With autonomous vehicles already being trialled in the USA and set to be on UK roads by 2021, they are no longer the stuff of science fiction. Alex Bainbridge, chief executive of Autoura, explains the scope for opportunities within tourism.
Every generation has its new technologies. Within the past 20 years, we have seen the rise of web, mobile and social media, and discovered how that has impacted the travel industry and the consumer travel experience itself. In some respects, using technology to remove human involvement at point of retail has created a poorer experience for customers. We didn’t argue that human travel agents are better than online retailers – we always accepted they were. The more pertinent question was whether the customer was prepared to pay for that increased service on simple bookings rather than more complex transactions.
A very similar discussion is about to happen with driverless cars. Within a few years, classic vehicle-based sightseeing, taxis and airport transfers will be delivered by autonomous, self-driving vehicles.
British taxi and transfer company Addison Lee stated last month they intend to have autonomous vehicles by 2021 in London. Other world cities are shifting to autonomous vehicles on a similar timeframe. So how will autonomous vehicles affect the customer experience?
Removal of the human driver might sound like a poorer customer experience. However, services can now be digitally designed and delivered, taking into account customer needs and preferences.
As a travel agent, if you have a customer who, on visiting London, wants to go fashion shopping, enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant and then wants tickets for a show at the theatre, the autonomous vehicle can execute a route for them that you have pre-designed.
No longer does the customer have to hope that they can navigate to a cross on a map given to them ahead of time or by a hotel concierge. Instead, the vehicle handles all local navigation and ensures the customer is delivered to the right place at the right time. If you work at the luxury end of the market, this capability to personalise experiences for your customers will be very empowering.
Autoura has been set up to help existing sightseeing companies and travel agents to transition into autonomous vehicle sightseeing.
New entrants such as Uber, Lyft, Google, Apple, Ford and General Motors are all setting up autonomous vehicle services that will compete with incumbent vehicle-based sightseeing operators. The upcoming battle for customer attention will be fierce and, ultimately, will come down to the customer experience and price.
If you as a customer have a choice between a hop-on, hop-off bus that is shared with many other families and a private autonomous shuttle just for your family, which takes a personalised route based on your preferences, you are likely to choose the autonomous shuttle option.