Smartphone Travel: Virtual and Veritable
“I don’t travel far but my smartphone sends me far afield.”
A recent transportation paper suggests that younger people are wired at birth. The survey study by Boumjahed and Mahmassani, observes that ‘digital natives’ are more likely to engage in virtual activities as a substitute for trips done by private car. This effect is more pronounced among those who say that they were technologically-engaged as kids.
It is a timely paper that reinforces the popular view that store-fronts and mall traffic are in decline as young people pivot to online activities. “The bottom line is that Americans are shifting from a society that prioritizes products to a society that prioritizes experiences”. The net result is that spending behaviors, saving strategies, and most importantly, travel trips, are in flux.
To some extent, this evolution of travel behavior was predicted. The earliest papers on transport/telecomm interactions doubted that electronic communication would displace trips Instead, Salomon, Mohktahrian, and others predicted that both the volume of communications and the volume of travel would be complementary and expand. Simply stated, more communications would make for more transport, and more transport would lead to more communications.
However, they also predicted a third interaction: while the entire system grows, technology modifies the type of travel taking. The nature of that travel is just beginning to take shape and form.
We recommend a recent paper in computational science that used Instagram postings to illustrate the blending of tourist travel, local travel, and internet browsing. And, we cite two survey studies that suggest a new dyamic between long-distance trip taking and virtual communications.
The survey studies are not academic, but both have fairly robust samples. Both are inspired by the travel industry. They are a worthwhile read because they hint that the demand for travel will continue to grow- but in a different way than previously imagined- Instagram and social media may take on new weight. Keep in mind the op-cit remark that that, “… Americans are shifting from a society that prioritizes products to a society that prioritizes experience.”
Social Media Before and After Trip Taking
The first study, conducted by the AARP and aptly called “Travel Research: 2018 Travel Trends” is based on interviews with 714 Baby Boomers, 403 GenXers, and 374 Millenials.
The study found that when compared with Boomers, the Millennials and GenX, were more likely to travel internationally. Why? The stated reasons for travel were health, trying something new, and adventure. These younger groups were also more likely to say they would combine business travel and side trips.
The next part of the AARP study is interesting: there is a tipoff that social media fuels the demand for international travel. Eighty four percent of the Millennials and 67% of Gen X said they wanted to post their vacation pictures. GenX and Millennials were far more likely than Boomers to say that posting vacation pictures would be artistic, make them feel less alone, and provide boast and bragging rights.
Circling back to the original, more solid research by BouMjahed and Mahmassani, are younger people shunning routine and boring everyday travel because they can now travel further afield, and are social media and virtual networks seeding those adventures?
More Social Media and Trip Taking
The second long-distance travel study (op cit) was conducted in 2017 by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Expedia. It is also cohort based, with a total sample of 1,254. Not surprisingly, given the study sponsors, social media was found to underpin trip making. Twenty seven percent of Millennials said they canvassed opinions on social media before booking a trip. More noteworthy is that thirty-six percent of Gen Z said they selected a destination ‘specifically because of postings they saw.’ Both groups said they were willing to sell furniture, take extra jobs, or do whatever it took to raise funds for their travel adventures.
It will take some time before we know whether these are just young people responding to a survey or actual sign- posts of change. However, as Boumhahed and Mahmassani suggest digital natives may be wired differently when it comes to travel.
And More to Come…
Summing up, the internet and smartphone reduce the need for local, boring, and increasingly slow and congested everyday travel. Exercise, errands, and socializing are more easily done from home or from a work place. So, it seems that store fronts will continue to close, and home deliveries will increase…. unless the autonomous vehicle changes preferences.
Meanwhile, more reliance on smartphones and social media could create their own demand for an entirely new category of trip taking. As predicted in the early studies of transportation/communication interaction there are modifications. One of them is the supersized, super-expansive, epic trip adventure generated by social media and posted on social media.