finally declared paper tickets a relic of the past, ushering in the age of e-tickets.
An immediate result of this move is that the frequent phenomenon of lost tickets has become a thing of the past. You always have a soft copy of your ticket in your inbox that you can print whenever you misplace your printout.
In fact you do not even need a printout – you can simply walk to a check-in desk with a soft copy displayed on your mobile phone and show to a check-in attendant and you are good to go.
The birth of Wi-Fi in 1996 courtesy of one Dutch electrical engineer, Vic Hayes, et al, heralded a new culture and breed of travellers. The entrepreneur, for instance, who could not leave the comfort of his office for fear of missing out on a crucial business email now, thanks to Wi-Fi technology, could roam around the globe carrying their valuable inbox with them all the time.
WiFi quickly began to emerge as an industry selling point and hospitality brands began to use it in their marketing pitch. Hotels, eateries and airports that did not offer Wi-Fi (whether paid or free) were not considered cool and lost out on big business. Today virtually any lodge or hotel worth its salt offers Wi-Fi.
Perhaps now the next step is to ensure that beyond the mere availability of Wi-Fi, speed, reliability and connection quality will be given priority. Wi-Fi access in some facilities is a laughable affair (when you are not going nuts trying to upload your safari photos to your blog or social page) – wisdom would be not to mention you have Wi-Fi in such places.
We all know that IBM gave the world the first viable, affordable and portable computer. That happened in 1986. Since then, computer portability has undergone a complete revolution to offer the modern traveller a range of convenient solutions to manage their offices and media on the go.
Today with a Kindle or iPad a traveller can combine the video, photo and word processing power of such devices to capture compelling memories of their travel while keeping their friends and family back at home informed through their personal blogs and social media spaces.
On-line Trip Advice
When TripAdvisor®, founded by Stephen Kaufer in 2000, came into the travel scene, it set a new pace in travel advice similar to what social media did with citizen journalism. Both amateur and professional travellers who visited and stayed at a facility could later post their personal opinion on TripAdvisor® alongside photos they took during their trip and share this ‘advice’ with potential visitors to the same places.
This provided a cheap, unedited source of intelligence that greatly influenced travel decision patterns. We are positioning Enchanted Landscapes® to fill a gap TripAdvisor® cannot satisfy exhaustively for the Kenyan market.
Imagine the boredom and monotony that characterised international air travel before the 1980s? A flight from Nairobi to London, for instance, would last about 9 hours.
The arrival of in-flight entertainment in the 80s made such long flights more bearable and even fun as flyers were treated to mixed-grill of music and films from all genres imaginable. Air travel suddenly became awesome.
You of course, have seen a couple of documentaries about early European explorers to the ‘uncharted’ lands of East Africa and you have also seen how tropical diseases always came in the way of their great dreams of discovery and adventure. The main culprit was and still is the dreaded Malaria.
Early travellers had to brave the numerous side effects of malaria treatment until the year 2000 when the wonder drug Malarone came to the scene. With Malarone, which is administered orally, travellers were at ease moving around certain parts of Africa including Kenya.
Perhaps one of the most impacting innovations of our time was the advent of the digital camera in 1975 when the world’s first prototype from Eastman Kodak engineer Steve Sasson, first surfaced. For the first time in history, travellers could share photos they had taken moments ago right where they were.
The age of the film roll where you risked running out of film or had to wait until you were back home to develop the films only to realise a little too late that you had all along been wasting time because overexposure had claimed your shots, had come to an end.
When we first wrote about the Full-Body Scanners, we did not also realise what profound impact these would have in the travel industry until much later. Full-body scanners were the industry’s response to the increasing threat of terrorism.
Mostly used in major airports, the scanners were used to help in the detection of weapons without needing airport staff to pat-down travellers.
Their introduction sparked a major debate on how far people were willing to go to sacrifice their privacy in exchange for enhanced security. Am not yet aware of any African country that is using Full-Body scanners. Is there any? Would love to know.
When Harvey Alpert’s Oakfield Farms Solutions created the first boxed meal for their client, Continental Airlines in 1978, I bet they had no clue what a revolution their innovation was going to cause in the industry. Back then, Oakfield Farms Solutions was offering cheese, crackers, raisins, a chocolate bar, a napkin, and a knife – all shrink-wrapped in a wooden box.
Today, there is no airline that does not offer in-flight meals for their flyers – and for over 3 decades, the practice has never changed except may be for the elegance of the package that varies from one airline to another.
Airlines from the Arab world, am told, offer some really elaborate air plane meals. I have never used any airline from that side but I have had a chance to fly with Ethiopian and I personally find their in-flight meals very delicious not to mention they come in large unselfish rations that are very filling – really good stuff Ethiopian Airlines. Keep it up. You are doing a good job there!
And there you are. Do you have more examples of great innovations that changed travel forever? Let us hear them. Leave your examples in the comment section below.
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