This week I went to the annual conference for the American Society of Travel Advisors (there really is an association for everything). As in so many (all?) industries now, artificial intelligence and technology are hot topics in the travel industry: how to use them, how to compete with them, how to avoid being enslaved by them. Being a luddite, I don’t particularly enjoy these conversations. But, to my pleasant surprise, a recurring theme of the conference’s opening session was the opposite of robots: the importance of human connection.
Travel is built on relationships. First, there’s the relationship between you and your travel advisor. A good travel advisor’s human touch cannot be replicated by the even best AI chatbot. You might think you can book your vacation online without any human assistance, but then you get there and discover your room overlooks the trashcans, or the resort that was such a deal is under construction, or your flight is cancelled and you can’t get through to the airline, or you get sick and have to cancel your entire trip but everything is nonrefundable. A real, live human being can help you cope with vacation catastrophe and, more importantly, avoid vacation disappointment.
Then there’s the relationship between you and everyone you meet on your travels. Travel – authentic, impactful travel – revolves around human contact. Travel gets us off our devices and out In Real Life. Instead of “likes” and comments on social media, you can make face-to-face connections on the streets of a foreign country. Meeting people from other cultures expands our worldview, generates empathy and understanding, and creates some of our best travel memories.
Finally, there is the relationship between you and all the people you never meet, but whose lives are affected by your travels (hopefully for the better). A lot of the emphasis in sustainable travel is on the economic and environmental impacts of travel, and while those are both important, we can’t forget about the human impact as well. If we want to be responsible travelers, we must Do No Harm as we explore the world. A few ways to do that: consider whether the countries you visit protect human rights; choose travel companies that do good (for example, hotels that treat their local employees well); and, of course, respect the cultures of the people you meet. Don’t forget to pack your open mind and open heart.
The relationships that we forge through travel are transformative: for ourselves, for the people who cross our paths, and for a whole slew of strangers, too. If you’re not sure how to bring that human element into your travels, a real human travel advisor can help.