Dawn break at the Angkor Wat temple is a must-see ritual for tourists visiting Cambodia. As the sun slowly begins to rise from between the triple towers of the temple, you can see hundreds of hands go up. No, they are not raised in supplication - but all are holding up mobile phones clicking away the sunrise, which in a matter of seconds will be shared across social networks globally.
Welcome to the world of social travel and a growing tribe of social capital seekers. This is a tribe of travellers who document their journeys every inch of the way on social media. So much so that a new report by Amadeus and Future Foundation - Future Travellers 2030: Understanding Tomorrow's Travellers - predicts that it will impact the travel economy in a big way. The report divides travellers into six tribes - cultural purists, social capital seekers, ethical travellers, simplicity searchers, obligation 'meeters', and reward hunters.
Each tribe will shape the travel economy of the future, but, undeniably, the social capital seekers, who look at feed-friendly moments and rely on peer reviews to plan their travel, are already changing the way the industry operates.
There is a clear tendency amongst this tribe to trust real people's statements over sales pitches from travel agencies. Decision-making will be validated, or even outsourced entirely, to an online electorate. "Trendy" destinations will be preferred. "Bucket lists" will be consciously or unconsciously crowdsourced, says the report.
We are already seeing much of this being played out as a growing band of travellers rely on TripAdvisor and Airbnb more to plan out their itineraries rather than go to a travel agent.
SO WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
It could mean a serious disruption in the distribution chain and a reduction in the number of intermediaries. Travel agents could see business drying up - unless they embrace social travel, too, and come up with apps or get onto social networking platforms in a big way and close deals in real time.
Smarter operators are beginning to do so. A case in point, the report says, is Stayful, which allows travellers to reach it through Twitter through the hashtag #TweetStay. Customers can tweet @Stayful asking for a hotel within a specified budget. Stayful travel experts negotiate in real time with hotels and get back with great offers.
As peer to peer outfits mushroom, travel operators need to watch out. Airbnb, which started with peer-to-peer lodging offers, is now moving into offering tours. Be it food, guided tours, or lodging, it's all becoming peer to peer with no intermediaries in the picture. For example, apps like TinyOwl get home-cooked meals made by home chefs delivered. SeekSherpa, Padharo and BeTheLocal are all travel start-ups that connect tourists with local people who act as guides and conduct unique micro tours.
As the Future Travel report predicts, "social media booking agents will become ubiquitous, travel agents will go social, third-party expert researchers will be a common conduit to purchase".
Disruptive start-up Oyo Rooms founder and CEO Ritesh Agarwal feels: "My sense is that intermediation will not end, but will evolve. In future, online travel agencies will become way more smarter. Their ability to deliver experiences will become better. They will be able to do a lot of things that peer to peer operators will not be able to do. Today, they are front ending agents who work on a commission to get a customer, but in future it will be against a value proposition - say last minute reservations or something like that."
And increasingly travel tours will have to cater to "feed-friendly experiences". The mandatory halt to take pictures will now have to include time to click and share! With the advent of Periscope and Meerkat, which allow live streaming of videos across social channels, you can expect real-time video feeds of family trips now. As the report says: "Appetite will be ravenous for moments of shareable wish-fulfillment." This means there must be everywhere connectivity to share photo and video files.
In 2030, 20 per cent of the world's population (estimated to touch 8.5 billion) will be travelling. A good 80 per cent will be networked socially. And will demand personalised experiences. This means pricing will also get personal, and travel companies will need to invest in differential pricing mechanisms and tools.
Wooing with Weibo
Suddenly, Weibo is where all the action is, with Apple CEO Tim Cook joining Sina Corp's Twitter-like microblogging service. With Apple announcing big plans for China, Cook's move to join Weibo is not surprising - especially as Twitter and Facebook are banned in China. Weibo's 200 million active users also welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi onto the platform during his recent visit to China. Modi, who joined Weibo shortly before his tour of the Middle Kingdom, showed how adept he is at social media diplomacy as he posted pictures of his meetings and kept up a fl ow of posts. The best way to breach the bamboo curtain may be through social networks!
Flickr of Life!
From being every photographer's dream hosting site, Flickr got a bit left behind when Google Picasa (and Plus) began unleashing feature after feature. Now Yahoo!, which bought the photo sharing site in 2005, is fi nally trying to infuse a fl icker of life into the site. Among the new features that the 112 million Flickr users can now use are Yahoo!'s new Auto Uploadr that will automatically upload photos on to the platform. An image recognition technology helps group and organise the photos better. Looking for a picture also gets easier with a unifi ed search experience. Sharing pictures, too, has become a lot simpler. But, the site's new auto tagging feature has met with instant censure from its users and there are reports that Yahoo! might have to roll this back. You cannot win them all!
Flirting with Meerkat
Twitter may have coldshouldered video live streaming app Meerkat due to the launch of its own Periscope, but Facebook is getting friendly with the app. As Meerkat added FB support features to its app (you may now be able to livestream videos using the app on your FB wall), rumours of a possible acquisition have got louder.