Touch Points

Con­nec­tiv­ity is the word of the day in travel

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Robin­son

Con­nec­tiv­ity is the word of the day in travel. Car­ri­ers and ho­tels that once touted their ameni­ties now pro­mote their ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

“con­nec­tiv­ity.”IFEC, as it’s now called, brings a whole new level of trav­eler flex­i­bil­ity to the fly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

In 2009, Delta be­came the only ma­jor US air­line to of­fer broad­band WiFi on their en­tire do­mes­tic main­line fleet. Ac­cord­ing to spokesper­son Paul Skr­bec, Delta is not only ready when you are but may be ready be­fore you know you are. Hav­ing been on the wire­less fidelity (aka,“WiFi”) band­wagon for at least five years, Skr­bec claims Delta of­fers WiFi to more cus­tomers than any other air­line – over 400,000 a day on 3,400 flights.

As they con­tinue to ex­pand, Skr­bec says Delta is also work­ing on ”next gen­er­a­tion con­nec­tiv­ity”by up­grad­ing ex­ist­ing sys­tems. By the end of 2013, all con­nec­tions will be ca­pa­ble of stream­ing on­line video.

Ini­tially, IFEC sys­tems were teth­ered to ground-based tech­nol­ogy; once flights headed over the ocean, con­tact was lost and con­nec­tiv­ity was no more. How­ever more so­phis­ti­cated satel­lite tech­nol­ogy prom­ises to over­come one of the main bar­ri­ers to univer­sal in-flight WiFi. In April, in a demon­stra­tion of Pana­sonic’s su­per global satel­lite net­work, five pas­sen­gers on five dif­fer­ent flights over five con­ti­nents si­mul­ta­ne­ously tweeted in the

Re­mem­ber when travel meant tak­ing a break from work? When a“busi­ness”trip in­volved ex­pens­ing a few nips on­board and tak­ing time away from the phone and com­puter to un­plug and re­lax? Nei­ther do we! While car­ri­ers and ho­tels once touted their ameni­ties, many now pro­mote their ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Even in pop­u­lar get­away lo­cales, the abil­ity to get back to it is con­sid­ered para­mount. In to­day’s busi­ness world, the only way to get ahead is to be con­nected ev­ery avail­able mo­ment. As a re­sult, con­nec­tiv­ity has be­come the stan­dard for ev­ery as­pect of travel.

Up in the air, back in the days of drop­down screens and seat-back tele­phones, the tech­nol­ogy was once known by the sim­ple three-let­ter acro­nym IFE (in-flight en­ter­tain­ment). To­day, a fourth let­ter has been added –“C”– and that stands for

first global tweet-a-thon - #High5Live. Trav­el­ers aboard Amer­i­can Air­lines, United Air­lines, Lufthansa, Ja­pan Air­lines, and Aer Lin­gus, took part in the his­toric ex­change, sus­tain­ing a con­ver­sa­tion span­ning over five hours, 650 tweets and seven dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

In Jan­uary, United be­came the first US car­rier to of­fer WiFi con­nec­tiv­ity on in­ter­na­tional wide­body air­craft and hopes to roll out sim­i­lar ser­vice on 300 main­line air­craft by year’s end.“WiFi ser­vice en­ables us to bet­ter serve our cus­tomers and of­fer them more of what they want,”said vice chair­man Jim Comp­ton.

Over at South­west, satel­lite-based WiFi is cur­rently avail­able on over 75 per­cent of the fleet (more than 400 planes, plus those from the re­cent AirTran merger). Al­though there is an $8 fee, it al­lows all-day ac­cess. South­west also of­fers a $5 video pack­age of movies and live tele­vi­sion pro­grams that can be streamed di­rectly to per­sonal de­vices. “Our cus­tomers like to be pro­duc­tive while in the air” says com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­min­is­tra­tor Katie McDon­ald. As­sert­ing South­west is “the largest satel­lite-based WiFi fleet in the world,”McDon­ald says South­west was also the first car­rier to of­fer wire­less live tele­vi­sion to pas­sen­ger mo­bile de­vices.

