South by Southwest, also known as SXSW, is always a interesting conference because 30,000 movers and shakers in technology descend upon Austin, Texas in a 3 week-long conference that has a huge impact on culture. SXSW has three tracks, Interactive (tech and marketing), Music and Film and this year’s conference was fantastic.

I’ve gone to SXSW for 9 years in a row and over the years, the show has changed from being a smaller show that attracted techies, creatives and creators from all over the globe to being a big, loud marketing conference. This year, in 2017, there seemed to be a fog at SXSW – the aura of President Trump’s travel ban and associated fall out meant less international visitors were in attendance. Big Brands pulled out of doing mega activations, concerts and the like. The show just felt smaller and the people present seemed more reserved.

SXSW is always a showcase of the new and advanced apps and services. SXSW is the conference where Twitter debuted along with Foursquare and Meerkat – which let anyone broadcast live video from their phones.

Let’s look at what this year’s more intimate conference yielded in the way of trends and news for travelers.

Using biometrics to gauge emotion and customer service

Firms such as hotels and airliens are now using biometrics to detect your emotional state. From cameras at the check-in kiosk when you get to the airport to a British Airways demo of “The Happiness Blanket” that changes color to show traveler’s mood using a neural sensor.  The results showed travelers are stressed at check-in, happy when eating food and relaxed while sleeping.

It’s interesting to see how technology is being used to shape and measure the traveler’s customer experience.

Virtual Reality as a storytelling medium

VR was a huge theme at this year’s SXSW with many companies, brands and agencies showing off how VR can immerse us in experiences before we go. From the traveler’s perspective, imagine being able to load an app on your phone that enables you to ‘walk through’ hotel rooms or Airbnbs before you book, preview experiences and museums to visit and more.

SXSW even has a dedicated conference track for VR, with 38 films showing how different industries are using the new medium. One session featured panelists from National Geographic and Honda talking about how they are using VR as a new story-telling device.

Reaching customers in new ways – voice assistants

Lastly, a theme that emerged in talks and presentations at SXSW was the use of voice in booking travel and interacting with your hotel room with a voice assistant such as Amazon Echo or Google Home.

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, a Texas property with more than a thousand rooms, recently installed Amazon Echo units in 10 of its most popular rooms, with plans to equip an additional 100 rooms in the coming months. Amazon’s Alexa can be used to control lights in five of the rooms, but the focus is on using Alexa as a personal concierge for ordering food from room service, or requesting towels or other toiletries from housekeeping. It’s reported that the hotel property has been testing Alexa since last October.

Visitors of the Virgin Hotel in Chicago have been able to use an app to control their room, order room service and more – and now with voice, we can do it all without getting up at all!

What trends did you see at SXSW 2017?

(Image credit: SXSW)