Let’s assume the pandemic is over, which will hopefully soon be the case. There are good indicators for it. The steady increase of our website traffic is one of them.

There has been a lot of exciting news over the past few months when we take a look at the tech industry. Developments which will also effect the travel and media industry. As avid travelers, we’re excited to see what’s to come from tech in travel.

One example is the improvement of search results. A third of online users globally use voice search to find results. And Google’s evolved AI (artificial intelligence) then tries to provide direct information to answer these searches. Their aim is to provide this information spoken – and in the future maybe even start a discussion with the user.

Imagine you explore a city and you start the following conversation with your phone:

The Future of Travel Connections
Interview About the Future of Travel Connections: Stanislav Stepanov

You: “Hey Google, list the best restaurants in the area.”

AI: “Sure, is there a specific cuisine you would prefer today?”

You: “I would love to try something local. But I would also be fine with a good pizza. It’s more important that it’s authentic.”

AI: “There is a very popular street vendor two metro stops away, which is well known for their local and authentic dishes. Here is a video and article about it. If you prefer something closer, there is an Italian restaurant just around the corner, which has 4.5* ratings for their pizzas.”

You: “Give me the directions to the street vendor, but also make a reservation at the restaurant for 8pm tonight.”

So far, this is still my fantasy…Google needs a lot of input and support from the community and website operators to be able to create this kind of service.

But, I’m interested to hear more about what we could expect from this new era. What kind of new tools (tech and deep tech) will be there?

Let’s discuss what we have to lookout for and what trends are worth joining, and which ones are not?

What can we expect from tech in travel?

Let me introduce you to another avid traveler Stanislav Stepanov, founder of BilliOnAir. His start-up is presented in Canada and Europe with its head-office in Grenoble-France in one of the well-known European innovative hubs – INOVALLEE

This diverse, competent and enthusiastic team works on developing the first “real-time immersive indoor & outdoor interactive 360° video streaming platform to engage remote travelers and local tour guides”.

Stanislav is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in international business development. Including building and running early-stage startups in green R&D for oil & gas, aerospace industries and leading a non-profit ecological organization. He is an expert in implementing and scaling innovative technologies and building relationships with decision makers.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

A discussion with Stanislav Stepanov on tech in travel

TD: How accurate is my fantasy? Will we see a similar search conversation like in the example above in the near future?

Stanislav: This example is almost a reality. Services that actually help travelers on their actual journeys are progressing rapidly. Your example is an example of how AI and ML work. These technologies have the widest application today, and the question of a full-fledged dialogue between man and machine (or software) is not a question of tomorrow, but of today. So your fantasy is quite realistic. The main thing is that it should benefit the traveler, who asks questions to the machine (software). And by the way, when people are asking such an AI assistant, they will not necessarily say “Hello, Google”, it may well be for example “Hello, Naver”.

TD: If Google gives out spoken results, how can a website operator, for example a hotel director, tour operator or travel blogger benefit from this?

Stanislav: As can be seen from the same example of a Human- AI dialogue. Which, by the way, is quite a good one that you cited, it is usually of a brief informational nature. Even the quite humane attempt of the AI to give its answers a little more emotional flavor, does not give the user (human) a full-fledged replacement for what he can see with his own eyes, learn for himself (by visiting the same restaurant or hotel). That is, when it comes to the benefits of a specific business associated with travel and tourism (hotel, restaurant, gift store, etc.), then AI is only one of the tools in the hands of marketers in this business – for information and brand awareness in the eyes of the user. A handy tool, but one of a number of tools available to marketers now.

TD: One competitor of Google is Facebook, who call themselves Meta now. What’s behind the idea of Metaverse?

Stanislav: Behind this idea is exactly the good work of marketers. I’m not evaluating the rebranding or the founder’s latest speech, which has traditionally been the subject of memes on the Web. I’m talking about the level of quotability, and the market reaction that followed. From a marketing point of view – Absolute Bravo! To the team that implemented it.

