What places are left on your bucket list? What trips did you have to put on hold in light of Covid-19? With unwavering advancements in technology and 5G, we are curious where the travel industry is headed next. Take, for example, the greater implications in VR and AR; for those hard to visit places, how might you explore without ever leaving your home? Watch this webinar and deep dive as we sightsee into the future of travel.
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Noelle Tassey 0:01
Welcome to our Future of Travel Panel today. Thank you all so much for joining us this Wednesday afternoon and for sharing an hour of your afternoon with us. And a special thanks to really all of our panelists today, we're so excited to hear from you guys about future of travel and talk a little bit more about this subject in-depth. For those of you tuning in, if you don't know me, my name is Noelle Tassey, and I'm the CEO of Alley. Alley is a community-driven innovation agency and our focus is to unite rich, diverse communities around the country with our corporate partners to drive their innovation programs, and also bring about positive social impact. A special thank you to our partners at Verizon 5G Labs, one of those clients that we work with. And for those of you who don't know 5G Labs, they work with startups, academia, and enterprise teams to dream up the future of our 5G-powered world. So we work on 5G trials, hackathons, industry partnerships, prototyping challenges, and more. And you can check out our upcoming events as well as our work with them on our website at alley.com. So without further ado, I'm going to have our incredible panelists all introduce themselves, we've got some really, really unique points of view to bring to today's panel. So Swapnil, we'll kick it off with you, if you want to just give us a little bit of background on yourself. Current role— and I know in your previous role, at Mezi, as the founder of Mezi, as well, just a little bit about that.
Swapnil Shinde 1:40
Sure. Hey, guys. Nice to meet everyone. And thanks again for inviting me on this panel. I am Swapnil. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Zeni. And Zeni is an AI-powered CFO as a service platform that manages all the finance functions for technology startups today. So it includes accounting, bookkeeping, temporary CFO services, (inaudible) invoicing, everything under one roof on one platform. But interestingly, before Zeni, my last startup was Mezi, where we built an AI-powered travel as a service platform that was acquired by American Express at the start of 2018. The interesting thing that we've built at Mezi was our travel assistant that could sit in your pocket and travel with you, 24 by seven, and you could chat with that travel assistant over a very simple messaging interface to plan and book your entire travel and 70% of those messages in that interaction was actually powered by AI and 30% by real travel experts, so we ended up creating a very realistic AI travel assistant for business travelers.
Noelle Tassey 2:48
Awesome, love that, and really, really excited to kind of hear more about that experience as well. Daniel, over to you.
Daniel Sproll 2:54
Sure. My name is Daniel Sproll. I'm one of the co-founders of realities.io and what we do is we bring the real world into virtual reality. So we scan real-world places and turn them into fully explorable 3D models. We scan places like Cologne Cathedral, so you can enter there. And we are especially excited about places that are out of reach for people. And, yeah, I came into VR through my work as a cognitive scientist, so I've done research in that area, and then ended up in VR founding— co-founding realities.
Noelle Tassey 3:35
Very cool. And digital travel's obviously gonna be a real headline topic for us today given (inaudible). Last but not least, Alia.
Alia Lamborghini 3:46
Hey, well, thank you. My name is Alia Lamborghini, I run the Client Sales and Strategy Team at Verizon Media. We connect with about 900 million users and really try to transform how people stay informed and entertained across about 30 different media properties, some of them are HuffPost and Yahoo Sports, TechCrunch, and Bakers. Prior to this role, I actually ran the Travel Vertical for Verizon Media, too. So I'm a personal travel enthusiast as well as have been involved with lots of different partners in our Travel Vertical at Verizon Media.
Noelle Tassey 4:22
Awesome. Like you, I'm also a personal travel enthusiast, so I'm really excited, you know like I think a lot of the people tuning in today, I love to travel, I also love to stay home and socially distance right now, and I love technology. So really excited to kind of explore what the future of travel means. But before we kick off and really dig into that, I'm curious what everybody's, you know, first post-COVID trip would be. You know, what you guys are thinking as people who love to travel. I was gonna say Southeast Asia because I really want to go back to Cambodia, but honestly, I'd be happy just like, traveling to my office at this point. Yeah, that's kind of where I'm at.
Alia Lamborghini 5:08
Yeah, I'm kind of in your boat, I might need a little ease back into a long flight. I— at this point, I've gone six months without flying, and I think I'm going to need a domestic hop first. So I would love to take my family to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I'm aiming at this point for next summer for sort of a true family vacation, but we'll see how that works out.
Daniel Sproll 5:32
Yeah, I think— I mean, I'm fortunate that we're based in Berlin, so there is travel possible so— at least around here, and within Germany and to a degree within Europe. But yeah, I mean, I'd love to like, hit up the mountains as soon as possible again, but because I'm not taking flights for just traveling anymore for environmental reasons, but there's so much to see. I'd love to hop over to Georgia, go hiking there, stuff like that, once it's possible to stay in a small house with a lot of people again.
Noelle Tassey 6:07
Alia Lamborghini 6:08
Daniel, you don't need to brag about the way that Europe has handled the Coronavirus crisis like that, we're all really jealous. Good job.
Noelle Tassey 6:15
Yeah. Good job.
Daniel Sproll 6:16
I'll pass it on.
Noelle Tassey 6:17
Having a passport that's actually usable, oh, my God.
