A great many innovations have happened in the tourism industry in 2012, transforming travellers' experiences.
Some of the more remarkable ones are listed below:
1 Mobile apps for travellers
Mobile apps have changed the way people travel. Some might no longer use a guidebook as they can search for any information relating to the place their destination via their smartphone or iPad.
Some of the amazing travel apps you might need to have while on the go include free chat apps like WhatsApp (www.whatsapp.com) or free call apps via Skype (www.skype.com) and LINE (line.naver.jp/en) to connect you with your loved ones at home. Then there are apps to find city maps like CityMap2Go (www.ulmon.com), to search for local eateries like LocalEats (www.localeats.com), locations for free Wi-Fi (www.jiwire.com/iphone), translation services via iStone Travel Translation App (https://itunes.apple.com/app/istone-travel-translation/id515682572?mt=8) and to organise your trip via TripIt app (www.tripit.com).
2 Expansion of low-cost airlines
This year has proved to be a lucrative one for low-cost carriers (LCCs). The segment has grown by leaps and bounds. According to the Centre of Aviation, the worldwide LCC segment has increased from 9.5% a decade ago to 26.1% this year thanks to the service expansion as well as new LCCs such as Scoot of Singapore Airlines, Malindo Airways of Indonesia's Lion Air and the premium-budget airline ThaiSmile of Thai Airways. There will be more next year from other airline operators such as Lufthansa, Aeroflot and Air Canada.
3 Internet connection on-board
Forget those boring on-board entertainment systems. Why bother if you can have internet connection via your smartphone, iPad, iPod or personal computer while you are 30,000 feet above the ground.
According to Australia's Business Traveller Magazine, more than 30 airlines have already announced plans to offer in-flight connectivity. Some charge for the service while others are in the trial process. Remember to turn off your devices before take off and landing.
4 iPads for hotel guests
Hotels and resorts are trying to catch up with technology for their own good as well as to impress guests. What better way to do both than by offering an iPad to guests? Some hotels have the devices in public areas such as lounges or lobbies to entertain guests. The Conrad even offers the gadget in room to facilitate guests so they can book a table in a restaurant, a spa treatment, request a wake-up call, check their email or share pictures while staying in the hotel via social networks. Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi connection seems to be a standard service guests expect from their hotels too.
5 Social media to increase customer loyalty
Having a company also means having its virtual presence on the internet. Today those in the travel sector also need their Facebook fanpage or other social networks to interact with customers. They ask visitors to click the "Like" icon of the fanpage and then keep feeding information like special discounts or updating new services to their fans. Social media are also a channel to identify and help solve customers' problems. Some hotels have added online response to their customer service department in order to deal with customers' problems within a short period.
6 Digital boarding passes
You can now book your ticket or check-in online via your mobile phone. Soon you will also use your mobile phone for boarding. Thai Airway has joined the bandwagon, testing the 2D e-boarding pass in the middle of this year, while Bangkok Airways introduced the service in September. The boarding pass, in the format of a QR code, is automatically sent to the mobile phone number a passenger gives when booking the ticket. However, the service is available only for smartphone users. According to a SITA survey, the mobile boarding pass is one of two main factors attracting passengers to use mobile check-in services. The other reason is flight status updating. At present, over 40% of airlines and airports offer the service, while 80% are planning to do so by 2015.
7 Paperless immigration
Some of you may already have experienced the Autochannel system at the passport control area in Suvarnabhumi. The machine makes it easier for Thai passport-holders to pass the immigration process. Passengers merely insert the first page of their passport in the machine, wait for the gate to be open, then stand on the mark to have their picture taken and fingerprint scanned before they proceed. The process takes less than a minute and with four passport scanning machines at each arrival and departure terminal, it can reduce the numbers of immigration officers who are much needed to man all counters for international passengers. Don Mueang International Airport is expected to implement the auto-gate system in the future.
8 Community malls
Today's shopping mall is much more than a place for shopping but also a travel destination where people can go to explore new things and take photos. Thanks to the first Italian-themed Palio in Khao Yai, the colourful and fantasy worlds are coming closer to home, such as Chocolate Ville on Kaset Nawamin Road where you can enjoy taking pictures at an old European village, or Terminal 21 on the corner of Asoke intersection where you can see a part of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. There are also newly opened community malls a couple of hours drive from Bangkok such as Porto Chino Mall in Samut Sakhon, Santorini Park with Greek atmosphere in Cha-am and The Venezia Hua Hin with Venetian style architecture. Once you are in those places, snapping pictures of their architecture, you might forget that you are in Thailand.
9 Myanmar the must-visit destination
If you haven't visited Myanmar or don't even plan to go, you could be considered "out". Myanmar now tops the must-visit lists. After the April 1 election which saw Aung San Su Kyi take a seat in parliament, the country has welcomed a sea of tourists which has outnumbered the capacity of hotels. The Civil Aviation Department plans to expand Yangon International Airport to accommodate a further million annual passengers to the current 2.7 million next year and to 5 million when the facility's expansion is completed in 2015.
The government also expects the numbers of visitors will rise from 391,176 in 2011 to 500,000 tourists this year, according to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
There are many reasons you may have for travelling and doing good things for other people at the same time. Although volunteering while travelling (voluntourism) has been around for years, those activities might require at least a week of commitment. However, after the big flood last year, more one-day trips have been organised by private companies for their staff to boost their volunteer spirit such as visiting Ayutthaya to help clean flooded temples, or travelling to the beach to collect garbage or plant seedlings in mangrove areas.
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