However, if I start answering the specific “What’s behind it” question, we’re going to have to set aside a couple of days for that. And that’s just for the first conversation. The fundamental idea of the whole picture of the interaction between the virtual world and the real world, was theorized by Avi Bar-Zeev, one of the legends and pioneers of VR, for whom the topic of the interaction of different realities is the topic of his many years of work. 

In fact, based on this view, there are many different hypostases of the universe, and it’s not just Meta.

Read: Beyond Meta: The Seven Verses

And/or watch:

TD: They call it the “next evolution of social connection”. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

Stanislav: I almost agree. Unless it becomes the next evolution of separation. Or “disconnection looking like connection”. Are you sure that’s not going to happen? I’m not.

I haven’t seen pickets or queues of Facebook-Meta users with “We need a next evolution of social connection” banners. I haven’t seen people suffering from any lack of social connectivity. I haven’t seen a single research on the subject of humanity’s real request for the evolution of social connection. This is where we have to ask, “What’s behind this?”.

Obviously, we are witnessing a traditional game with the human mind, subconscious and attention. Such games are always very fascinating. And they are often effective, especially when it comes to creating new markets or redefining old ones. The only question is for whom is this game of real value – for Zuckerberg, or for the people living on planet Earth?

I’m just not sure that humanity has decided to abandon human appearance in favor of avatars (artificial faces and bodies) to solve the so-called “lack of social connection” problem. And if it (humanity) did so, it would be nice to know where, when and how such a decision was made.

It also remains unclear how Facebook-Meta’s new strategy fits in with the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as Goal #10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

Social connection implies people interacting on some basis-whether they agree for free or for a fee-but for the sake of some goal or system of goals. 

TD: We’ve seen the online game “Second Life” which started in 2003. It sounds quite similar. What’s different and what could make the difference to succeed now in the mainstream market?

Stanislav: Second Life is a pioneer community, which essentially started the creation of what is now called the Metaverse (Dejaverse by Avi Bar-Zeev). The strength of the community lies in its members and creators, and in the rules that they agree on and follow. It is the kind of self-organizing environment that sociologists might call a democracy. 

Here I can only quote Natalie Clayton, “We’re going to keep hearing about metaverse for months to come, but don’t be fooled. The metaverse has been here for years, and it’s already bigger, bolder and more wonderfully bizarre than anything Facebook could hope to offer.”

The entire article is here: Virtual worlds are already better than the metaverse will ever be

TD: How can the travel industry benefit from a service like Metaverse? Please give several examples of tech in travel.

Stanislav:  There are a couple of benefits available for tech in the travel industry now. Starting with the nascent culture of 360 video, when travel enthusiasts try to record 360 videos of their trips, and it becomes popular. Periodically, people can find such videos randomly on traditional video streaming platforms, and get their perspective on different travel destinations from a new angle. In general, this type of content for popularizing travel destinations is quite effective if done well.

Another possible benefit is related to marketing again. Organizing online shopping in a metaworld is quite possible, and will be one of the catalysts for sales of travel-related products.

The recent decisions of Barbados (Barbados to Become First Sovereign Nation With an Embassy in the Metaverse) and Seoul (Seoul to Launch ‘Metaverse’ Public Service Platform in 2022) also speak to the applicability and potential of VR, 360 and AR for the travel industry as a whole as they become a catalyst for audience interest and a tool to retain that interest, and that is ultimately very important for creating a favorable business environment and a new culture of business interaction. If a virtual universe consists of virtual countries, territories and services helpful for real people in the real world – then why not? It’s a win-win situation.

TD: What other exciting new travel technologies do you see rising in the near future?

Stanislav: We believe that a large part of video content will exist in the form of 360 video. Its share will grow, and it will grow quite rapidly. There are many factors contributing to this. One of the traditional problems of the so-called 360 VR industry has always been the quality of the content.

Many videos were simply uncomfortable to watch before. Now that problem is being solved by major advances in Hard and Software. Hard is getting cheaper, Soft is getting better without exaggeration on a daily basis. Today, a good 360 video camera costs as much as an iPhone, and a good VR headset as much as half an iPhone. And prices are going to go down. This is always the case when a new device enters the mass market.