Swapnil Shinde 6:24
I would probably maybe go to Hawaii, go somewhere a bit exotic locally before I maybe consider going to a place like maybe Africa— African safari— still be within the mix of nature and probably with lesser humans around so it's a bit safer than usual.
Noelle Tassey 6:47
Yeah, definitely. I mean, that's certainly— yeah, that's certainly pretty distance. So, awesome. So now we're going to jump into the future of travel which is a really kind of new topic to these panels that we've been doing. You know, we've been talking a lot about kind of evolution of you know, the collision of technology and culture across a wide range of topics, and travel's actually only really come up once. We had a call where we were talking about VR/AR and somebody said they actually take their VR/AR headset on flights when they're flying economy. And they just like, put it on and it's like, they're not in the middle seat in row like, you know, 46, next to the toilet. So I thought that was— you know, that was a great tip on the— certainly the future of how I hope to travel. Which is definitely budget airline, in the back, pretending I'm not. But yeah, I'd love to know what the future of travel means more generally to all three of you. So that's for the whole panel. Whoever wants to jump in and just, yeah, take it away.
Alia Lamborghini 7:52
I think a really general perspective, we will probably expect more personalization. There might be more of a private experience, you know, bent on travel, and then certainly in the short-term, there will be less crowding. Because that's what we'll have to do, at least domestically in the US to try to make sure that we can earn the right to travel again. On the negative aspects, I worry a little bit about travel becoming more expensive and potentially less accessible.
Daniel Sproll 8:26
Yeah, I think so too. I think travel is about to massively change. I mean, we have to with the challenges that we're facing in the short-term, is— that will be COVID, and then with long term, that's like the climate crisis that we're facing. So travel will massively change, will have to massively change. And I think yeah, one of the aspects that we, of course, are super excited about to find alternatives for some of these places, to keep places accessible, is VR and virtual travel. I don't think that will work for everything and maybe we can dive into that later. But I think there's certainly use cases and travel cases where this is a really interesting alternative that is not only on par, but maybe even a better experience than without— well, like being there in person with a lot of other people.
Noelle Tassey 9:15
Yeah, definitely. And that's something we'll explore a lot today, is sort of that, you know, when, we're returning to normal, and I think— you know, we've seen this on a lot of our panels actually is kind of like less but better, you know, as Coronavirus is a forcing mechanism for us to change behaviors and hopefully change certain things long-term for environmental preservation, you know, like exploring where do you— where's the role of VR and AR in travel versus the benefits of going somewhere in person. Last but not least, future travel to you Swapnil?
Swapnil Shinde 9:50
Yeah, I think, for me, the future of travel is going to be super personalized, because I think, as you rightly said, that less is going to be more in the world of travel. Looking forward, people are going to think twice before they consider going somewhere. So I think the seriousness that comes into planning a travel is going to be higher in the future. And safety is going to be the number one feature, I think when it comes to planning and booking your travel. So that entire experience, I think making the customer feel extremely safe, knowledgeable about where they're going, and then the different aspects of that particular location are going to be very important. So safety first and extremely personalized because if I'm not going to travel as often, I would rather have something that is very tuned to my requirements.
Alia Lamborghini 10:36
You know, we're seeing actually— we've taken some rising media data lately that's shown that our consumers are looking for travel companies to actually speak very directly with them about safety. The number, I think, is about 87% of consumers expect travel companies to talk with them very directly about safety, and what they're doing, and why it's safe to actually visit their hotel or fly on their airplane. So that's definitely top of mind for folks.
Noelle Tassey 11:04
Swapnil Shinde 11:06
I expect a lot of travel companies to even change and fine-tune their marketing efforts to put safety front and center in their messaging and positioning.
Alia Lamborghini 11:15
Yeah, and truly the other interesting thing about that is if you are going to take precautionary safety measures that cost more money. So the balance between what the consumer is willing to absorb in order to have a safe travel experience is going to get pretty interesting too.
Noelle Tassey 11:33
Yeah, I think what we're seeing we're definitely seeing like a lot of areas where the economics just aren't adding up. You know, you've been— reopening a hotel at 25% occupancy with much higher operating costs, you know, how does that really work? Does that work? Can you do it? And if you're actually charging the correct price for that, all of a sudden, people will be taking fewer trips, for sure. We all— I think everyone touched on personalization. I'd love to hear from you guys how you see technology driving the personalization aspects of what people are looking for.
Swapnil Shinde 12:10
Perfect, maybe I can start there because personalization was very key and central to the way we built Mezi. One of the things that we really did well was for each of the traveler we actually ended up building what we called as a DNA— but a traveler DNA used to record their preferences as they used to chat with us. And those preferences might include stuff like that, hey, I like to travel economic when I'm going for my personal travel versus business when I'm going for my business travel. I like to stay in boutique hotels versus I like to stay in big chain hotels. I like to see locations which are closer to bars or sightseeing, etc. So I think there might be things that you really enjoy doing when you're traveling, especially for personal preferences, etc. and finding a hotel location which are closer to those activities might be far more advantageous to me as a traveler versus going to someplace just because it's a cheaper hotel option but then traveling locally and spending more time to go into places around where I would really enjoy my travels. I think building technology that can really help personalize the travel preferences for me every time I want to use that particular product to plan and book my travel is going to be more and more important moving forward. And for example, today if you go to Kayak, Expedia, Priceline you always are welcomed with the same form, right? You punch in the "to", the "from", and you basically customize every single filter, they don't really understand you as a traveler. So I think understanding you as a traveler, connecting to your personal preferences is going to be key. And every time I'm looking at options, again, if you put safety as your number one feature, if you can tell me that hey, this is rated as the safest place, this is rated as the safest airline, etc. is going to be key. Given these changes, I do feel that travel is going to become a bit more premium than it was ever before. Even traveling by economy might become more expensive than it was ever before. So your ability to explore locally is going to be higher than in the past time. So if you are a travel product, or you're building a travel experience, I think that focus on localization, in addition to personalization, can really help you explore more around you versus taking a flight and flying long distance.
