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Next Big Thing

Next Big Thing

    The next big thing is recreational travel.

    Vacation travel has always been huge. But you haven’t seen anything yet. Our ability to plan trips will dramatically improve, and that’s a game changer.

    If you’ve tried to book a trip lately, you know it’s a headache. You have to research every part of it yourself, and even with the Internet you’re still shooting blind half of the time. If you hope to do something that is the least bit off the beaten path, you’re taking a risk with your vacation budget, not to mention your limited time. If you’re the one in charge of planning the vacation for your family, you don’t want to screw it up. So you play it safe. You go to places that you can easily research, or to places where someone you know has already been.

    My theory is that people are rational with their vacation budgets and avoid travel to places that are hard to research. Most people would pay extra to avoid the risk of the unknown. (If you’re a natural adventurer, your mileage may vary.) So imagine what will happen to the travel industry when it is just as easy to plan an exotic vacation as an obvious one? That day is coming.

    Case in point: My wife and I just spent a week in Costa Rica. It was great, and reasonably priced.  If I could transfer my new knowledge about Costa Rica to you, it would lower your perceived cost of travel to that country because it would reduce the risk premium that you automatically assign to the unknown. When it comes to travel, knowledge reduces both the psychological and the actual cost. And knowledge can also save weeks of planning effort.

    In other words, when it comes to travel, knowledge is a substitute for money. And thanks to the Internet, our knowledge about travel options is about to explode. The effect of that change is that the cost of travel will appear to drop a great deal while the enjoyment gained from vacations improves. That will cause a boom in recreational travel.

    Web sites are already starting to make travel planning easier, of course, but the best of them are only scratching the surface of what is possible. Hipmunk.com has a wonderful user interface for choosing flights. Duffelup.com has an interesting approach to trip planning. And dozens of other travel sites are pecking away at the problem. But let me describe the home run application that is somewhat inevitable.

    Call it CloneMyVacation.com. The idea is that future vacationers will be able to capture all of the details of their vacation trips, from the flights they booked to the hotels they stayed in, to the day excursions they took, and create blueprints for other travelers to follow. When you want to take a trip, you just search online for a family that has your same profile (income, ages, genders, location, sense of adventure) and start with their entire vacation plan. From there, you can modify as you like.

    It might sound like a lot of work to document your vacation, but I think someday there will be an app for that. The GPS in your phone could help the app figure out what hotel you’re staying at, what day trips you took, and what restaurants you visited. All you have to do is take vacation pictures with your phone, which you would do anyway, and the app would author your entire vacation story automatically, complete with timelines, maps, and even photos taken by other people of the locations you visited.

    The app could even figure out what airline you used, based on the location of the airport terminals and your flight times. The app could also calculate your travel time from the airport to your hotel. It could even assign a price range to your vacation based on public information about flights, hotels, and other local expenses. Then it could pull together any relevant web sites in one package, and present it to you for verification at the end of your vacation. If something looks wrong, you adjust it. And maybe there is a brief survey that asks some questions about how you liked each of the elements of your vacation. And perhaps the photos have some blank spaces below them for your comments.

    The app’s primary purpose is documenting your vacation for your own digital scrapbook. But push a button and the app converts your personal vacation file to something more generic that can be published for anyone looking for a similar type of vacation. Facial recognition software could automatically masks the identities of your family members. And the app could allow you to easily remove any other information you find too personal. Then you publish. It takes you five minutes to document and publish your entire trip.

    It’s probably a good time to invest in airlines.

    [Note: Do not take investment advice from cartoonists.]

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