By Richard Rosser
This summer I had the occasion to reflect on what I see as a new age of travel, both domestic and abroad. Travel for business and pleasure has existed for millennia. Travel for Americans is deeply ingrained in our culture — we love the open road and desire adventure. The difference now is how we approach travel. Smartphones, the Internet, social media and travel apps have changed the nature in which we travel.
Currently, almost 80 percent of Americans have a smartphone — a 100 percent increase from five years ago. The internet is widely available via cellular or Wi-Fi around the world. All the smartphones have cameras, and the new ones sport hi-res, 12-megapixel cameras. Travel apps like Expedia, TripAdvisor and Booking.com have advanced tremendously, allowing guests to instantaneously share their images and feedback (both good and bad). This confluence is taking the travel industry to a new level.
In the 1960s, American travelers trusted brand names like Howard Johnson, McDonald’s and Hilton. Standardization let customers know exactly what to expect for their money before arriving. Unfortunately, that also produced standardized experiences. Today, we are demanding more.
Now we can know approximately what to expect because we have scoured the reviews from our fellow travelers from across the globe. We’ve swiped through photo albums and avoided the pitfalls others have warned us of.
Recently my wife Susie and I stopped for lunch at a place in upstate New York on the banks of the Hudson River. The general consensus via reviews online was that the joint was “Not good — but not bad,” which we were comfortable with and found later to be very accurate. For the price, it served our purposes for the meal and we weren’t upset by the less-than-stellar food because it was what we expected.
We traveled in Canada for five days and found gas stations easily while on the road. We were in constant contact with our staff at the magazine and our children, or at least as much as we wanted to be. We found lodging and booked it while on the road from one place to the next. We paid as much for our plane tickets as we recall paying back in the 1980s — roughly $280 per ticket from here to Albany, N.Y., non-stop. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of travel is very cheap.
On Instagram I saw hundreds of photographs of Quebec City and promptly walked to the locations where I could replicate the best shots from those I liked. The airline texted us when our return flight was delayed. A dinner reservation through Open Table texted us a reminder. I bought a copy of an AirB&B magazine at the airport (yes, print is very much still a part of this new age of travel, as is good, old-fashioned quality service that encourages customers to share their great experiences).
Technology is creating a more robust industry capable of creating diversified and satisfying experiences. And businesses are responding. Local boutique hotels like the Royal Blues in Deerfield Beach and Plunge in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea now have stronger chances of long-term survival against behemoths like Hilton and Marriott. Restaurants can push boundaries so customers can rave about their offerings online. We even spotted a McDonald’s near the Canadian border offering lobster rolls. Localized experiences are flourishing as travelers seek genuine and unique activities.
Want action? Zip lines, fishing excursions and rock climbing walls on cruise ships await your courage. Want tranquility? Spas of every variety are available around the world. Want culture? Group and private tour guides will take you deep into most countries. Great food? The media seems to have exploded our desires for more varieties and better food overall. The palette of the world is not anything like when Howard Johnson served more food to Americans than all other entities except the U.S. military. That dear reader, was a lot of very bland food offerings.
As a result of all of these factors, I would like to call this time a “Golden Age for Travel.” My wife thinks I’m being too dramatic, but I am in continuous awe of how technology has changed the ease, comfort and accessibility of travel. My staff at the magazine can testify to this too. In one month, I had staff members in Iceland, Amsterdam, the Bahamas and Canada. And trust me, it’s not because my staff is rich. It’s because traveling has become easier, cheaper and less stressful, and work can be done from just about anywhere with a laptop. My wife was sending files via DropBox to a graphic designer from the airport. As a Floridian whose economy relies on tourism, I quite frankly am excited by the progress.