Noelle Tassey 14:31
Yeah. Daniel, Alia, do either of you want to kind of jump in on personalization and anything there?
Noelle Tassey 14:39
I think one of the biggest things about personalization is having the technology to be able to understand what level of personalization each consumer expects and not, you know, not painting that with a particularly broad brush, right? So I love, Swapnil, what you said about, you know, the idea that when I'm traveling for business, I have this expectation versus when traveling personally. And I do think that you know, some of this better, faster edge computing-type technology will allow us to, you know, drive toward that more very specific and minute personalization. I think we get some level of personalization today. But how can we continue to adjust that and have that algorithm for each of us, that means that we're really getting the experience we want every time and not just a large hotel chain's view of personalization, like really consumer-specific.
Daniel Sproll 15:38
Yeah, and I think in probably Ireland, what we've seen early on in terms of VR travel, was like, okay, people have been like, you know, producing 360 videos, which is pretty much like a— you're on rails, you can turn your head a bit, that's not at all the travel experience. That's an immersive film, maybe, if it's done well, or it just makes you sick if it's done worse than that. So what we— I think what we're seeing now in VR is just like this massive push towards interactive content. And that is also this kind of like, you know, your user wants to have like, a personal experience, and they want to create their experience on their own, and for that, you need this kind of like deep, rich, interactive content that is offered that allows you to, you know, live your own story and not just like, follow on rails, and go exploring, and I think there's this huge move from 360 to like, fully volumetric content that is there. But even in the 360 this past year, that's just like, things like offering you huge libraries of like, checking out different places. And maybe also using that to really plan your own travels then down the road.
Noelle Tassey 16:53
That's really interesting. And a great segue, because I want to talk about VR travel next, and the idea— so interested in the idea of VR, something that comes up a lot I think, when we talk about VR is you often like, on these panels, we'll talk about it, and people kind of come into it with this idea of like, virtual reality is going to be a replacement for this physical experience and a lot of times it's either it's additive, it's a step before, like, to your point planning a trip you know, maybe you experienced it in VR, figure out what you want that way. I, for one, like, could have made some— could have avoided some major Airbnb mistakes if I could have fully seen what was on the other side, Really, really rough stuff there. Anyways, for another time, but so— yeah, I'd love to talk about that. And also, you touched on briefly the difference between you know, it's just like, AR/VR, like, video experience versus like what really makes it travel. So I'd love to like, hone in on that first and yeah, let's talk about—
Daniel Sproll 17:59
Yeah, I think there's this element to VR that— or it's funny like, if you ask a lot of people, especially people that are not coming so much from a gaming background, are not gamers like "hey, there's VR, there's this new technology, what would you like to do with it?" And they were like. "Oh yeah, virtual travel, that sounds great." And that does sound great because you, like, what people imagine, it's like they put on a headset and they get a travel experience like that. But that's not what technology is at the moment to provide you this travel experience of you going to the beach hanging out, you know, you will not feel the sand between your feet, you will not feel the water, you will not feel the sun. So that's gonna be like a— you know, that experience will lack a lot for like, a long time to go. I mean there is— there's people working on that with more intricate setups, but until that comes to your home, that's going to take a long time. But as I touched upon earlier, I think there is the— there are like, use cases where you can have like a really, really cool experience. So one of the things that we've done, as I said before, is like, you know, we scanned the Cologne Cathedral, and you can like, suddenly go into areas and explore areas freely that I— that you're not allowed to go to even during the tour, even during the guided tour, you're not allowed to enter these places as a tourist. So you can explore these places freely without anyone around you obscuring your view. We can take you, you know, we've scanned like, Germany's last coal mine before they closed it down last year, so— two years ago, actually, and like, that's places that you cannot go to normally as a tourist. Like, you can never explore these places. And suddenly, like for these kind of exploration-type things and like, sightseeing-type of things like, VR becomes very interesting because you then can also augment these experiences with like, you know, like a top-notch tour guide, not just like, the person who has time on that day. Like, you can have the best person, you can have the person who has been working there for 20 years or something to guide you around. You can add like all this additional content to make this tour really, really amazing. And you can you know, have like a tour with multiple people, everybody hearing their own language, getting their own content, diving deeper into the pieces that they find interesting because it can also be interactive for everybody. You don't have to have like, this shared experience where you know, maybe that person is asking those all these questions that are super boring for you. So it's again, it's like a personalized thing. It's— you can freely explore, you can learn about the place in the way, at the pace you want. And I think that is super powerful for these kind of like, cultural heritage applications. And then I think there's this one thing that goes even beyond that, which is— the Guardian sent out headsets to like random readers of theirs and got feedback from that. And this one dude from Scotland said— this middle-aged man's like, "VR is not like something you do, it's like a place you go." So any kind of like, interactive VR feels like a traveling experience. And that's the funny thing, like, you don't find that many travel experiences on the stores. Because often these are kind of like, the boring ones. Like— but every game, every like, social app that is there in VR like, creates a virtual space, and you travel to that space and you know, you can have like crazy user-generated worlds and VR chat where you never know what you will find, or who you will find, or how they will even look like. Or you can go like, to a classical museum, like the museum of other realities, that is like a super well-curated Museum of virtual art that you cannot access anywhere in like, a real gallery. So there's like, all these like, crazy new opportunities, like, there's these new spaces opened up for traveling there, just in VR.
