From space hotels to luggage that follows you around, the travel industry is undergoing a massive evolution. Here’s the first instalment of our story on future-forward ideas that aim to make all forms of travel and leisure faster, healthier, greener and a lot more fun.
1 Supersize airports
The UN World Tourism Organization estimates that by 2030 1.8 billion of us will be travelling by air each year, which means the race to build immense airports has begun. One leading contender is Mexico City International Airport, a collaboration between Foster + Partners, local firm FR-EE Fernando Romero Enterprise and Netherlands Airport Consultants. Heading into construction this year, the plan represents a shift away from the typical mega-airport (i.e., no internal transit systems, no maze-like routes between buildings, and no dull, endless corridors). Instead, the X‑shaped hub is designed to keep walking distances to a minimum. Ninety-five gates will surround the periphery, and the whole complex will live under a sinuous, vaulted glass and steel system that harvests solar power, collects rain and reduces glare. Prefabricated and locally built, it will be constructed over an eight-year timeline. Architect Norman Foster says, “It pioneers a new concept for a single, large-span airport enclosure, achieving new levels of efficiency and flexibility – and it will be beautiful.” – Paige Magarrey
2 Follow-me drones
We live in an age when adventure travel stunts are recorded and shared even before we hit the end of a zip line. PlexiDrone, by DreamQii of Toronto, is one among many unmanned aerial photography options crowding the drone market, though it aims to appeal to everyone, not just extreme sports enthusiasts. Operated via an app, the one-kilogram device can carry various camera models (from GoPro to Sony Action Cams and Bublcams), and its stylish hard shell case lets users unpack, unfold and release their toys anywhere in under a minute. Once the drone is airborne, the Follow Me function tracks GPS signals from your smart phone, and it even issues low-fuel alerts (in a haughty British voice). Six engineers developed it while attending Ryerson University in Toronto, and by last November they had raised over $US1 million via Indiegogo. PlexiDrone CEO Klever Freire, 30, is confident that it will do well when it hits the market this spring. “We’ll double in size over the next few months,” he says. – Michael Harris
3 Print-as-you-go gear
Lost Luggage, a concept by Janne Kyttänen, gives new meaning to the expression “travel light.” The 3‑D printing maverick, who helms Freedom of Creation in Amsterdam, foresees a day when we will carry data files of essentials for a trip, from a change of clothes to a pair of heels. Before jetting off with just the shirt on your back, you’ll email a file to your hotel, which will then crank out a mini-wardrobe in time for your arrival. (As its name implies, the concept could also provide a solution to actually losing your luggage – unlikely in the future perfect.) For the prototype, displayed last spring at Rotterdam’s Galerie VIVID, the contents and the bag were printed in one go: a sultry, versatile dress, a pair of yellow wedges, a digital watch and a knuckle-duster, among other stylish baubles, all came to life inside a 3‑D-printed version of a Paco Rabanne tote bag. The future sure looks sharp. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo
4 Luggage you can’t lose
In August, the world’s first smart carry-on will roll off the assembly line and into the hands of the most tech-savvy globe-trotters flying the skies. The 3.8‑kilogram Bluesmart, developed by a group of travel-obsessed friends who run their tech company out of New York, is a marvel of conveniences you might not even know you needed. An app lets you know where your stuff is, in case it doesn’t show up on the baggage carousel; and if the carry-on strays too far away, it locks automatically via a proximity heat map. A digital scale built into the handle measures weight with a gentle tug. And no worries that all of those features will be deemed useless if you forget to charge your phone. The built-in battery holds enough juice to power up six times over. $280 pre-order – Erin Donnelly
5 Passport Chic
Norway is on a mission to make every detail of its citizens’ journey beautiful, starting with the passport. The government has unveiled a new graphic identity for the document by Oslo studio Neue. The cover boasts vibrant hues, in turquoise, white and red, but the real innovation begs a closer look. For the inside pages, the team designed a subtle depiction of the country’s mountainous landscape. When you shine a UV light on the image, it shifts to night, and a ribbon unfurls in the sky, morphing from purple to green like the northern lights. “The beautiful weather that has historically shaped and affected our surroundings – we wanted to show its power, and how it changes the country’s whole scenery in the winter darkness,” says creative director Benjamin Stenmarck. No word yet on when the government will begin issuing the passports, as it is now fine-tuning the security features. – E.P.
