SITA’s innovation report explores 12 key trends that will shape the travel industry over the next decade.
This report draws upon insights from work across the transport industry, owned global research, and the latest cutting-edge proof of concepts from the SITA Lab innovation team to identify the most powerful shifts that will drive the transport industry’s evolution by 2033.
Emerging technological, societal, traveler, and economic trends have significantly morphed the travel landscape over the last few years, forcing industry, governments, and workforces to adapt rapidly. A new era of travel is fast emerging, featuring trusted digital identities, hyper-efficient metaverse- like AI powered airport operations, sustainable aviation, a full digital economy, and air taxis. The air transport industry is at a post-pandemic crossroads, facing challenges from all sides. While domestic and international travel recovery accelerates globally, airports and airlines are scrambling to provide the seamless travel experience passengers expect, often with slashed workforces and squeezed budgets.
Airports and airlines will have to restructure their workforces using technology to work differently. Technology means achieving more scalable operations and upskilling employees to support these changes, with a more significant focus on service.
Automation will allow operations to be scaled, enabling a more agile workforce, with employee value shifting to highly skilled, empowered decision-makers and service-orientated roles. Peaks and troughs of work will be addressed through digitization.
Younger travelers demand a more integrated digital journey, and the industry will be forced to respond. They will accelerate the digital way of life and popularize fringe technologies by 2027. Many are frequent travelers who are ‘self-service first,’ and they embrace biometrics and digital passes to benefit from travel efficiency and convenience.
Digital identities, border crossings, and mobile platforms offer ample opportunities for younger digital native travelers who are familiar with using their mobile phone as a remote control for travel; market share will increase as digital natives become a more significant proportion of the passenger demographic, creating a seismic shift towards ‘digital first.’
We are moving towards a future where passengers can travel from anywhere to everywhere without ever needing to present travel documents and without needing to stop to confirm their identity, check-in, cross a border, or access any number of services at their destination – all while keeping control of where and when data is shared.
SITA believes that digital identities are the key enabler of Digital Travel. But they must be more secure and trustworthy to be a true replacement for their physical equivalents. Only once identity data is freed from the limitations of physical documents can we truly realize the revolution of a seamless, secure, and safe travel journey for all.
We will travel longer into our old age and have more disposable income. This will deepen the demographic of aging travelers who require more assistance throughout the journey. Bespoke technological solutions and bolstered staff resources at airports will be dedicated to supporting the aging traveler by 2030. A subsection of technology innovation will emerge designed to address the needs of the senior traveler specifically.
Airports and airlines will initiate dedicated teams, training, and processes to cater to a growing demographic of aging travelers, including passenger processing solutions, airport experiences, and end-to-end reliable customer support services.
Airports are looking to fill pandemic-inflicted revenue holes: enabling mobile payments, improving personalization, and increasing ancillary services are focus areas for most airports. Mobile commerce (m-commerce) and buy now pay later (BNPL) services will drive e-commerce growth and transform purchasing experiences throughout the passenger journey.
The automation and emergence of smart airports will give rise to a new flattened business organization, eliminating the more mundane and laborious work through technology.
The last year has seen significant announcements and global public attention towards emerging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Large Language Model (LLM) platforms like ChatGPT. Capturing both the public’s imagination and sparking fears around the rapid evolution of these transformative technologies, many industries are now speculating over the future of their products and services in a shifting technological landscape.
Over the next seven years, seamless intermodal travel will emerge with single processing and verification points that enable a fluid end-to-end journey across land, sea, and air.
There will be a push for more connected journeys with sustainable operations and new collaboration models using trusted data exchange for the broader end-to-end travel ecosystem. We will move from a community of 10+ players to take care of a single flight offer from A to B, towards an ecosystem of 100+ active contributors to deliver a door-to-door seamless travel experience.
Connected smart tugs and baggage carts will serve vehicles on the ramp. Wheelchairs, mobile kiosks, and robotic assistants will be controlled remotely.
In the airport, the arrival of 5G and the maturation of AI solutions will see connected autonomous robots, vehicles, and mobility equipment to support passengers and staff. The result will be more autonomous tracking and controlling of autonomous activities and vehicles that assist passenger journeys at major international airports.
By 2030, sustainability and adapting to the impacts of a warming climate will be at the heart of travel.
The implementation of policies such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) in the EU and evolving Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) policies in the US will intensify scrutiny of the environmental and social actions and commitments of the entire aviation industry supply chain.
Achieving the industry’s net-zero by 2050 objective will necessitate fully efficient operations. In this transformative decade, a key driver of efficiency gains will be the strategic use of data. Analyzing data to comprehensively understand the factors contributing to emissions throughout the air transport ecosystem will play a pivotal role. This data-driven insight will not only enhance environmental performance but also inform operational decisions, aligning with the stringent sustainability standards set by new reporting frameworks.
The travel industry will experience a sharp shift from simple forecasts and demand plans to an agile supply chain based on real-time data. Digital chain of custody and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) will supersede traditional processes, where instant and verifiable data can be accessed digitally.
Intermodal connected and seamless travel will become a reality with passenger processing and ease of checking in and baggage handling harmonized between the modes of transport.
By 2032, electric air taxis will be ubiquitous at major international airports and operate as an effective auxiliary service and revenue stream for airports and airlines. The services will push travel closer to a seamless journey with short transfers and speedy passenger processing on top of added sustainability and energy cost benefits.
This report draws upon insights from work across the transport industry, owned global research, and the latest cutting-edge proof of concepts from the SITA Lab innovation team to identify the most powerful shifts that will drive the transport industry’s evolution by 2033.Click here to download