“Cus­tomers should en­joy the same ex­pe­ri­ence as they do in any other en­vi­ron­ment,”McDon­ald sug­gests,“such as a cof­fee shop or even the air­port.”And while she ad­mits that most in-flight WiFi is“not as fast as a wired con­nec­tion at home,”she says they go a great dis­tance in help­ing busi­ness trav­el­ers“stay on top of work”or“en­joy their time away.”

As more providers of­fer more ser­vices, prices have dropped, al­low­ing even re­gional car­ri­ers to con­nect.“The re­li­able, low-cost equip­ment…al­lowed [us] to roll out,”says Alaska Air­lines me­dia re­la­tions man­ager Bob­bie Egan.

While many car­ri­ers pro­mote the breadth of their cov­er­age, JetBlue is ap­par­ently all about speed.“We’re cur­rently test­ing Fly-Fi,”ex­plains spokesper­son Al­li­son Stein­berg, adding that JetBlue of­fers free WiFi in their JFK ter­mi­nal.“[It] prom­ises to be the fastest in the skies.”

While Stein­berg ad­mits JetBlue may not have been first to the party, she claims the wait was de­lib­er­ate.“We weren’t sat­is­fied with ex­ist­ing prod­ucts,”she says,“and de­cided to take the time to find bet­ter tech­nol­ogy in or­der to de­liver the fastest con­nec­tiv­ity in the skies.”

In­stead of the pop­u­lar seat­back screen, JetBlue’s ser­vices (like those at South­west) will be avail­able to all per­sonal de­vices. “On the ground and in the air,”Stein­berg ob­serves,“peo­ple are us­ing their mo­bile de­vices more and more, and the in-flight ex­pe­ri­ence will po­ten­tially ex­tend to the con­sump­tion of con­tent across mul­ti­ple de­vices for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, in­clud­ing work and play.”

Ports in the In­ter­net Storm

Air­ports are also of­fer­ing more con­nec­tiv­ity op­tions. A re­cent sur­vey iden­ti­fied nearly 50 North Amer­i­can air­ports with wired In­ter­net ac­cess and nearly 100 more that of­fered free ac­cess.

“It’s be­come the ex­pec­ta­tion rather than just a hope,”sug­gests Dan Bu­cholz of Fair­banks In­ter­na­tional Air­port, which has been of­fer­ing free WiFi for years.

“The in­dus­try con­tin­ues to evolve,” adds Mau­rice Jenk­ins of the Mi­ami Dade County Avi­a­tion Depart­ment.“Air­lines are be­com­ing more re­liant on con­nec­tiv­ity [and] the need to have trav­el­ers con­nected went from a nicety to a must-have.”

Even though Jenk­ins’or­ga­ni­za­tion spent “sev­eral mil­lion dollars”to in­stall WiFi, ad­ver­tis­ing and re­turn­ing cus­tomers have nearly cov­ered the in­vest­ment.“We will re­coup over time,”Jenk­ins as­sures,“and con­tinue to pro­vide a qual­ity ser­vice.”

In­ter­na­tional air­ports are also con­nect­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Liza Dvir of Ben-Gu­rion Air­port in Tel-Aviv, WiFi is “re­garded as a ser­vice to the pub­lic”and is of­fered free of charge.

Though Mu­nich Air­port only of­fers free ac­cess for 30-minute ses­sions, they are rolling out in­no­va­tive In­foGates that con­nect trav­el­ers and ser­vice agents in live video con­fer­ences.“The pil­lars can also dis­play an air­port map to show the quick­est route to a gate, shop, or restau­rant,”ex­plains spokesper­son Corinna Born, not­ing that the de­vice won a pres­ti­gious Euro­pean de­sign award in 2011.

The goal at Bos­ton’s Lo­gan In­ter­na­tional (which was re­cently cited as one of the best air­ports for con­nect­ing ro­man­ti­cally) is to make time more en­joy­able and pro­duc­tive for the“cap­tive au­di­ence.”In ad­di­tion to of­fer­ing WiFi, Lo­gan launched a so­cial me­dia ef­fort in 2009. Since then, thou­sands of cus­tomer com­ments have helped Lo­gan up­date its brand and its of­fer­ings. Among its pop­u­lar pro­mo­tions was a con­test be­tween trav­el­ers in Bos­ton and San Fran­cisco that helped launch Vir­gin Amer­ica’s new cross-coun­try route. Since then, other air­lines have got­ten in­volved with their own give­aways and spe­cial Web­based of­fer­ings, mak­ing con­nec­tiv­ity more sig­nif­i­cant and more prof­itable.

Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional is be­ing wired as part of a city-wide con­nec­tiv­ity ini­tia­tive.“I am pleased that free WiFi ser­vice is avail­able at LAX,”said Mayor An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa.“This fur­thers our LA WiFi Ini­tia­tive to pro­vide In­ter­net ser­vices through­out the city and to con­nect to the global com­mu­nity and global econ­omy.”

A bit north, Mineta San Jose In­ter­na­tional is also striv­ing to be on the cut­ting edge of con­nec­tiv­ity.“As Sil­i­con Val­ley’s air­port, it was ex­pected that we of­fer this high level of cus­tomer ser­vice,”ex­plains pub­lic in­for­ma­tion man­ager Rose­mary Barnes.“This gave us a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over other San Fran­cisco Bay Area air­ports.”

Barnes and her team are so into the In­ter­net that they hope even­tu­ally to of­fer 15-megabyte band­width across the en­tire air­field so even air­port staff can stay con­nected.

“The fu­ture is here,”Barnes says.

Bus-ting Out All Over

But what hap­pens if you can­not con­nect and, say, miss your flight? Are you out of luck and left out in the cold?

Far from it. Thanks to the ex­plo­sion of op­tions, even ter­res­trial trans­porters are con­nect­ing cus­tomers. In ad­di­tion to shorter lines, fewer se­cu­rity has­sles and no re­quire­ments to“power off”at any time, many trains and buses now of­fer ev­ery com­fort and con­ve­nience of their air­borne com­peti­tors.

“The pro­vi­sion of on­board WiFi di­rectly ad­dresses our cus­tomers’de­sire to stay pro­duc­tive and en­ter­tained dur­ing their jour­ney,”says Am­trak’s Christina Leeds, “while also en­abling Am­trak to stay com­pet­i­tive in travel in­dus­try.”Not­ing

that Am­trak was the first in­ter­city pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice to in­stall who­le­train WiFi net­works, Leeds adds that their Am­trakCon­nect sys­tem is now avail­able on over 75 per­cent of Am­trak’s trains.

“WiFi in the trans­porta­tion sec­tor has be­come an ex­pected ser­vice,”Leeds sug­gests.“Am­trak is pre­pared to lever­age fu­ture ad­vance­ments in com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies that will sup­port us in our con­tin­ued goal of pro­vid­ing a pre­mium travel ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In ad­di­tion to wider, more com­fort­able seats and on­board ser­vices, Li­moLiner coaches also of­fer the lat­est in con­nec­tiv­ity as they shut­tle cus­tomers from Bos­ton to NewYork. Their ser­vice is so good, in fact, that wire­less ad­vi­sors from Far­point Group say that trav­el­ing with Li­moLiner can be even bet­ter than air travel.

Ac­cord­ing to Li­moLiner‘s An­drea Bohn, her com­pany (which launched with Wi­Fien­abled coaches in 2003) was the first pub­lic trans­porta­tion com­pany to pro­vide on­board In­ter­net, power out­lets and live satel­lite tele­vi­sion at ev­ery seat.“To­day’s busi­ness trav­eler ex­pects to be con­nected at all times,”Bohn ob­serves.“Hav­ing th­ese ser­vices avail­able al­lows busi­ness to flow un­in­ter­rupted even while trav­el­ing.”

For those on a tight bud­get, Me­gaBus (they of the $1 plus $.50 fee ticket) of­fers free WiFi con­nec­tiv­ity on all 250 dou­bledecker coaches.

“Tech­no­log­i­cal con­nec­tiv­ity has be­come the stan­dard in mod­ern bus travel,” sug­gests mar­ket­ing VP Mike Alvich. “Cus­tomers have be­gun to ex­pect this vi­tal fea­ture.”

Me­gabus also of­fers a mo­bile reser­va­tions and in­for­ma­tion app called Me­gaBus USA that has al­ready been down­loaded nearly 100,000 times.

“We feel the price of travel shouldn’t keep some­one from the things they love,”Alvich says.“Just be­cause you’re mo­bile go­ing from one place to an­other doesn’t mean you have to be out of con­tact.”