6 Escaping to the off‑beaten track
The rise in extreme sports has led vacationers on quests to venture as deep as possible into untouched nature. The conundrum with remote tourism, however, is that many of the world’s most pristine wilderness areas are reserves and national or state parks, which discourage – or outright outlaw – any development that might lead to, say, a place to stay. Oslo firm Jensen & Skodvin has figured out a workaround. Juvet Hotel, 250 kilometres northwest of Lillehammer, Norway, sits lightly on its terrain.
“We think that conservation of topography is another aspect of sustainability which deserves attention,” the hotel says on its website. “Standard building procedure requires the general destruction of the site to accommodate foundations and infrastructure before building can commence.” It took years of negotiations with the conservation authorities, but this nine-room-plus-spa outfit was completed without cutting into a single rock, on inclines as steep as 60 degrees. The individual wood cabins are designed to reflect their unique topography. “The geometry of the intervention highlights the irregularities of the natural site,” say the architects, “thus explaining both itself and its context with more power.” – Bert Archer
7 The portable hotel
Two of the world’s most attended sporting events – the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – shared one idea in common: they called on Snoozebox to take care of their short-term guests. The British start-up coverts container-size boxes into stand-alone hotels designed by London’s Tangerine (whose client roster includes LG, Toyota and various airlines), then transports the stackable units to wherever they’re needed, from music festivals to military installations. Snoozebox also staffs the temporary accommodations, delivering 48‑hour set-up and check-in to check-out services. Each two-by-3.6-metre room is equipped with luxuries one might expect from a high-end establishment: elegant writing desks, Norwegian-style lighting, sofas upholstered in Kvadrat textiles, and a minimalist palette. On the boards for the portable dwelling company with a global reach: a football village that will house fans during all 32 days of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow (AC and WiFi included). – Diane Chan
8 Kiosk fashion
Once you reach the tourist office at 1010 Albertinaplatz in Vienna, you have truly arrived. Sigmund Freud and Egon Schiele – in giant poster form – greet you at the door beneath a big, brassy tourist info sign that’s impossible to miss. Clarity is the goal of the new interior by Delugan Meissl Associated Architects. The office has occupied this central location since 1999, but the firm recently gave it an attention-grabbing face-lift. Inside, a 32-metre-long faceted brass wall, illuminated by 445 LEDs, offers up brochures as it swoops and curves through the 230-square-metre space.
For the architects, the multi-faceted form references Vienna’s cultural diversity; and it establishes a luxurious motif, complemented by sculptural, bespoke lounge seating and large round pendant lights that double as signage. The message is clear: visitors are welcome to stay as long as they like, ask for directions, peruse leaflets, take advantage of the free WiFi, or just catch a breather before hitting the theatre or a gallery. – E.P.
9 Museums in your pocket
Museums are major stakeholders in the travel industry, drawing millions of visitors to cities; the Louvre alone attracts over nine million tourists annually. But going to an art gallery won’t be the only way to experience an exhibition for much longer. Just as Google has mapped our streets, it is now mapping exhibitions. In December, the internet giant’s Cultural Institute launched an online platform that enables museums to build their own mobile tour apps, free of charge. Staff members simply plug in images and details to create a walk-through that patrons, virtual or otherwise, can download.
The software incorporates YouTube technology and an indoor version of Google Street View to produce what would typically amount to a costly editing job. For a recent pilot project, 11 cultural institutions took part, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where head of digital communications Jacco van Weele found loading the app to be a simple, one-person job. “Of course,” he notes, “as far as copyright is concerned, we have the advantage of working with artists who have been dead for hundreds of years.” – M.H.
10 Living in glass houses
Modern life traps us in a cycle of starvation for natural light. As we segue from dark bedrooms to enclosed cars and subways to poorly lit offices, we are seldom fully awake, posits Charlie Sharman, managing director of the London start-up Photon Project. The irony is that at night we are too awake. TVs and iPad screens interrupt melatonin production, and air travel does the same. Three years ago, Sharman collaborated with Oxford University neuroscience professor Russell Forster to conceptualize a modular glasshouse designed to reduce anxiety, stress and jet lag by re-calibrating essential body rhythms.
“The Photon Space allows people to recharge through invisible nanotechnology coatings and smart glass that can be darkened or lightened via a smart phone to create the ideal setting for sleep, night or day,” he says. With a steel sub-frame that “touches the earth lightly,” the pod can be erected anywhere, from a metropolitan rooftop to a open field. The team is focusing on the luxury and wellness sectors, and it hopes to commercialize the first models in a few years’ time. With views from all sides and walls that insulate against cold, heat and UV transmittance, this is one glasshouse we could definitely hunker down in. – Giovanna Dunmall