Alia Lamborghini 21:37
I think that accessibility portion gets really important too, as things will become more expensive, more exclusive. There will probably be a different cutoff for what is accessible. So this type of travel could really make a difference in terms of the experiences that everyone is able to have versus having to actually you know, save up for years to be able to experience.
Daniel Sproll 22:01
Yeah, and I think a lot of these places you know, like, they should be accessible to everybody because they are world cultural heritage sites, you know, like they should be— you should be able to see these wonders without having to fly around all over and going through all these— and also like, a lot of these places they— visiting like, the Sistine Chapel, it's not a good experience.
Noelle Tassey 22:22
I was literally just about to say that. If anyone who's been there, it's— yeah. I would so much— I would love to do that again in VR.
Daniel Sproll 22:28
And there's a VR experience of that. Like you can sit like, right under the ceiling and look up close on the paintings. It's amazing.
Noelle Tassey 22:37
I've been so struck by all these photos, you know, as Europe was in lockdown, all the photos coming out of like, you know, Florence, like the Duomo without tourists all over it, and like, how countries— a lot of countries in Europe that almost feel like— in the peak tourism months, it almost feels like you're at like, Disneyland, cultural Disneyland for Americans. You're like, "what? This isn't what I wanted." You know, how they've kind of returned to more of their normal state and like VR is such an interesting and compelling way to experience that in a more authentic way, weirdly. Also, I always learn something kind of unrelated to the topic on these panels. And today, I learned that Germany apparently has shut down all of its coal mines, which is super cool. And really interesting. So love that.
Daniel Sproll 23:27
We still have to shut down the open coal mines, the open-pit mines, but the underground mines are shut.
Noelle Tassey 23:32
Wow. I don't think we can say that here, something tells me. So, awesome. I think like, on that note, we were just talking about accessibility, you know, how accessible— how much, I guess, demand do you guys think there will be for these virtual trips? And I'd love to hear everyone's perspective on this because I think like, from outside the VR space, there's a— it's a very different perspective if you're not in that industry.
Daniel Sproll 24:01
Yeah, I'll let you guys go first.
Swapnil Shinde 24:04
I think our access to a device that allows you to enjoy VR in a very meaningful way, is going to really define how accessible it's going to be for normal people. Today, a lot of— I think— like if you look at Oculus, etc., there are very high-end devices that you can actually buy and enjoy the best of VR you ever can. And then there are certain ways in which you can enjoy it using, say, an Android or an iPhone. So I think the more powerful we are, experience can be achieved via your mobile phone, I think is really going to define how much adoption it's going to get. And as these mobile operating systems become more and more powerful, I think that is actually going to happen.
Alia Lamborghini 24:51
Yeah, I would agree on that. And obviously, 5G will be a massive driver in the quality of that imagery. I would also say maybe we, as a consumer, reclassify it a little bit, and we don't call it travel if it's a VR experience, but instead, it's more education or an experience. So perhaps travel becomes what we have the capability to do in a slightly smaller radius. And then— yet we can still experience you know, all these incredible worldwide sites at a different level, but our expectation changes a little bit. And we shift gears, you know, particularly maybe for our young kids and families, more exposure to places like the Sistine Chapel versus the overcrowded, you know, July summertime scenario version of it. So I like, kind of the idea of reclassifying it a little bit, too.
Daniel Sproll 25:46
Yeah, I think also, there's a huge chance for, you know, local places around you to offer very special experiences through VR. Like, we've just collaborated on a project where we scan— or like, we got a scan of like, an old 16th-century warship that is on the bottom of the Baltic Sea that marine archaeologists scanned. And so we worked on this experience to bring that to museums so you can explore that place actually like, you can like, virtually dive down in the museum. So that's a great way for like, also local destinations to I think drive tourists to their halls again, and to present these kind of like, content in a more meaningful way. And I think these kind of like, location-based entertainment systems are going to be like, a great bridge also once you can open them again, and you know, you're not afraid to put on a headset that somebody else had on their face. So that's, of course, like, a big challenge right now, but is a great way to democratize that without having to, you know, buy like, a €450 headset which— but I mean, also there, the price is coming down, like, the Oculus Quest is a super exciting tool now— or like, a headset now, where you have all-in-one for like €450. Whereas before, you had to like, buy like, €1000, you know, PC and like, a €500 headset on top. And then I think the next thing is really like, the VR space is learning how to create compelling experiences and like, finding these languages and like, also rethinking what exploring means. So for us, like, for example, there was this interesting thing that we were, you know, creating these experiences in which you were like, one-to-one exploring these places. So you could go into, and you can look at the place, and you can learn something about the place. And that's really cool, but funny enough, turns out, like, you know, attention span of people is not that great these days, and you have to, like, present a little bit more. And you have to make it more interactive. And so something that we're working on right now is like, using the datasets that we have of these, like great sites, you know, and turning them into a 3D jigsaw puzzles and you have these miniature 3D jigsaw puzzles, and you're like, puzzling that together interactively in VR. And the great thing is that what we see is you create such a wonderful, like spatial representation and spatial understanding of this place, and of its architecture, of its intricacies, like the, you know, like what is inside, what is outside, where does this tunnel lead to. It's a very different form of exploration but also there you feel like you traveled to this place because you spent, you know, 90 minutes puzzling this thing together and you start— you have this free time, it's like walking through a city to imagine all these, you know, like little stories that happen there. So it's a very different form of travel, but it also feels like travel to me, definitely.
