The art of not planning: Is there a price to spontaneity in travel?

If Google gets any more powerful than it is now, the sheer amount of data the tech goliath has on users can easily influence the way travellers seek out information and plan their trips.

Once upon a time, travelling involved planning, lots of it. From visiting your local travel agency to enquire about specific packages to checking the newsletters classifieds for promotions, travel was largely a premeditated experience.

But now, it appears, we are turning our back on premeditated travelling, as mobile technology makes it possible for travellers to book flights, rooms and trips at the last minute, as information – and increasingly bookings – are readily available on the go. More and more people fancy themselves as ‘spontaneous’ travellers.

Take our recent road trip as a family of four, for example. My husband and I did not do much planning for our 4D3N trip across the central Thai provinces of Suphanburi, Singburi and Angthong, besides booking the hotels on Agoda a week prior to our trip. We looked up a few points of interest and marked them as ‘want to go’ places on Google Maps, but beyond that we did not have a firm itinerary even as we rolled out of the driveway.

Having a mobile navigation app made it possible for us to improvise our trip on the go. For instance, we arrived at Talat Nam Saphan Khong in Suphanburi on a Friday, only to discover that the floating market – which currently attracts hordes of Thai tourists with its giant fish-cage landmark – was closed on a weekday. What did we do next? We simply looked up the ‘near me’ feature on Google Maps and found a rustic but cute cafe nearby.

This reliance on Google Maps on suggestions on where to go, what to do and where to eat was repeated many times over the subsequent days of my trip.

In the age of last-minute and increasingly in-destination mobile bookings, it is hence critical that destinations, attractions or any tourism-related businesses have a Google My Business listing, which will enable a business to appear when a user searches for related tours and activities in his/her area, together with information about a business’ location, hours of operation, popular times and photos, etc.

Why does this matter? Because Google has entered the hot emerging tours and activities space to enable operators to accept bookings and payments through Reserve with Google, and has recently announced a revamp of its Trips page. Eventually, Google Trips, Google Search and Google Maps are expected to function seamlessly together to simplify travel planning from start to finish.

In the on-demand world we live in today, the increased access to information – clearly accelerated by mobile – appears to encourage greater spontaneity in travel as planning and decisions can be made on the fly. Or does it?

If Google gets any more powerful than it is now (and signs are already pointing to that), the sheer amount of data the tech goliath has on users can easily influence the way travellers seek out information and plan their trips, as marketers look to influence travellers along their purchase journey. When that happens, do we discover places, or do places discover us?

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