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How Technology has Democratized U.S. Travel



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How Technology has Democratized U.S. Travel

From the Seven Wonders of the World, to the Grand Tour, for most of human history tourism was an elite pastime; it’s only relatively recently that ‘ordinary’ people could travel for pleasure. 

In this infographic, we’ve partnered with to tell this story and how technology democratized U.S. travel, which according to the World Tourism & Travel Council, could employ 17.4 million people and contribute a whopping $2.2 trillion to GDP during 2023 in the U.S. alone. 

A Technological History of Travel & Tourism

The Italian poet F.T. Marinetti declared in 1909 that “the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.” People and goods—but also information—could now move further and faster than ever before, fueled first by steam, then gasoline, and eventually virtually by fiber optic cable and satellite. 

In some ways, the old world ended on September 27, 1825, as the very first passenger rail service departed for Darlington, UK, on the 8-mile journey to Stockton on the coast. Passenger steamships soon followed in 1838, then commercial flight in 1914.

1825First passenger rail service
1838First purpose-built steamship launched
1841First package tour
1914First commercial passenger flight
1963First digital booking system goes online
1994First online purchase
1995First airline ticket sold online launched
2000Name Your Own Price, first discount site launched
2001-2004First travel meta-search sites launched
2009First iOS travel app released
2019Half of the world's population now online
2021Majority of Online Travel Agency bookings made onmobile
2023AI begins to assist travelers to plan itineraries

Meanwhile, the speed of information increased as well. Innovations like the telegraph and telephone, and eventually the internet and smartphone, allowed for real-time communication across previously impossible distances. 

Modern Tourism Takes Off

Living standards and leisure time were also on the rise. In 1870, Americans worked an average 3,096 hours per year, but by 2017, that number fell 43% to 1,757 hours. At the same time, U.S. per capita GDP went from $3,007 in 1960, to $76,339 in 2022. 

So, with money burning a hole in their proverbial pockets and the time off from work in which to spend it, many Americans took to the air. In 1950, there were 19.3 million airline passengers in the U.S., but in just the first six months of 2023, there were over half a billion.  

Create Your Own Adventure

So what do all these changes add up to? 

In 1996, Online Travel Agencies arrived on the scene, democratizing travel and connecting intrepid globetrotters with hospitality entrepreneurs worldwide. Thus introducing greater choice, transparency, convenience, and trust into the tourism ecosystem.

A new era of travel had dawned. From basic economics, we know that when demand is better matched to supply, the market expands. It also helps when a consumer can turn a dream vacation into a secured booking with a click of a button, using a trusted platform backed by millions of customer reviews. 

When Harry Met Sally and Supply Met Demand 

During 2019, this “OTA effect” amounted to 47.5 million additional room nights for American hoteliers and savings of $8 per night for travelers. This is according to a report by Oxford Economics that compared the existing travel market, against an imagined market where Online Travel Agencies didn’t exist; additional room nights and savings are equal to the difference.

Online Travel Agencies also spread out travel away from U.S. tourist hotspots, say New York city or San Francisco. Between 2012 and 2021, growth in room nights in the three least-dense quartiles was higher than the most dense locales. Independent accommodations also saw the greatest increase in demand, while international travelers to the U.S. made the most use of the digital platforms. 

For small and mid-sized independent accommodations especially, Online Travel Agencies provide greater visibility and ultimately, profitability. A recent analysis showed that the return on investment of working with an Online Travel Agency was a “net positive,” particularly for smaller properties that are often owned and managed by a sole proprietor.

We the People of the Airport Departures Lounge

Thanks to technological innovations and increased living standards, travel and tourism is now a possibility for millions, if not, billions more people. And not even a global pandemic could dampen demand for long, with International tourism recovering to 84% of pre-pandemic levels in the period January-July 2023.

Today, travelers have access to more and better information, especially through Online Travel Agencies, which deliver tangible benefits for consumers and lodging providers. The result is more choices, greater economic growth, and lower prices for all: a true travel democracy.  

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