Noelle Tassey 28:37
Yeah, I feel like we could do an entire follow-up panel just on like the definition— like, truly the definition of travel and like, what that means now versus what it means the future, and we might have time to touch on it today a little bit more. I do want to make sure we also talk about— so somebody actually typed in the chat a question that I wanted us to cover anyways, which is how do you see brands developing innovative travel experiences or integrating into them. And we've touched on this a little bit, you know, Daniel, I think a lot of what you were saying really touches on this— the personalization trend, the safety trend, but I mean, honestly, if we were having this conversation eight months ago, I think we'd all be talking about you know, how Instagram has changed travel and like, has all these people taking photos on like, the Troll Peninsula in Norway. Like, you know, we'd be talking about that, which is— whatever, it's a thing if you're into it. But, you know— so curious, like, thinking about where the industry is headed, where we are now, and then in the future like, what's kind of that next wave of innovative experiences?
Swapnil Shinde 29:44
I think collaboration in VR is going to change a lot of things because the more you can— let's say if I want to travel somewhere with three of my friends, and if they are already bought into the VR world, they can easily pull me in, too. Like, the network effects of a group of people doing VR together can actually increase adoption of VR big time over a period of time. So if those collaborative features can be built sooner than later, it will just encourage more and more people to kind of adopt it. And also, I think there is an opportunity— like today we are talking about using VR to explore the existing world. But we might soon start exploring places which are completely created virtually, which don't exist. Imagine a castle on a cliff overlooking an ocean which doesn't exist in the world today. But just like in Minecraft, you end up creating all these different scenarios and all these different places. You can create such extremely realistic places in VR and just expand the world and add different dimensions to it in a way that it feels extremely real and authentic. Maybe even a bit scarier than ever before.
Noelle Tassey 30:53
Yeah. You know, and also— I mean, I think it's cool, like, the idea of also visiting you know, other time periods. Like I was doing— there was— I think the Getty Museum recently had like a, you know, explore like ancient Palmyra and they'd kind of reconstructed it from etchings and illustrations that dated back to like antiquity, which was super cool, and would have been awesome in VR. So that's another cool thing. But yeah, and kind of getting to the back to the brand topic and like, how brands are going to be thinking about the future of travel.
Daniel Sproll 31:27
To us, it's funny, like, we've been approached several times by, you know, from the travel industry. And for some reason, like, the only thing that they can always think of is like, hey, let's scan hotel rooms, so you can check out hotel rooms. And I think while that makes sense, like. I'm always surprised because that just seems to me like the most unimaginative thing to do. Like I'm personally— maybe it's just me, but like, I'm not traveling like, to stay in the hotel room, but like I'm traveling to, you know, like, explore places around it. So I think like, a great way to tie in VR there would be just to scan some like VDP special places and get you hooked on seeing that in person and, you know, some attractions, something that you might not have access to something very exclusive. And then get people fascinated about that place instead of the hotel room and get them to travel there.
Alia Lamborghini 32:23
Yeah, we have a minimum standard for the hotel room, right? Like, I need to be sure that there's a level of cleanliness and amenity that works for me as a business traveler, or for my family when we're traveling for family, but beyond that, I would like to get out past that. One of the things I think that might be interesting to kind of insert in this discussion, too, is from a business perspective. If the, you know, future technology can allow, you know, a larger hotel chain or an airline to operate, you know, to improve their bottom line in terms of, can that help these companies stay in business in order to service the modern traveler, right? Because if we've got companies who are struggling on an individual basis or a broader basis, that will just contribute to the fact that travel will become less and less accessible. So, is there a technological solution that can sort of eliminate human cost or staffing cost? You know, what can we do with computing power that we couldn't do before? Can there be instead of a human actually delivering the toothpaste you forgot, can we take the compute power off a robot and move it into the edge or the cloud and allow something that would have cost you know— a robot that delivers toothpaste might have cost $100,000 before, but moving the compute power ups the edge, you know, can that now be $1,000 robot and can that investment in that mean that you know, the bottom line improvement to that hotel just— can also improve service levels and personalization levels, too? So I'm interested in that idea of efficiency that you can gain from some of the technology that comes along with 5G in the future.
