Whether you are a technophile or a technophobe, planning a holiday trip in today’s world involves at least some technology, and a trip to Britain is no exception. In fact, Britain’s tourism industry has gone Hi-Tech, from pre-travel planning through to the experience at the destination.
Most trip planning begins with the use of the Internet, as tourists research destination websites, consult social media sites like TripAdvisor, and book tickets through online booking systems and print tickets and vouchers from deals websites.
The micro-blogging website Twitter has taken the travel industry by storm, with some travellers undertaking TwiTrips (www.guardian.co.uk/travel/series/twitrips-twitter-trips), whereby all decisions on where to sleep or eat or which bar to visit are taken based on tweet from followers. Not all visitors to Britain will be taking TwiTrips, but a recent study has found that 62% of Twitter users travel abroad three times or more a year, and 60% use Twitter to connect with local suppliers, hoteliers or transport companies before they travel, with 28% reporting they made a reservation following an initial contact on Twitter.
Take-it-with-you technology such as free downloadable audio-guides and hi-tech handheld devices means that the hi-tech tourism revolution has personalised the travel experience in Britain.
Hearmanchester.com (www.hearmanchester.com/) has downloadable audio trails based on locations alongside the Rochdale Canal (which runs through the city centre), with locations highlighted by signposts on the actual trail. VisitBrighton (www.visitbrighton.com/site/maps-guides-and-interactive/podcasts) have an extensive selection of free podcasts, including the topics of history, film locations, arts & sculpture, ‘People who Made Brighton & Hove’ and a Gay & Lesbian History trail. The Spires & Steeples (www.spiresandsteeples.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30&Itemid=34) podcast offers a local look at the arts and heritage walking route from Lincoln to Metheringham. Visitor to Rye in East Sussex can download a VisitRye (www.visitrye.co.uk/) app to their iPhone for maps, recommendations on restaurants, museums and other attractions, while VisitBritain have a service called mobiExplore (www.visitbritain.us/about-britain/image-and-sound-gallery/mobile.aspx), which allows users to view UK maps (street and tube maps), and access ‘What’s On’ guides, lists of local restaurants and hotels, weather reports and discount vouchers directly from their mobile phones. Visitors to Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales can download a ‘Discover Grassington’ (www.grassington.uk.com/) micro-site guide onto their mobiles which contains information about the town, plus two local walks. A poster displayed in the window of the National Park Centre provides simple downloading instructions.
Even arriving in Yorkshire is a high-tech experience, as welcome messages via Bluetooth technology are being sent to mobile phones as visitors cross the border into the region.
With both business travellers and holidaymakers increasingly internet-reliant, the hotel industry has responded by ramping up its hi-tech game. Most hotels offer broadband or wireless internet, with a trend shifting toward free and unrestricted Wi-Fi access (londonhotelsinsight.com/2009/11/06/the-good-guys-top-rated-london-hotels-with-free-wifi/) throughout Britain. Increasingly tech-savvy, free Wi-Fi is just a start for the most hi-tech hotels. The City Inn (www.cityinn.com/leeds/leeds-hotels.htm) in Leeds not only offers complimentary Wi-Fi and broadband internet access throughout, each room has a complimentary Apple iMac multimedia system complete with computer, 38 satellite and TV channels, a DVD / CD Player, and Skype access with an in-built Webcam (bye-bye expensive hotel phone bills!).
myhotels (www.myhotels.com/) have flatscreen TVs, DVD players and more cyber-communication ports than you could possibly need, while the Cotswold House Hotel (www.cotswoldhouse.com/) in Chipping Campden offers (in addition to free Wi-Fi) mood lighting, and a Loewe entertainment system which plays music and lets you download digital photos. One Aldwych offers music in the pool, telly while you shave, an in-house cinema for private screenings, fibre-optic lighting and vacuum plumbing that uses 75 per cent less water than conventional systems. And the Zetter Hotel has swipe card vending machines replacing the traditional mini-bar, and a digital library with over 4,000 free music tracks.
Hi-tech British attractions
From interactive visitor centres to information via user-friendly handheld devices, visitor attractions are literally re-creating the visitor experience. When completed in Spring 2010, the £20m renovation of the Galleries of Modern London at the Museum of London (www.museumoflondon.org.uk/English/) will include a film, LDN24, which will play on nine plasma screens and a suspended elliptical LED curtain in its main hall using bespoke software to present 24 hours of contemporary London in a 24-minute looped film, using photography, film and statistics updated in real time.
By their very nature, both the National Media Museum (www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/) in Bradford, Yorkshire and the IN-TECH Science Centre in Winchester, Hampshire offer visitors a hi-tech experience, with IN-TECH (www.intech-uk.com/folders/frontpage_welcome/) offering 3500 sq metres of 100 interactive science and technology exhibits. Glasgow’s Digital Media Quarter (www.pacificquaydmq.com/) on Clyde waterfront is earmarked to become the hub for hi-tech businesses, and is home to the 1,500m2 Glasgow School of Art Digital Design Studio.