So the question about the number of users of VR (360 video) is a question of time and only time. Everyone understands the difference between 360 video and watching a regular video on a flat device with frames. In 360 video, a person is immersed in the content and exists in it. This is why it is called an immersive experience.

We believe that through the development of such travel technologies (a combination of breakthrough solutions in Hard and Soft), it is possible to create very necessary and useful services for a huge number of people all over the Planet.

The Future of Travel Connections.
The Future of Travel Connections.

TD: You decided to try your luck in that market. Why exactly this niche? We’ve seen 360° videos for several years already, but they never played a bigger role. Not on YouTube and not on other websites really. What can be the gamechanger?

Stanislav: We focus on solving two problems: the traveler – experienced or inexperienced, and the local tour guide (or someone who decided to become one).

The way we travel is broken. And has been for a long time now. Travelers are struggling to find a travel emotions substitute by watching traditional travel content on existing platforms. In fact, it is hard. Because no video can replace travel for at least one billion people who have enjoyed travel at least once in their lives. 

What if a traveler can find a way to enjoy traveling even without leaving home?

We believe there is a revolutionary immersive model to teleport and entertain people and bring them travel emotions. 

And that’s why we created BilliOnAir, the first real-time immersive indoor & outdoor interactive 360 video streaming platform for remote travelers and local tour guides. 

It’s built for experienced and unsophisticated travelers, for professional storytellers, video creators and for the beginners. 

BilliOnAir teleports and entertains travelers, and helps local guides make money.

Here is how it works: the local guides make live streams (more simple wording: they shoot and immediately transmit the video) from their locations using a 360 camera, and remote travelers from any other locations (at the same time) can watch and interact with the guide and each other if they watch the stream together… For this, a VR headset is not required, but it’s recommended to get a fully immersive experience. Travelers can also engage with guides using a smartphone, PC or a tablet. They book in advance or join instantly any available 360 live stream and start watching and interacting with their guide the same way if they really travel. All in one click. 

For local guides – virtual tours creators – our platform becomes a monetization tool. The guides make money from every stream and every traveler.

No jet-lag, no queue, no time-zone. Just travel.

TD:  If we take a look at YouTube videos, a lot of them are in a low quality. Not from the resolution, but in the way they were produced. You see a ton of shaky videos, horrible camera maneuvers and badly edited cuts and formats.
To produce a 360° video in a good quality is a completely different game. You want to work with professional tour guides who are amateurs in video productions. How shall they be able to produce great videos and then maybe even ‘live’?

Stanislav: BILLIONAIR Broadcasting Kit (BBK) – is the first tuition course made by our team and lead by our Head of Production – Andrii Shramko – one of the most experienced and recognized 360-video content creators and producers.

BBK contains a series of lessons and practical recommendations earned by the most experienced creators of 360-degree video.
This course helps anyone to be able to start making 360 videos and live streams easily.

Combined with all features of BILLIONIAR platform it provides all benefits from the very beginning.

In other words, we support our amateur 360-video creators from day one and help them become more professional. So for them to able to deliver a great quality of pre-recorded or live video content without shakes, horrible camera maneuvers and badly edited cuts.

TD: What about VR & AR? Why should a tourist buy and use a VR device and what value will it provide?

Stanislav: My grandmother lived in a small village in Siberia. For many years they did not have a refrigerator, because it had not yet been invented then, and when it was invented, it was expensive. Every time food was stored outside the house in the -30 to -40 degree cold winter. It was great and functional, but also only a seasonal solution for preserving meat, fish, etc. In summer, such products were stored in the cellar. It was also a solution, but less reliable.

Then came the era of refrigerators, they have become available, including for my grandmother. It is clear that by the time she was an elderly person, she was happy to have a refrigerator in the kitchen – an out-of-season solution available 24 hours a day at a distance of one step. So she has not to run out every time for products in the cold winter, or climb the steep stairs into the cellar in summer to get them.

Tourists may or may not buy VR headsets. But once they try to use them for travel fun, decision making, shopping, etc., they’ll appreciate the benefits of such an all-season available at arm’s length 24/7 solution.

TD: How can travel brands, but also the digital media publishers, benefit from this step?

