5 pandemic tech innovations that will change travel forever

[adace-ad id="3134"]

In the 20 months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, technological innovations have moved from the future to the commonplace. These days, it’s hard to go out into the world without encountering coded lists or providing digital vaccine passports.

As the tourism industry — which recorded fewer international arrivals in 2020 than 2019 — comes back to life, masks may start to disappear, but many pandemic-era tech tools will continue to work in your travels.

“Consumers will expect technologies that make them more confident about travel,” says Steve Shore, president of the Travel Technology Association. “Some of these changes are here to stay.”

[adace-ad id="3134"]

In fact, a 2021 Pew Research survey of 915 policy leaders, science researchers and other experts predicted that by 2025, our daily lives could be further affected by algorithms, remote work and what some call “everything remotely”.

While new interventions such as real-time translation devices and passport control for facial recognition may make travel safer and more efficient, there are downsides, including concerns about privacy, data security, and biased technology. Here are some of the innovations that travelers will continue to see and use.

[adace-ad id="3134"]

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

When the pandemic stopped travel, museums and tourist destinations turned to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create online exhibits and experiences. While some of these experiences can be best seen with a VR headset, most of them can be enjoyed using just a computer or smartphone.

The Xplore Petra app was launched in June 2020, allowing users to “visit” Jordan’s most famous archaeological site by viewing a miniature version of the antiquities. Lights over Lapland, an arctic travel company, has launched a VR experience to show the aurora borealis using virtual reality headsets or computer monitors.

(How virtual reality can change your next trip, even after COVID-19.)

Virtual and augmented reality may enhance actual trips by adding experiences such as a simulation of climbing the Matterhorn at the Swiss Transport Museum in Lucerne. The Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland houses a virtual reality landmark where visitors immerse themselves in the “Garden of Earthly Delights,” a 500-year-old painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

The Natural History Museum in Paris has an augmented reality exhibit that brings visitors face to face with extinct animals in digital form. The National Museum of Singapore has an installation called The Story of the Jungle, in which viewers explore a virtual landscape consisting of about 70 landscape drawings from the museum’s collection. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., has an app that uses augmented reality to show what some animal skeletons would look like with skin and muscle over the bones, providing a new view of a collection dating back to the 1880s.

“Virtual reality will not replace travel and tourism. It will only boost tourism,” says Anu Pillai, who runs the Center for Digital Excellence at Wipro, a technology company.

crowd control

To help enforce social distancing, cities, airports and museums have tested or implemented crowd control technology including vaguely terrifying roaming robots in Singapore declaring that people are too close to each other and signs indicating the number of large crowds at airport gates. As crowds of travelers return to popular destinations, similar methods and devices can be implemented to prevent overtourism.

In Italy during the pandemic, Venice began tracking visitors with cameras designed to catch criminals. After the pandemic, it plans to harness it to keep tourist numbers at manageable levels, perhaps in coordination with the mayor’s proposal to add electronic gates at key entry points (cruise ship docks and train stations) that can be closed if the city is overcrowded.

(These technology changes may make your next trip safer.)

Simon Venturini, Venice’s chief tourism officer, told The New York Times. “We have complete control of the city.”

Amsterdam, which is also struggling with overtourism, is tracking how visitors use the Amsterdam City Card, a flat fee card for museums and public transport. Beach Check UK launched this summer with real-time information on how crowded dozens of beaches along the English coast are, guiding travelers away from crowded areas.

“Technology can be used to collect data in order to make better decisions and communicate those decisions,” says Christopher Empson, Director of Sustainability at the World Travel and Tourism Council.

UV cleaning

Hospitals have used ultraviolet light to disinfect and kill viruses for more than two decades. Now, indoor public places including airports, gyms and cinemas are adding ultraviolet radiation to stop the spread of the virus.

“UV-C is at its peak right now,” says Peter Fellows, CEO of UltraViolet Devices, which makes UV disinfection technology.

UV-C has germicidal properties that combat COVID-19 and other harm, both in the air and on surfaces. Depending on the location, new UV-C installations are entering HVACs, on escalator fenders, or across airports and planes via light-equipped robots that disinfect on the go.

If installed and operated correctly, the UV-C system can kill all types of bacteria and germs. Even seasonal flu bugs can be triggered before they spread. “COVID-19 can come and go, but what will not go away are natural pathogens,” Fellowes says.

QR codes in restaurants

In the early days of the pandemic, when the transmission of COVID-19 was not yet well understood, restaurants were quick to offer QR codes. Small black boxes of dots and dashes can be scanned with a smartphone to bring up a menu, let you order them, and then let you pay your bill, all with limited virus-spreading interactions with servers.

While previous fears of people contracting the virus via menus and other surfaces have been refuted, the codes have proven appropriate and may remain consistent, especially with staff shortages late in the pandemic.

This convenience may mean a privacy trade-off, however, since small tokens can collect a great deal of information from users. Some QR programs only take a food order, but others extract data such as the recipient’s food history, age, and gender. The restaurant can use this information to send coupons or invitations to events – or sell them to third parties.

“It’s an example of companies exploiting COVID-19 to expand tracing,” says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Moving everything to mobile opens people up to new ways to track and control.”

Travelers should know that QR codes can be hacked; You might scan one, place an order for dinner, and end up haggling your credit card instead. Stanley recommends treating QR codes just as you would links in unknown emails. Either use your phone to search for a restaurant menu online or install a protective app like Kaspersky QR Scanner, which will give users a warning if the code isn’t secure.

Contact tracing tools

Public health groups have used contact tracing methods to identify and track people who may have been exposed to infectious diseases such as Zika and HIV, and to provide counseling, testing and treatment. These traditional tools are usually based on phone calls to ask individuals who they have been in contact with and to further research exposure. The pandemic has prompted officials to ramp up these efforts and implement new, high-tech efforts to track the spread of the virus and provide information.

For example, Apple and Google have added contact tracing functionality to their new smartphone software, allowing users to sign up and get alerts if they come into close contact with an infected person.

(If you have to travel during a pandemic, here’s how to protect your health.)

“There has been strong recognition of the value and important role of contact tracing for infectious disease prevention and control,” says Elizabeth Roebusch, senior analyst for infectious disease and immunization policy at the Association of State and County Health Officials. “But we haven’t seen its application on the scale of COVID-19.”

Other technologies, such as automated texts, viral heat maps, and even closed-circuit television with facial recognition, can help track other infectious diseases or prepare us for the next pandemic.

However, even with great new apps, phone calls and personal communication will remain at the core of public health. “These tools are meant to enhance traditional contact tracing, not replace it,” Robush says.

COVID-19 has accelerated our adoption of technology. The downside is that this can make it difficult to turn off smartphones while on vacation. Then again, the love for roaming is now stronger than ever – and the feeling of being lost in this moment is still not harnessed by a digital code.

Jackie Snow is a Washington, DC-based writer specializing in travel and technology. Follow her on Instagram.

[adace-ad id="3134"]

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer

Sliding Sidebar