Tourism has seen its fair share of changes in the industry - from the growing power of social media to the penchant for solo travel - all of which massively influence our behaviour. A recent, somewhat controversial drift has been making headway in the past decade or so: cashless payments. We gaze into a future of travel where the need for currency exchange and scouring for ATMs may no longer be necessary - and this future is much closer than we think. After all, the cashless economy is already integrated in everyday life. We use Oyster cards on the tube and enable Apple Pay on our phones. What's more, in light of the current pandemic, some ATM machines are being closed or come with warnings that advise the public to avoid physical cash to reduce the spread of the virus. This raises questions around hygiene and the general cleanliness of using coins and notes which have been shared by many before - it's an issue that seems more pressing now than ever.
The first contactless cards were issued in the UK in 2007 (with phone-enabled payments following soon after, linking bank cards to handheld devices), aligning our digital payment infrastructure with new technologies. Meanwhile, online shopping is more accessible than ever before. In Sweden in 2018, cash accounted for just two per cent of transactions, and predictions go that it will drop to just half a per cent by the end of 2020. There's a growing market for cashless travelling, especially among jetsetters who no longer want to carry much more than their bank card and mobile phone on their journeys. Travellers can now book an entire trip abroad with just a few taps on a keyboard - the flights, the accommodation, even activities. Yet, like many technological advances booming quicker than we can blink, there are debatable aspects of a completely cashless society. As we move forward with technologies that eliminate the need for physical cash in our pockets, some parts of the travel industry could be hit hard.
The pros and cons of a cashless economy
Put simply: a cashless economy is a little greener. Printing physical banknotes and manufacturing coins use a great amount of electricity, energy and materials; by keeping everything digital, a cashless society would have a positive environmental impact and helps us protect Mother Earth.
It's no guarantee that every destination will accept credit cards and online payments - especially outside metropolitan areas. Small, local businesses may not be able to afford the added expenses which come with digital payment systems, thus making it difficult for them to adapt to the rapid technological changes. Traditional artisanal stores or handicraft markets, many of which rely on tourists, may struggle to get on board and therefore suffer the most from cashless tourism.
It's won't come as a surprise for travellers that, in many countries, the tourist can be the target for pickpockets and conmen. Having something traceable, redeemable and block-able like a bank card can be better when it comes to protecting our money. Meanwhile, advances in face, voice and fingerprint technologies allow for transactions to arguably be more secure. Some banks and cards even offer special insurance policies for travelling which may cover issues with luggage, trip cancellations and accidents as well as rewards for spending - an added bonus.
A cashless society helps us to bid farewell to confusing mental equations around exchange rates and having to search for the nearest ATM machine on Google maps, too. It's also worth asking whether anyone actually likes exchanging coins and cents after their holiday, or spending the last few dollars for the sake of it? Didn't think so.
How many times have we logged in our personal information into an online form? Data collection is an unprecedented issue in today's society and it forces us to imagine a life where absolutely everything is recorded. It may not necessarily be a disastrous thing - data can be great should we need to keep records of money spent on trips and the like. Nevertheless, we put a lot of trust in those little screens. While digital security may protect us from pickpockets, scammers are also very much online. Controversy also lies in whether our spending records or online behaviour are used to target our purchasing power. When we rely so heavily on technology, we give away some of our control.
Today's society has made it near impossible to function without an online presence in banking and monetary transactions. A cashless travel trend is on the rise as a result of advances in paper-free payments and online purchases. We need to ask how older generations and smaller businesses will cope and adapt to these changes in how we move and spend money. Yet there is a lot to be hopeful for, including less hassle when travelling and the ability to track our spendings. While many trends come and go, a cashless society is one that feels inevitable in our technology-driven future. E-wallets are here to stay, both at home and abroad.