Imagine travelling, even to a major city, without dealing
with a single person or carrying any paperwork, from booking to scanning your
passport and checking in at the airport and hotel.
The 'invisible traveller' is emerging as the newest
profile in the hospitality industry, describing those who want to be self-sufficient during
their trip, according to new research by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), one of the largest hotel groups
in the world with brands including InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne
Plaza, and consultancy group, The Futures Company.
Travellers, particularly in developed countries, have
increasingly used the internet to book flights, accommodation and tours for at
least a decade, while airlines introduced online and mobile check-in in recent
International airports also are beginning to use
e-passport systems allowing travellers to skip immigration queues.
The phenomenon is now spreading to hotels, where guests
will be able to use their mobile phone or tablet device to check-in, order
food, and even access information about amenities and the surrounding area.
“Think of this scenario,” the IHG-Futures Company report
says. “A booking has been made online. Once the guest arrives, they let
themselves in... they use room service - not the restaurant – or consult the
menu and place their order at a table fitted with an intelligent touch screen.
“The next night, they order a gourmet BBQ basket – and
cook their own food. They’ve carried out their own extensive research about the
local area and amenities, so don’t need to ask the concierge staff for their
“In the room, thanks to content downloaded on a personal
media device... in-room entertainment options will evolve. We are likely to
see ‘Bring Your Own Devices’ come to the hospitality industry in 2013 –
much as they’ve come to the workplace. This will enable guests to personalise
“Playing music from your own MP3 collection or watching
films recommended by your friends takes away the anonymity of the traditional
hotel room. Indeed, recent innovations such as Apple’s social TV make it
possible to imagine that in the coming years, guests will watch TV in their
hotel room ‘together’ with friends back home.”
A small number of hotels around the world have started
trialling the independent check-in system. Depending on its success, it is
likely to be gradually rolled out globally by next year.
During the London Olympics, Samsung and Holiday Inn also
trialled in-room technology enabling guests to control their TV, air
conditioning and lights via an app.
IHG senior vice president sales and marketing Asia,
Middle East and Africa, Karin Sheppard said Dubai’s Crowne Plaza hotels, which
had a high rate of business traveller, would be particularly suited to the new
mobile check-in technology.
Once a guest had checked-in online they could use their
mobile phone to enter the information at a kiosk in the hotel lobby, where
their room key would be dispensed.
“This is different to what we and others have been
trialling in the past, where you check in at the hotel at a kiosk,” Sheppard
“This is much earlier check-in via mobile and you have
all that information done before you even leave the office or your home. When
you get to the hotel you bypass the front desk... get your room key and go
straight to your room to continue relaxing or working.”
Sheppard said self-sufficient hotel services would likely
be most popular among travellers not on a holiday.
“The invisible travellers are those who love to have
their entire experience almost being defined by a lack of human interaction;
they just use their own self-sufficiency to make sure they can have a very
seamless experience,” she said.
“They seek out social interaction but at different stages
of their stay. [They want] shared spaces to sit and work, have a drink and
interact with other travellers. There could be two states of mind – get me to
my room as fast as possible so I can continue working, similarly help me relax
when I’m finished work or sit on my laptop and have a glass of wine.”
The research revealed the old definitions of the
“business traveller”, the “holiday-maker”, the “young backpacker” and the “retired
traveller”, were becoming multi-dimensional, with the same people playing
different roles on different trips, and sometimes juggling two roles on one
The occasion had more influence on defining the profile
of a particular traveller.
“We believe [mobile check-in] will be particularly
interesting for business travellers,” Sheppard said. “[But] that could be very
different to that same person if they go and spend a family holiday in one of
our resorts, so it’s particular occasions that [are more suitable] for this
experience. Their needs shift very much between those occasions.
“[For example, at] Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City and
Downtown Dubai you could well imagine the majority of guests would be very
comfortable using a service like [mobile check-in].
“[But at] a hotel like Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea
perhaps travellers are in less of a rush, they might be in a more social frame
of mind and want to check in with someone and ask about services and
“This is about choice... it’s a complimentary service
for those more in that [invisible traveller] state of mind.”
While IHG is only trialling the service in selected
hotels in Singapore, London, China and the US, Sheppard said the Middle East
would become a key market as more business travellers ventured to the region
and locals increased their confidence in technology.
She said the invisible traveller was a growing trend
based on a shift in travellers between mature markets and emerging markets,
such as China, India and some Middle Eastern countries, which tended to have
younger populations used to multi-tasking, technology at their finger tips and
As emerging markets became more dominant in the travel
industry – China alone is expected to account for one-third of global travel
spend by 2020 – demand for self-sufficiency would grow.
“The Middle East has one of the youngest populations in
the world,” Sheppard said. “In Saudi Arabia and Egypt and other countries, the
proportion of the population that’s below 25 is staggering.
“So I’m pretty certain if you map [the invisible
traveller] type of consumer trends... you’ll see a high proportion of them
increasingly in the Middle East markets as those younger people come into the
“The younger generation are coming through and being far
more adventurous in where they go, [wanting to] maximise their time and using
technology to make that more productive.”