Tour guide in palm of your hand
HOW nice would it be if every time we stumbled blurry-eyed off a plane and into a busy airport arrivals hall, we were greeted by a friend eager to guide us to our hotel and pass on all manner of helpful tips and advice?
With the possible exception of the Dalai Lama, no one has that many mates. But what most of us do have is a mobile phone, which is all that’s needed to access Travel Messenger, a helpful new service designed to make touchdowns more tolerable.
Developed by Melbourne-based Loop9, Travel Messenger uses SMS to send useful information, tips and advice on 200 countries and 3000 cities across the globe.
The information is tailored to meet the specific needs of individual travellers because Travel Messenger keeps track of where you are and, by integrating with airline reservation systems, it knows exactly where you are going.
Loop9 managing director Mark McCormack says the new service, which is only available through travel agents, starts working before a traveller leaves home.
‘‘ The day before the person departs, they get an SMS from their travel agent reminding them of their flight details and giving them a weather update on their destination,’’ McCormack says.
‘‘ When they touch down there is a welcome message and the name of their hotel, along with details on how to get there, in English and the local language. So someone sitting in a cab in Beijing, for example, can just show the phone to the cab driver, who reads the instructions in Chinese.’’
The system provides news, weather reports, security advice and accommodation options, and it translates any phrase or word within 20 seconds.
‘‘ One of the most popular terms for translation is ‘ Take me to the airport’,’’ McCormack says, ‘‘ but we have been asked to translate ‘ Take me to the nearest strip club’ and, yes, we checked . . . it wasn’t Kevin Rudd.’’
Travel Messenger will also help manage the travel budget by converting local currencies into Australian dollars and it sends information on events happening in each city the traveller visits. Sports tragics can also keep in touch with the scores back home.
McCormack admits that most of the information is already available in one form or another via the internet but he claims it is far less convenient to find.
‘‘ If I’m sitting on a beach in Thailand, I don’t want to have to log on at a local internet cafe to find that a tsunami is heading my way.’’
The idea for the service came to him a few years back when, after talking to friends about the Bali bombings, he saw the potential for an SMS service keeping travellers up to speed with government warnings. At the same time he saw the commercial potential of working exclusively with travel agents, who are constantly looking for ways to enhance their relationships with customers.
Loop9 has struck deals to distribute Travel Messenger through Harvey World Travel and TravelScene American Express, with other travel agency chains set to follow next year. All a traveller needs in order to access Travel Messenger is a mobile phone set up with global roaming. The service costs about $26 for a four-week subscription and the only other cost involved is the standard SMS rate charged by mobile carriers.
‘‘ For executives it is like travelling with their own personal assistant,’’ according to McCormack. ‘‘ For people on holiday, it’s like travelling with a personal guide.’’ David Carroll’s column on new travel technology appears monthly in Travel&Indulgence .