The £78m Darwin Centre (www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/galleries/orange-zone/darwin-centre/index.html) which opened at the Natural History Museum (www.nhm.ac.uk/) in September 2009 is a 65-metre-long eight-storey-high white cocoon which allows visitors views of scientists at work through platforms, video and intercom, contains over 40 hi-tech installations, bespoke film footage in the state-of-the-art Attenborough Studio communication centre. Visitors can also interact with a 12-metre Climate Change wall’s films and interactive graphics that spotlight Earth’s changing climate. A NaturePlus card allows users to ‘collect’ favourite exhibits and explore them in-depth at home online.
Similarly, The Public Gallery (www.thepublic.com/index.php/contact/) in West Bromwich outside of Birmingham allows visitors to store data via electronic ID tags, which can be used in a segment of the attraction called Make, a series of creative activities allowing visitors to make and take away an original Public Gallery-inspired art from this fully interactive arts space.
From the trailblazing to the traditional, Shakespeare’s Birthplace (www.shakespeare.org.uk/), which has been open for business for over 250 years, has incorporated technology in 2009 to enhance the Visitor Centre experience and hi-tech lighting techniques to bring parts of the Stratford-upon-Avon exhibit to life. English Heritage-owned Down House (www.english-heritage.org.uk/server.php?show=nav.14922) in Kent has recently launched their brand new handheld multimedia tour of the house and gardens will also bring to life the world in which Darwin lived and worked, while Hull Museums (www.hullcc.gov.uk/museums) have incorporated PDAs throughout their museums (they also do free text alerts for free events). In spring of 2010, The British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org/) will launch a set of Multimedia Guides which will use a portable touchscreen device called the XP Vision, which will make tours available in ten languages.
In time for the Industrial Revolution’s 300th anniversary in 2009, Ironbridge Gorge (www.ironbridge.org.uk/) World Heritage Site in Telford has also seen a £12m investment into facilities, the most recent of which is a high tech upgrade to its Visitors Centre at Blists Hill Victorian Village where nine separate projectors flash massive images onto 9m high walls detailing the dramatic reality of the Industrial Revolution. Battle Abbey has also incorporated digital technology into the new visitors’ centre film of the Battle of Hastings (www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.14113), along with hi-tech interactive experiences.
Tired of the queue? Legoland (www.legoland.co.uk/) in Windsor has found its way around that by incorporating a ‘remote queuing system’ whereby your own personal virtual robots (Q-bots (www.legoland.co.uk/planyourvisit/Queuing/virtualqueuing.htm)) send you a text when it’s your turn to get on the ride.
Orb 360 (www.orb360.co.uk/) in Brighton allows zorbers to attach a headcam to record the screams and giggles of the spinning experience in all its glory and then burn it onto to DVD at the end.
Then there is the 24/7 technology being incorporated in at the Visitor Information Centre (www.visityork.org/) in the York train station, called Canditv. Visitors and residents alike can get up-to-the-minute information about the city, events, attractions, restaurants and accommodation by dialling a number shown on a TV screen in the VIC, and, using their mobile phones as a TV remote control to scroll through, find exactly what they are looking for.
Other hi-tech attractions include The Beatles Story (www.beatlesstory.com/) in Liverpool, which has gone 4-dimensional with a state-of-the-art 4D multi-sensory experience at the attraction, or what about the 3.6 tonne video screen counting down to the Olympics from the top of the BT Tower in Central London, with its 177 panels creating a 177,000 pixel screen which spans half the size of a football pitch.
Hi-tech Eating and Drinking
Inamo (www.inamo-restaurant.com/), in Central London, is the epitome of a hi-tech eatery, straight out of cyberspace. Interaction between staff and diner is eliminated thanks to individual computer screens set into tables projecting images above diners’ heads, and computer games and the chef cam keeps diners busy throughout the meal. Launceston Place (www.launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk/) chef Tristan Welch streams live action from the hi-tech kitchen on a giant screen in the private dining room, while always-packed Barrafina (www.barrafina.co.uk/) have a queue-view webcam for diners to decide the best time to pop round. Each booth in the hi-tech bar 24 (www.disco24.co.uk/) is a blank page which, at the click of a mouse, takes on whichever design is desired, its fully interactive iBar is one of the most hi-tech bars in the world, reacting to anything which touches it. Sankey’s (www.sankeys.info/) in Manchester uses barcode entrance technology, LED Bubbles Lighting System, Multi-Coloured Lasers and a soundsystem designed by a former NASA engineer.