The Invisible Traveller: The Rise of Self Service Travel

By: Chantelle Symester

May 9, 2014

Gone are the days where a one-size fits all approach to travelling is deemed acceptable by the masses. In fact, our increasingly busy lives are so preoccupied with the belief that we need to make everything more efficient, faster and easier in every way that it’s no wonder self-service innovations are at the forefront of most major travel trends. Need to book a flight? You go online. Need a taxi? There’s an app for that. Want to check in at the airport? Use the self service travel kiosk. For every process involved in getting you from A to B you’ll find fewer obstacles and people to complicate things.

Could Spike Jonze’s imagined urban metropolis from his recent film Her be coming to fruition? Are our virtual worlds becoming as important as our real ones? Technology has managed to transform every other aspect of our lives, from finding love to buying shampoo; even ordering a takeaway can be done at the click of a button. And if it’s completely revolutionising our domestic lives, then why should it not revolutionise the way in which we travel?

The Missing Link

Airlines – big and small, domestic and international – have all cottoned onto the fact that travellers, frequent flyers or otherwise, are not willing to wait around in long queues to be served. Nor are they afraid to communicate bad experiences or delays via social media. This sense of transparency is putting the power back in the court of the consumer, making the travel industry work harder to provide a seamless service throughout each customer’s journey.  Self-service check in desks and luggage drops are now so commonplace, it’s hard to think of a time when they weren’t around. Even boarder control desks are being replaced with swift state-of-the-art ePassport gates, where chip readers can scan your passport and image to verify your identity. You can fly half way across the world without uttering a word, perhaps until a flight attendant rocks up with their trolley to ask whether you want any refreshments.


CitizenM London | The Rise of the Invisible Traveller

Check in computers at CitizenM hotel in London © CitizenM

But it doesn’t stop there. Airports and airlines may have been early to adopt these advancements, but hotels have seen the light too and are increasingly moving towards automated check ins for self service travel. One such hotel chain is CitizenM, the self-confessed trending boutique chain that wholeheartedly embraces “mobile citizens of the world”. Guests can avoid pesky reception desks and simply arrive, check in and head straight to their room in one easy electronic sign in. Once there they remain connected to the hotel via a handy tablet, which controls everything from room from mood lighting to ordering room service or a movie. Nordic Choice Hotel is another brand flying the flag for user-friendly automatic systems that speed up mundane yet necessary processes and offer the customer complete control over their experience at the tap of a button. The instinctive systems are also a plus for hotels, making it easier to create a dynamic, bespoke experience for guests which can cater to their every need like never before. Not to mention the financial gains for the travel industry, which will hopefully see money reinvested in systems that enhance and better the customer experience.

CitizenM London - room-control | The Rise of The Invisible Traveller

CitizenM tablet room controls © CitizenM

For the most technologically savvy travellers there’s no need for any human contact whilst venturing out and exploring a new destination. If you need a car, rental services from companies like ZipCar couldn’t be easier. You can sign up, download the app and in a few taps book a car, unlock it, and you’re away. It’s probably more complicated sorting out your morning commute each day. And with a simple universal system available across the globe, you can utilise the service from any region you might be travelling to without any issues or complicated processes.

ZipCar | The Rise of the Invisible Traveller

ZipCar hire service is available worldwide © ZipCar

Avis also offer a car rental service from their mobile app, where you are able to sign in and select a vehicle. In addition to shorter hires you can also book out a car for days, weeks, or months at a time, making trips where long road journeys or regular usage is necessary as stress-free as possible. Users are further encouraged to utilise the service by being rewarded for their loyalty, highlighting how the travel industry is all too aware that offering key services isn’t enough to ensure repeat business from customers eager to feel like they are getting the best deal available.

Apple Passbook App | The Rise of the Invisible Traveller

Apple’s Passbook app provides busy travellers with peace of mind © Apple

Apps like Apple’s Passbook are also helping to push the travel industry forward, simplifying the time consuming processes and woes faced by frequent travellers. Many apps can be a lifeline for those keen to ditch the often numerous paper documents that can potentially get lost or damaged. The app lets you collect your boarding passes, event tickets and even your Starbucks loyalty card all in one handy virtual organiser. The time and location sensitive app does all the brainwork for you, making moving from one place to the next a seamless and stress free experience. This idea of integrated services is being adopted across the industry. Could the future be an integrated, universal key chain that’s personalised for you and only you? Who knows, but as technology advances and brands become smarter this will no doubt become a more viable and in-demand option.

But if ever there were a critique of the move towards self service travel, it’s this: lets not move into robot territory, where, when needed, human contact can become impossible to obtain. When managed correctly one doesn’t compensate or overwhelm the other, and for those who have yet to embrace the technological wonders of the internet age, there still has to be the option of speaking to someone if something goes wrong. After all, ultimate invisibility may be more hassle than it’s worth.

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to a range of destinations across the globe. Book your flight today.

What do you think of the rise of self service travel? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Chantelle Symester


Chantelle Symester

Chantelle Symester is a writer and editor based in London. When she’s not chained to her laptop working she can be found hopping on a plane to far flung places across the globe. Trips so far include adventures to Mexico, South America and North Africa and she now has her heart set on discovering the East. You can find her @csymester