For the athletes of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, travel involved…robots. Everywhere. These machines prepared and served noodles, rice and burgers, and roamed the halls to take the temperature of passers-by. They even passed the Olympic flame underwater. Yet even if you’re not an Olympian, your travels these days are far more likely to involve technology you’ve never used before.
Many of these technological advances were spurred by early pandemic pressure for contactless payments, foodservice and more. For example, between February and March 2020 alone, Mastercard saw the number of contactless payments in grocery stores grow twice as fast as contactless transactions. Meanwhile, the number of active restaurants on food delivery app Uber Eats increased by more than 75% between December 31, 2019 and December 31, 2020.
So whether you find Olympic robots scary or cool, technology is seeping into travel in ways that most travelers find hugely beneficial. Whether it’s shortening lines, helping travelers save money, or eliminating the need to stand within six feet of others, here are some of the key developments in travel technologies in 2022.
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1. Apps to book hotels and choose your room
Most major hotel chains have long had free apps with features like booking and live chat, but many have recently seen significant improvements.
Last summer, Hilton launched a feature that lets you instantly book and confirm connecting rooms on its app and website, which has proven particularly useful for groups.
Its app can also display a map of the hotel and let you select the exact room you want, whether it’s the quiet room furthest from the elevator or the one close by for easy access.
2. Smart devices like digital room keys
The Hilton app can be used to unlock rooms at many US properties, so you never need to go to the front desk to retrieve a physical key card. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)
Some apps serve as digital reception, which then allows you to use your smartphone and smartwatch as digital keys. For example, Hyatt’s mobile app digital keys use Bluetooth technology to let you unlock your hotel room with your phone at more than 600 hotels worldwide.
Last December, Hyatt made things even easier for Apple users by becoming the first hotel brand to offer room keys in Apple Wallet. At select Hyatt hotels, you no longer need to open the Hyatt app; instead, you can tap your iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock the rooms.
At Hilton, which has offered digital keys to some extent since 2015, last year saw a huge update in Digital Key Share, which allows more than one guest to have digital access. This feature is currently available in approximately 80% of Hilton hotels worldwide.
3. The rise of virtual queues
(Photo courtesy of Disney)
In January, Clear, a private biometric screening company that allows paying members to bypass certain security lines in busy areas including stadiums and airports, announced that it had acquired another company designed to cut waiting – Whyline. The acquisition could allow Clear to improve virtual queues for processes such as checking vaccine status or accessing airport lounges.
Meanwhile, Disney rolled out a feature to its US theme park apps last October called Genie, which aims to help vacationers better plan their day. By analyzing current lines and crowds, it can suggest more efficient routes.
4. Delivery apps to replace room service
Food delivery apps recently disrupted room service by delivering food from across the city — and eliminating the need to pay $10 for a bowl of cereal in room service.
Hotels are considering the idea of let other companies take care of it. For example, Hyatt launched a pilot program with the GoPuff snack delivery service in 2021 to deliver prepackaged, hot meals to rooms at select Hyatt Place properties. Hyatt says the program has been successful and has since expanded to more properties nationwide.
5. Robotic, app-powered food delivery at airports
(Photo courtesy of AtYourGate)
Speaking of food delivery, the days of waiting in long airport restaurant lines may be over. Apps like AtYourGate allow you to order, pay for and collect food from restaurants at participating airports.
More recently, AtYourGate is testing services where you don’t even have to physically grab your food. Instead, robots bring it to you. A pilot program launched in September has robots roaming around Los Angeles International Airport, bringing food right to your doorstep.
6. The growth of car rentals via apps
The car rental industry has at times been brutal on travellers, but peer-to-peer carsharing alternatives are growing, giving consumers more choice.
Getaround cars can be booked on an hourly basis, and there is no need to meet the owner to exchange keys. Cars are reserved and unlocked via an app. Getaround expanded to Hawaii at the end of 2021, marking the 10th state Getaround added to its portfolio in 2021 and the 22nd state in its history.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.