A new year, a new set of travel plans to tick off. But don’t feel you have to go back to the same tried and tested booking methods – new techy solutions are constantly launching in travel, many of them inspired by an entrepreneur’s eagle-eyed solution to a recurring hitch with booking. Frustrated by the seven-day rigidity of ski packages? Want travel tips and reviews without worrying they’re paid-for fakes? In 2023, there’s an app (or website) for that.
From pretty travel inspiration you can share directly with your holiday buddies to a “Skyscanner for cruises”, here are the most intriguing newcomers on the travel tech horizon.
In this travel inspo fever dream, you swipe right or left, Tinder-style, on destinations and locations that take your fancy. At the early-thoughts stage of considering a holiday, you’d click on the “Dream” tab, where you’re presented with a lovely image of a beautiful beach, lake, or cityscape to swipe either way on – the idea is that the app takes note of your right swipes to build up an idea of your travel taste, and can better point you towards great destination deals. The born planner in every couple or friendship group will love the “plan” tab where you can log individual trips for the year ahead, adding prospective hotels to each one as you spot them. Next up is a dynamic search function for flights + hotels, to be added from March 1? although it’s not fully up and running on all operating systems yet. Good for when you’re not sure where you want to go, and need some random ideas from the universe. orbzii.com
The social media comparisons continue with Step. “Think Instagram mixed with Tripadvisor,” say creators Robyn and Rachel, two real-life friends in their twenties who saw a space for an image-led app where travelers could gather tips and share authentic travel recommendations. Any physical location in a city or country – say, a great restaurant, cafe, juice bar or gallery – can be “stepped” or marked and reviewed by users? and you only see reviews and recommendations from people you choose to follow. A great way to drown out the noise and fake reviews, and follow the in-crowd to places you’re likely to love. Influencers Iris Law, Tiger Lily Taylor, Mob Kitchen, Emily Boateng and Lady Amelia Windsor are already signed up and sharing their favourites. It’s only available on Apple/iOS at the moment, with plans to roll out to Google/Android in the coming months. stepyourworld.com
The world is seemingly overrun with search engines and price aggregators for luxury hotels and apartments, but this price hunting site it all about great-value, low-key stays. You can search for campsites, caravanning spots and affordable holiday parks by date and mode of camping, and get an instant range of prices for different pitch types, along with three bullet-pointed things to know about that camping spot. There are glampsites on offer, too, but Campstead’s main mission is to put thrifty camping and caravanning fans in touch with the pretty sites that can accommodate them, with the price directly given by the owners. Destinations include the UK and Ireland. campstead.com
This polished website has top-notch photography and lashings of Millennial pink – here you can browse curated, quality hotels and travel experiences, combining them into a trip itinerary and even booking them through the team. Nemo isn’t a fully-fledged tour operator, but it’s more thoughtful than an OTA (online travel agent), which merely pulls together random flight and hotel combinations. Nemo says it’s designed for “travel-savvy digital natives” and is “perfect for planning complex adventures and special occasion trips” such as honeymoons, with a concierge service for those who go on to book. It’s good for luxurious but off-the-beaten track itinerary ideas: Colombia’s coast, Ethiopia and India’s Andaman Islands are all covered in existing guides. Although many trips are far-flung, Nemo does carbon-label its trips, also offering offsetting options, and 1 percent of every trip’s value is donated to its charity partner, Hello World. nemo-travel.com
Love to ski, but hate the rigidity of the typical week-long package? Founders of new website Heidi.com, Marcus and Alexander Blunt, were frustrated trying to pull shorter or more flexible trips together “Heidi – like many start-ups – was born out of frustration,” explains Marcus. “I wanted a quick weekend getaway but the complexities, expense and time it was taking to book a group of mates was mind boggling! I realized the ski industry simply didn’t offer flexibility in an easy way, despite the market crying out for it.” He adds: “There are big providers who do great ski holidays, but they buy mass hotel spaces and flights, so they need to make the Saturday-to-Saturday (or equivalent) method work, or they’re left with empty flights and rooms.” As a fix, the pair dreamed up this flexible ski trip search engine: you search your preferred dates and are delivered a neat option of a hotel with availability for those nights, plus flights, and with Atol protection thrown in for one unified price. The goal is, all the flexibility of booking travel and accommodation separately, but with that added protection if anything goes wrong. heidi.com
Like Skyscanner for cruise lovers, this no-nonsense, US-based search tool lets you browse your preferred dates to take to the high seas, showing you the cheapest options. Entering your dates and region you hope to explore, you’re served starting cruise prices from 11 of the top operators – including Carnival, Norwegian, Cunard and Royal Caribbean – organized by price or cabin type. It’s a price-led concept, like Expedia or Kayak, but several team members are formerly of Booking.com, Agoda.com or Flight Center, and Cruisebound is applying that same “Show me all the cheapest options!” customer needs to the cruise world. It’s not as tailor-made or bespoke as going to a cruise tour operator, but it is a quick way to get a price overview, or find top deals. cruisebound.com
Sticking to adventures by water: narrowboat holidays have been on the rise in recent years, and the founders of this holiday-searching website are aiming to make them more tempting and easier to book. A fledgling family business, launched by James Anelay and his wife Sabrina, R&R hopes to pull together all of the UK’s narrowboats and widebeams for rental in one, easily searchable website. As canal lovers themselves, says James, “outdated websites, difficult to use searches, and fragmented information were some of our frustrations” when booking breaks. The couple, who now live on a boat full time with their two children, set out to build a better version “backed up by great livechat and telephone support, where customers can make requests, like journeys with few or no locks, and we can arrange that.” Even more wholesome is that 10 percent of their profits go to nature and conservation charities protecting the environments around the UK’s canals. roamandroost.co.uk
AI (artificial intelligence) may still be a scary prospect for some, but it’s already filtering its way into our travel plans. New app Travelshift enables travelers to book a holiday using only their voice – although you will need a smart speaker with voice technology to do so. Hooked up to an app where you can store your passport details, the smart speaker aspect of the company means you can “discuss” a trip you want to book, agree the components and book using your voice. It’s all about making holiday bookings as speedy and low-maintenance as possible, with Travelshift’s CEO boasting that some of their trips can be booked in under four minutes. David Stewart told The Mirror: “There have been rapid advances in AI technology in the past decade and we are now at a stage where we can trust it to make recommendations and book a holiday. Things have moved beyond simply asking Alexa or Google Assistant to play a song or set an alarm.” He added: “The technology exists for it to essentially act as a travel agent. It might seem alien to people at first, but then so did paying contactlessly.” Travelshift has 12,000 European trips to book at present, with plans to go global. travelshift.com