Noelle Tassey 34:10
Yeah, we talk sometimes about convergence on these panels. And I think that the three of you and like, the perspectives we're getting, it's a really, like, relevant concept here. Like, I wonder what it'll look like when we've got kind of a convergence between the, like, data-driven AI personalization versus, you know, integrating VR/AR into that and then how all of that's driven by like 5G adoption and, you know, some of these additional safety concerns and like, what all of that creates. Again, I just— I find it crazy that like, really, we can have a conversation about travel without even mentioning Instagram anymore. It's great, don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled. I really am. So, super interesting. I'm curious, just— kind of on a slightly personal note what kind of traveler— so you guys have kind of talked about what kinds of travelers you are like what do you really travel for each of you? Like, what's the draw because it's deeply like personal and different. I know Daniel's not traveling for the experience
Daniel Sproll 35:14
Well, I'm traveling, I'm just not flying at the moment for personal travel. No, but I just love to get out of the city, you know, go into the nature, get in the mountains, things like that. Really move through the countryside and meet people and have like these you know— Yeah, just a very different life from what you're living, where your you know, daily rhythm is given by the sun and where you sleep tonight and where you're going to get your next meal. That's a very exciting thing where you don't have to plan for like, two weeks in the head, This one deadline that you have coming up, but it's very immediate.
Noelle Tassey 35:59
Alia Lamborghini 36:00
I would echo that too, I think, particularly with shelter in place for— across much of the world over the past six months, although obviously, Europe is coming out of that faster. The idea of escapism and reconnection, that doesn't happen in the four walls of the place you live and work and eat and socialize every day, becomes even more important. So just having a consistent, something to look forward to. Whether it be you know— I have three small kids, we went on an epic road trip, we drove from Atlanta to Maine. We spent three weeks, we worked part of each week, and then we took a couple of days off each of those three weeks, but just getting out of the place where we had all been together for six months prior was a massive improvement in our connectivity as a family I think. So, we're not looking to stay at the Amangani anymore, right? We're really excited about a road trip. It's a different version of what's become important to us now, I think, from my perspective.
Daniel Sproll 37:08
I think you learn like, a different way of traveling. Like, you know, like, I can pack my stuff on my bike, like on Friday night, and like, ride out and like, sleep by the lake. Like, that's fine.
Alia Lamborghini 37:20
Swapnil Shinde 37:23
Yeah. For me, I think taking these shortcuts is a great opportunity to unwind and unconnect yourself from all this digital world, right? Which is constantly kind of keeping you busy, even when you don't want to be. So I think that, for me, is the biggest straw just unwinding, staying close to nature and taking a breather, that really charges you inside out and you can basically get back to your normal state or extremely productive state right after that.
Noelle Tassey 37:53
Yep. So then the reason that I kind of want to like, take a second and like, level set on whatever everybody's traveling for like, why and what that motivation is, is because as we think about, like, where will travel be disrupted by VR, where will you know people stop wanting to go? Like, what experiences do you need to have in person? It's all driven, of course, by what you're trying to take away from it. So it's kind of interesting to hear everybody answer that. And again, you know, have what you're taking away from it be something other than some really great photos, you know, for your ex-boyfriend to like on social media or whatever. So, super interesting. We had somebody write in with a question that I really like, find interesting. So how do you think interactive VR travel is affected by technologies such as full-body tracking? Traveling with friends from across the globe while seeing their body language while they speak? That's cool. I love a group trip.
Daniel Sproll 38:59
I think there's— as I said, I think we will first see that kind of technology in like location-based entertainment systems so there's you know, places like the Void or like, other places that pop up everywhere where you just can't have more technology because that stuff's expensive to buy and it works for like a small business there, or like a bigger attraction. But till we get that home, it's probably going to take a while, although it's coming. Like, there's just some really interesting things happening there. And I'd absolutely do agree these kind of like body tracking things like even if you just like you see, you know, three, four points on like your hands, the head, and maybe the feet tracked, like, you can identify your friends from your gait— from their gait. Like it's— we're super, super fine-tuned as humans to that, like, to just from these kind of like movements, get that familiarity. And also like this— there's been like a lot of work on like, how we can, you know, transport facial expressions there. And while we've been like talking a lot about recreational travel, I think the other travel is the one that I would actually personally love to see much more in VR, which is business travel and virtual conferences. And right now I mean, you know, it's not that good of an experience, but there is interesting things being worked on. And I think once we can get more fidelity, especially into virtual, like VR travel, I would love to just have you know, not have to, like sit in like, in like, a tin box for like, nine hours to fly to the States, which is always like, a super stressful experience— be jet-lagged, you hang out at the conference, like it's just not, it's not good. But like, if we can have like, really authentic meetings and conferences in virtual reality, I think that will be super amazing and it would also be great for, you know, like a bunch of reasons like resources and environmental impacts, and all these kinds of things.
Alia Lamborghini 40:53
Yeah, I'm in full appreciation of some of the technology that's come about there, too. I'm really excited to be able to have sort of closer to realistic experiences, some of the things that are coming out of BlueJeans and Cisco and other similar companies. And even three to five years ago, we weren't even capable of really this level of technology. So I can't imagine trying to conduct business during a pandemic five years ago and being as successful as we have been today and then I really look forward to you know, getting even closer to a realistic life experience.