Stanislav: First of all, it is an opportunity for brands to showcase their products in the form of new content. This attracts the attention of the audience.

In the form of content in which you can immerse yourself (for example, drive down a ski slope in Rossignol skis with a friend wearing a new Moncler suit) – this will attract even more attention due to the effect of presence.

The main idea when such content is watched with a VR headset is that there is nothing else to distract the user. Thus, brands capture the user’s full attention and can do with this attention whatever they want in theory. 

Digital media are becoming global guides and platforms for the engagement of billions of people around the world.

TD: Why are 360° videos a serious alternative? Will this include VR & AR?

Stanislav: 360 video and the engagement of people watching together, for example 360 video broadcasts from tourist locations, is really a serious alternative to what is now called the meta universe. It’s essentially the same reality that is now becoming available to everyone. This is the same as the refrigerator for my grandmother in Siberia.

VR and AR technology are becoming the tools to accomplish such an idea. If you imagine a 360-live stream from the center of Rome, when your guide with a camera walks along the route from the Colosseum to the Spanish Steps and tells you about the sights and history, you can see as a feature the pop-up, superimposed AR tags and navigation hyperlinks, which just might contain useful related information or unobtrusive advertising.

Now let’s think about the main thing – why such an alternative is important. What is travel in essence? It’s when a person gets out of his usual location (city, country) and physically visits another location – usually far from his home. In today’s world, this is often done by air travel, for it is more efficient to cover a distance of say 1000 km or more. 

A few years ago Boeing conducted a study and obtained this data. Of the entire population of the Earth, only 1 billion people have had the experience of flying by air at least once in their lives. That means that the remaining approximately 7 billion people have never flown in an airplane. That means they have not seen unfamiliar locations in their masses. It means they haven’t and still don’t have enough travel experience. 

Why don’t we help them? Why don’t we give them a convenient, accessible tool so they can experience the emotions of a traveler without even leaving home? At least this way we will bring them closer to something new and unexplored, we will consider our mission accomplished, and then they – users will make their own decisions – can fly to Rome or visit it with a familiar or new guide again in a day, week, month with a 360-live stream for 4 euros instead of 400 euros just for the ticket. 

Also, if we’re talking about equality, let’s talk about older people who are young at heart but cannot travel fully due to health limitations. They deserve our attention, and the opportunity to travel from the comfort of their own homes, too – and they will be happy to have that opportunity. That’s exactly where there is no prejudice about VR. For them, VR is a real way out and a real alternative and help. The same can be said about wheelchair users, of whom there are about 100 million in the world. So the new tool is already becoming a huge benefit for billions of people. And at the same time it helps the tourism industry itself, and local tour guides, which now have the opportunity to create, conduct tours, monetize their skills on this marketplace for an unlimited global audience.

TD: Which destination would you like to explore through a 360° video? With a VR device? Why this spot?

Stanislav: We are focused on, but not limited to, popular destinations. 

I would say that for us it is not so much the name of the geographical point on the map that is important, but the value that this point represents for travel. We focus equally on all kinds of tourist destinations and activities. These are mountains, skiing, sea, beach, museums, castles, city tours, gastro-tours, street performances, sports events, educational tours, nature parks, theme parks. In general, all kinds of activities that travelers can experience and afford while traveling. That’s why we are constantly inviting new guides and video content creators, people who know their territories well and are ready to tell other people about them.

The VR device in this case is a good key to the door that says Teleportainment. But it’s not the only one. Our users will be able to use their tablets, smartphones or computers to try the experience. Again, in our inherently democratic model – then let them decide for themselves whether or not to use VR headsets. Personally, I use it because I enjoyed it.

TD: OK, so which destination will you choose and use your VR to watch a 360° video? 

Stanislav: I have a list of hundreds of destinations I want to visit virtually and physically. 

But for sure I would like to see and visit: Bali, Dolomiti, Archipelago Los Roques, Mont-Saint-Michel, Lisboa. My previous dream was about the Alps. But now I live here in Grenoble (France), and my traveler’s dream is around me.


  • Melvin

    Melvin is the founder and CEO of Travel Dudes, co-founder of the Social Travel Summit and the former COO of iambassador.