How we became tourists in cyberspace


The internet has educated holidaymakers. Now travel firms must learn to market to a more cosmopolitan customer, writes Andy Law

The UK is not turning its backs on Europe, its citizens have been advised. Brexit means opening our minds to the rest of the world.

That might make holiday companies want to think a little.

We English don’t like to go too far away for our holidays. Europe is the obvious place. It’s near, familiar, hot and invariably cheap. Spain and France remain our top holiday destinations. The other Europeans stalwarts, Italy and Greece, are not far behind. If we tiptoe outside of the Mediterranean we might go to the US, or Thailand.

So opening up the rest of the world for this particular multibillion pound commercial enterprise will prove an interesting challenge.

To rise to the challenge of any contemporary tourism you need to understand what travel actually is today.

We travel in ways we have never travelled before. At one time, travel was a journey between two ponts. Yet cyber travel is an experiential trip to multiple places at multiple times and in many different time zones. And because of the exciting intermediate points that we discover during the travel process – for instance, we chance upon an interesting artist while searching for a holiday – the entire experience can be ramified at each such point, providing a multiplexed, multivariate experience.

In cyber travelling, we travel more. We can take ourselves to wherever we want to go, look around, and converse with locals without ever leaving home, and at no extra cost than our normal living expenses.

We can hear local languages, retrieve recipes for exotic dishes, look at places in real time or from a historical perspective, and talk to people anywhere on the planet over messaging systems, voice, or video.

We can research the history of where we are going, down to specific places and people. We can discover the lineage of people we are meeting. We can look at local legislation and uncover local news stories.

Obviously we can check the weather, but we can also check the minutiae of the conditions, down to the forecast temperature on the hour of our arrival. We can verify the weather data through live webcams, adding unquestionable visual assurance to the raw data of information. We can even see what people are wearing in various locales – and if their umbrellas are up.

Our keyboards are not just for typing words – they are now our maps. Our fingers are curious cursors, combining together to help quench our almost insatiable thirst for information. This information appears after we have made our digital input requests – and our cyber agents are happy to be hard at work in both our waking and sleeping hours.

The travel agents and travel guides of the pre-internet era merely skimmed the surface, while fingers on keyboards can lift the lid on the remotest of places and, with practiced ease, explore and sample as much or as little as we like.

The new digital ‘travel agents’ charge no commission and offer a bespoke service. The world has opened up in ways we never would have believed. People who are selling holidays need to market for a customer that can know almost everything.