Daniel Sproll 41:29
Yeah, it's a lot of like, tiny things. My— one of my favorite stories is from the Museum of Art and Reality is like, they have— it's a social space, so whenever you log into the museum, like, if there's other people there at the same time, you can meet them, you can talk. They also have openings whenever they have like, new artworks coming to the museums, they have like, you know, like these openings and people together, and so one of the things that the designer found out is like okay, normally you have like a, you know, like, a drink in your hand, too, and you can cheers, but you couldn't do that in VR. So they have these, these vive controllers, which have this little hole. And so he made this thing where you can just like, flop that over the bottle, and you can hold it in your hand and so you can virtually cheers. And that like, made a huge difference. Like, that's like, a little design change, but it makes the space so much more social. And we have to like, find like, a zillion of these things like, to make it really good because right now, it's just not good, to be honest. Like, but I think we can get there and we're getting a little better every day, finding solutions like that.
Noelle Tassey 42:32
Alia Lamborghini 42:33
A lot of experimentation with haptics and like a haptic suit and can it feel, like, a hug? Or I mean, those types of things are— it's never quite a replacement for the real thing, but the closer you can get, the better the experience is for sure.
Daniel Sproll 42:45
Yes, like little social cues.
Swapnil Shinde 42:48
Yeah, wonder if VR will also have like an economic experience or business class experience and a first-class experience, right? In economy, you can only see facial expressions, in first— in maybe business class upper bodies, is— well— in the first class, you can basically experience the entire body. So I think those— there might be segments or segmentation in the VR experience as well where certain aspects can be unlocked, you know, by a premium channel and stuff like that. And maybe there are some opportunities too for brands to enable certain experiences by buying into their own marketing efforts, etc.
Noelle Tassey 43:27
Yeah, that's actually really interesting. Huh.
Daniel Sproll 43:31
It definitely was like that during the early days, during the VR chat phase where there were headsets without hand-tracking or without controllers and then like some people came in and suddenly had full body tracking and everybody's like, "wow! You got like, full-body tracking, crazy! Like, what headset do you have?" So it definitely was a status symbol in the early days.
Swapnil Shinde 43:49
Noelle Tassey 43:51
Yeah, I can't wait to see how that kind of continues to evolve. So I'm curious— I— one thing that we definitely wanted to touch on today, we've all talked about it a little bit, but, you know, travel is an industry that actually will, surprisingly, I think, to a lot of people, will be quite disrupted by 5G. And as, you know, you have widespread 5G availability. So whether that's 5G enabling the work that Daniel is doing, and like really like, boosting VR/AR, whether it's personalization or some of the actual, like, on-site experience that Alia was alluding to, so I'd love to hear from you guys how you see that. The deployment of 5G really like, accelerating changes in the travel experience.
Daniel Sproll 44:42
Alia, do you want to— you want to kick it off?
Alia Lamborghini 44:45
Yeah, I think I said a lot of it, but just this sort of the hyper-personalization is critically important. And then the compute capabilities. You know, one of the things I feel like in pockets, we're seeing pieces of this being deployed now like, lots of cruise lines when you go on, you know, there's touchless payment for drinks or ordering of drinks. The embarkment process is touchless and easier. Your payment is enabled on various things. You know, it unlocks your doors, things like that. So just as we think about safety and the importance of contactless travel, I think 5G has a big place to play there, too.
Noelle Tassey 45:28
Yep, for sure.
Daniel Sproll 45:29
Yeah, if I— if I'm like, dreaming, like, I mean, the kind of scanning that we do right now, like taking lots and lots of photos and you know, uploading that onto like, a workstation and running that and computing that, I mean, that of course, is something if you have like, much higher bandwidth and lower latency, there will be interesting things that become possible suddenly where you can you know, maybe do a real-time scan while you're on— you know, at your vacation home or like at some cool place that you want to share, and you can like, have people join you real-time there and they can have some representation of that place. Of course, that's all stuff right now that's impossible because of the data— the volume of data is just too high, and like the compute that is needed is taking too long. But that, of course, will be super interesting to have and to, you know, virtually join someone in like, a real space.
Alia Lamborghini 46:22
And then from an advertising perspective, you know, can the cost of creating that type of content come down significantly, so you can run a, you know, a 30-second digital video spot with a really beautiful stitch-together 360 experience, too. So that's interesting.
Noelle Tassey 46:44
For sure. So one of the— I want to make sure we get to one more audience question before we wrap and I know we're kind of coming up on time. So here we have a question from Katherine: I recently read about how we've been entering into a new low-touch economy, fundamentally changing how I behave and what we expect from our environments. I'm assuming that this means a low-touch literally in the sense of like, low person contact, although I guess it could just be like lighter lift. Can you speak to how you see this impacting travel and the development of technologies to enable lower touch experiences? We've already touched on this a little bit, but just digging in a little bit more on the low touch side, whether— I don't know if there's a big data perspective on this? Swapnil, you might have—
Swapnil Shinde 47:35
I think that there are many ways that this can be achieved and will gradually move towards a low touch experience. And to me, low touch experience is low involvement of other humans who might be responsible for enabling the travel experience for you. And artificial intelligence is obviously going to play a big role, Atmos Robotics is going to play a pretty big role. As Alia had mentioned before about hotels improving their bottom lines by including a lot of automation into their day-to-day operation is going to be important. So I actually invested in a robotics startup here in Silicon Valley. And what they're building is actually the next generation robots who can actually do vacuum cleaning for carpets, hardwood floors, so they don't, not only vacuum the floor, but they will also clean it for a few minutes, etc. And the way you can interact with them is that you can call it that, "Hey, can you come over here and clean this area?" So they understand human language in an extremely natural way. It's as if you're calling a hotel staff that hey, can you come here and clean this area of the room, Right? So I think we can see a future pretty soon where a robot just comes and knocks on your door, comes in and just cleans the room, etc. So I think there might be these low-touch experiences impacting in several different facets of our day-to-day travel, and Atmos Robotics is going to play a pretty big role. And this is not something that has been planned, They have their beta launching sometime this year, or, sorry, early next year. So it' just a few months off.
