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Prepare for Tourism to be Disrupted

December 17th, 2018 by dk

Let me tell you about one of the next industries that will be violently disrupted by the digital age: tourism. Visitors will be offered directions and suggestions based on their browsing and buying habits. People will love it, and it will be horrible.

Nobody enjoys feeling lost, especially with nobody familiar nearby to help them. Rather than ask strangers for directions, we’ll pull an omniscient app from our pocket that has been collecting our preferences for years.

It will be less like traveling to an unknown place and more like being chaperoned by an attentive sibling who knows everything about us, and also everything about our surroundings. Through our earbuds, every step will be customized for us:

Based on your search history, there’s an art museum nearby that you’ll enjoy. On Sept. 2, 2016, you shared an inspirational image on Instagram. The original painting hangs on the 3rd floor in the east corridor. I can take you there.

After that, I found a little shop that sells leather bags similar to the one you put on your Amazon wish list last August. It’s a 12-minute walk from the art gallery, or four minutes by car, considering the traffic today. Should I call an Uber for you?

We should leave the shopping district by 7, because the sun sets today at 6:53 and property crime in that part of the city increases 22 percent after dark. Besides, there’s a little club near your hotel that has a concert tonight by a singer who has recorded three different songs that you’ve saved on Spotify. You’ll like her.

Your Fitbit tells me you’re usually in bed by 10:30 and this club doesn’t really get hopping, based on Yelp reviews, until about 11. You might prefer a quiet evening. I searched Open Table for a restaurant near your AirBNB rental. I see it serves one of your favorite dishes, at a price you’ll like, based on your ApplePay purchase history.

It’s not too late to disrupt this disruption. We travel to places we don’t know to discover things we don’t know. Our befuddlement may feel uncomfortable, but it is shared with others who are doing the same thing. We experience a commonality with them. We rely on — and are reminded of — the kindness of strangers.

Private digital guides could undo all that. Before this innovation happens, let’s flip the script. We can bring tourism back to its etymological and cultural roots.

The Grand Tour was originally a social device used to broaden a person’s perspectives and experiences. The first “tourists” filled a “cabinet of curiosities” with mementos from their travels — representing not what they went seeking, but what they found when they got there.

Rather than giving us all the comforts of home, an attentive digital assistant could silently observe which discoveries especially delight us when we are away. Back home, it could then watch for opportunities to replicate and remind us of those new experiences.

Traveling should help us see new things in our most familiar places, not the other way around.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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