The Evolving Big Data Fabric Of The Travel Experience

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by James Kobielus

What was most noteworthy about Marco Polo is that he eventually returned to Italy to tell his multi-decade tale of wandering the Orient.

In ancient days, long-distance travel was something that few people experienced. A great many of those who attempted it didn’t come back alive, if they came back at all. Only a handful of those who managed to straggle back home brought useful information. And those who returned tended to make up fanciful stories that were long on self-glorification and short on verifiable facts.

Travel in the 21st century is something else entirely. Just as jet planes zoom above the clouds to circumnavigate the globe, modern travel rides on big-data clouds that help keep our trips on course and on time. With that in mind, I recommend the recent BuzzFeed article “11 Ways Data Has Changed How We Travel”.

At a high level, it describes how intimately today’s travel experiences rely on big data and on the online services that produce and consume it. Mobility is most fulfilling when you travel light but have a heavy-duty support system to ensure that you get where you want to go. Smartphones and other modern gadgets are the essence of traveling light: they put access to everything we need right in our pockets and at our fingertips. The necessary back-end support system includes big data analytics, cloud computing, recommendation engines, online travel services, electronic payment systems, geolocation services, stream computing, social media, and event-driven alerting.

Where the travel experience is concerned, the common thread is that each new data-powered innovation helps to mitigate the various risks that travelers have traditionally faced. As I stated in this post from last year, mobility is fraught with risk. Now with new data-powered services, the following risk-mitigation scenarios are becoming commonplace everywhere:

  • You’ll never again regret the fact that you didn’t know about the best travel deals before you booked.
  • You’ll never again be able to claim that you weren’t forewarned about weather that might ruin your trip.
  • You’ll never again lose access to your most vital travel documents.
  • You’ll never again carry around large amounts of cash that can be lost or stolen on the road.
  • You’ll never again be out of touch with family and friends.
  • You’ll never again get lost.
  • You’ll never again stop monitoring what’s going on back home.
  • You’ll never again stop updating the people who need to know your real-time whereabouts.
  • You’ll never again be unable to access the Internet, streaming media, and other digital information, education, productivity, and other services.
  • You’ll never again be uninformed regarding the status and whereabouts of planes, trains, and other modes of transportation upon which you depend.

Contextual guidance is the unspoken thread within most of these risk-mitigation scenarios. When you’re mobile, you need all the automated guidance you can get. Your entire journey relies on contextual guidance provided by big data-powered cloud services that drive next-best-action analytic models. Developed and refined by data scientists, these models, in turn, tap into fresh data streams to continually recalculate guidance to speed the traveler toward their destination and, hopefully, ensure a pleasant experience along the way.

All of this would have seemed impossibly utopian even 50 years ago. But it’s the travel experience that we all now take for granted. We now assume an analytic-powered level of continuous comfort no matter where we roam on the planet.

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