“You have arrived at your destination” has become the slightly smug announcement our respective mobile devices use to affirm their status as the ultimate travel companion. Indeed, the on-going integration of technology into every stage of the tourist’s journey is facilitated by a bourgeoning list of travel apps.
Consider this journey: Pack your bag with Packing Pro using customised lists. Track your flight in real time with Skyscanner and adjust your journey through the airport accordingly using Airports. Hail a cab with mytaxi and ask the taxi driver – in the local language using Word Lens – to take to take you to the hotel you booked at a discount rate using Hotel Tonight, and ensure you don’t naively over/under tip the driver using The Converted currency convertor.
Certainly, the tourist’s journey has become increasingly seamless. But, has fault-free travel undermined real tourism?
It might be argued that digital tourism assisted by ‘the app’ detracts from the spirit of travel. Novelist Ray Bradbury wrote, ‘half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness’. Perhaps missing a bus, staying in a strange hotel and negotiating with a taxi driver (albeit through the medium of interpretative dance) is what characterises the essence of travel. So has ‘the unknown’ aspect of travel been relegated to the past by the all-knowing pocket travel companion?
Well, for a start, it is too easy to look back on the past with rose tinted spectacles. Like so many instances of modern technology, it is not that something new has been created, but rather something old being reformatted. A currency converter is essentially a fancy bead counter and hailing a cab with a thumb on a screen isn’t so much more evolved than waving a hand. What is perhaps more astonishing is how so many of us still manage to get so muddled and lost, despite the digital aids on offer.
It must also be noted that travel and tourism are hugely subjective endeavors.
As GK Chesterton wrote, ‘the traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.’ Ultimately, people approach travel and tourism in different ways and for different reasons. It is for this reason that apps like Pingspot and Minube are so versatile and effective. By establishing social forums, the apps are no longer defined in predisposed terms, but become whatever the user requires. Whether he or she is there to shop, eat, meet, explore or escape, it is people who have become the ultimate source of enriching the travel experience, not technology.
Human autonomy dictates that technology does not make our decisions; it solely influences them. Just because your mobile tells you that you have “arrived at your destination” does not mean that you have to stop walking. Mobile applications are not changing the face of travel, instead they allow us to enhance and enrich our experience. They increase engagement and above all encourage us to share our experiences with others, spreading to ‘spirit of travel’, in its many forms, throughout the world. What can be more authentic than that?