Noelle Tassey 49:10
— bringing that to my house, too if we can (inaudible).
Swapnil Shinde 49:16
And this is a theme that actually came out of Nest which was acquired by Google, and they know exactly how to build the app or hardware solution. So it's pretty exciting. So it's all happening.
Alia Lamborghini 49:30
Well, I mean, to bring in like, a more personal perspective. I mean, I— to me, like low-touch economy, that already kind of like, sounds scary, but I think, you know, maybe we can just like, take away from this like, to reevaluate the way we travel and like, what we expect from travel. And, I don't know, like, I've— even before COVID like, the— over the last years, like, you know, sitting in an airplane, like, crowded it's just not a good experience. It never really was. I mean, yeah, when you're a kid and like the first time you hop on an airplane, you're excited but I was dreading these flights and I'm super happy that it becomes more normalized to not take these flights and to not have to do these kinds of travel experiences that are not good and like, to really, instead, you know, opt for travel experiences that are just more human and are less like cattle. And that will also— that will, on one side include you know, VR travel to places that you only can get that way, but maybe also just yeah, bring you back to explore your surroundings again and meet the people there and not just like, yeah, run through like, huge, unpersonalized airports and shopping hell.
Yeah, that's— I'm you on that, I think, you know, and maybe it shifts a little bit. It kind of coincides with the future of work. So perhaps instead of working on you're— and saving up for a 10-day vacation to the Amalfi Coast, perhaps we're doing more localized travel closer to where we live, you know, within a drive market. But we're taking multiple Friday's off over the course of the year because we're able to be more efficient in other places. We're not spending so much time in the air for business travel so we can be more efficient on the ground doing our job. And that probably changes a little bit of the dynamic of how we do these things in the future.
Noelle Tassey 51:30
Yeah, I love that point. The— you know, we talk about travel sometimes in a vacuum when really you know, it's the counterpoint to most people's like nine-to-five the rest of the time. And as one shifts, obviously, the other will shift to complement it. And it's also expanding on a lot of these panels. We've had people bring up, you know, wanting to switch to a four-day workweek, so it feels like that might be in the cards for a lot of people.
Alia Lamborghini 51:54
That's next week's panel for sure. I'm excited about that one.
Swapnil Shinde 51:57
Noelle Tassey 52:01
We'll make sure not to have it on a Friday. Swapnil, did you want to jump in on that one, or—
Swapnil Shinde 52:11
Yeah, I mean— one part, I would say whether related or unrelated, is the fact that I mean, I do believe that VR is going to bring a lot of convenience to our world of I would say, we will coin it as virtual travel. And I mean, during your day, even if you have a 30-minute break between two meetings, you can quickly use VR and maybe visit (inaudible). So any anything is possible, and the convenience and small bite-sized travel aspect of VR can also be pretty powerful over a period of time. And as— I think the key is how do you encourage people to adopt and enjoy VR sooner than later? But if it does pick up, then it will also mean that the actual travel becomes a bit more premium as an activity, not in terms of costs, but just in terms of taking the physical effort of moving to a different place, going through the pain of taking a flight, etc. So I think maybe less and less people will go through that if VR really delivers on its promise, just because it's— it can be so accessible and so easy to enjoy.
Noelle Tassey 53:14
Yeah, definitely. I know we're running up on time. I want to make sure we close by three so I'm going to do one last question for all the panelists. I'm just curious what your last trip was before the lockdown started. Mine was to London and Paris. Actually, business travel to DC, but my last vacation was London and Paris before the lockdown.
Alia Lamborghini 53:38
I sort of squeezed in one more trip that I'm not so sure we should have taken, but we went skiing in Park City, Utah. And the day that we got there, they— the resorts shut down all the lifts and said, go home. I think we were a little off in our timing there.
Daniel Sproll 53:56
I went up to the Baltic Sea, to the wonderful little island of Gotland, and had a few nice days there.
Noelle Tassey 54:06
That sounds really wonderful.
Swapnil Shinde 54:07
I was in Cabo, Mexico.
Noelle Tassey 54:11
Swapnil Shinde 54:12
Noelle Tassey 54:13
Oh, excellent. Where apparently you can— you could still be— I know people who like, just went to Mexico at the beginning of this, still there and loving life. It looks beautiful. And they've got the virus more under control. So, cool. Go figure. Well, I know that we are almost up on time. So I want to take this last second to just thank all of our audience members for sharing your afternoon with us and a special thanks to our incredible panelists for sharing your expertise, your thoughts, your hopes and dreams for post-COVID travel. So thank you, guys. This conversation has been recorded and it will be available tomorrow if you'd like to share this content with your community. And for more information and to join our next panel about the four-day work week, I'm only half-kidding about, please visit us at alley.com. Thanks again everybody and we'll see you soon.
Alia Lamborghini 55:10
Thank you, Noelle. Bye, Daniel and Swapnil.
Daniel Sproll 55:13
Thank you for having us. Bye.