Even Amer­ica’s lead­ing coach com­pany – Grey­hound – is also up­ping their In­ter­net ac­cess.“As tech­nol­ogy changes, mo­tor­coach providers will have to adapt as well,”sug­gests spokesper­son Tim Stokes, not­ing that over 75 per­cent of Grey­hound’s fleet and 80 of their ter­mi­nals are now WiFi en­abled.“By 2014,”he adds,“all sched­ules [will] op­er­ate with WiFi ac­ces­si­bil­ity.”

On their tit­u­lar coaches and their pop­u­lar lower-cost Bolt Bus andYo! lines, Grey­hound is also pur­su­ing so­cial me­dia, which they see as both a con­ve­nience for cus­tomers and a learn­ing tool for the com­pany.“The ma­jor ben­e­fit cus­tomers are re­ceiv­ing is the abil­ity to stay con­nected,” Stokes says.“We learn a lot from our cus­tomers through so­cial me­dia.”

At the End of the Day?

But what good is all this con­nec­tiv­ity if you can­not con­tinue to en­joy it when you reach your des­ti­na­tion? While many busi­ness trav­el­ers claim they want to un­wind and un­plug, we know bet­ter. For­tu­nately, many ho­tels of­fer ac­cess and even rely on it to at­tract cus­tomers.

For many years, Mo­tel 6 has had the tagline,“We’ll leave a light on for you.” Th­ese days, the light may be the low­est­tech thing that is on.

“Mo­tel 6 of­fers WiFi at all of our 1,100 lo­ca­tions,”ex­plains cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Laura Ro­joEddy, adding that they also have an app that al­lows users to book di­rectly from Face­book.“We are one of very few ho­tel brands in the in­dus­try with this ca­pa­bil­ity,” she says proudly.

Such con­nec­tiv­ity makes con­nect­ing to the chain eas­ier and there­fore more likely. “The ease in book­ing a room ben­e­fits our abil­ity to keep th­ese guests com­ing back,” Rojo-Eddy sug­gests, adding that Mo­tel 6 is also present on Twit­ter, Google+ and Pin­ter­est.“Both guests and the brand ben­e­fit from the en­gage­ment.”

As many trans-At­lantic trav­el­ers stop in Ice­land to take ad­van­tage of Ice­land Air’s no ad­di­tional fee pol­icy, it is im­per­a­tive that area ho­tels can con­nect ef­fec­tively with po­ten­tial cus­tomers. At the famed Ho­tel Holt, man­ager Snorri Val­son is at the tip of the In­ter­net ice­berg.

“We have [had] free WiFi through­out our ho­tel since 2006 at least,”Val­son says, not­ing that each room can now han­dle five de­vices si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Claim­ing WiFi as“a hu­man right,”Val­son touts his ho­tel’s 24/7 live chat fea­ture that al­lows trav­el­ers to con­nect with staff with­out hav­ing to worry about time dif­fer­ences or ex­pen­sive phone calls.

“You can be surf­ing the web while the as­so­ciate finds the an­swer to your ques­tions,”Val­son says, not­ing that he gets a tran­script of ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion so he can per­son­ally en­sure cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. “It is vi­tal that our on­line pres­ence gives a great im­pres­sion of our ser­vice cul­ture and ded­i­ca­tion to a per­fect visit,”he con­cludes.

Fair­mont Ho­tels also use con­nec­tiv­ity to give their guests more.“Guests ex­pect travel providers to of­fer the same level of tech­nol­ogy they en­joy at home,” ob­serves Fair­mont’s Ash­ley Bleimes. “By ex­ceed­ing their ex­pec­ta­tions our guests [can] get more work done, stay con­nected and have a su­pe­rior ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery time they stay with us. It’s a win-win all around!”

In ad­di­tion to loan­ing iPads, Fair­mont also of­fers in-room panels that al­low guests to en­gage con­tent from their per­sonal de­vices.

”Fair­mont was one of the first brands to of­fer high-speed ac­cess to guests,”Bleimes claims,“along with at­trac­tive ex­tras like their own fully routable IP ad­dress or VPN con­nec­tiv­ity. We have al­ways put a fo­cus on mak­ing sure we’re of­fer­ing tech­nol­ogy that will truly en­hance our guests’stays.”

Pack­ag­ing Con­nec­tiv­ity

Con­nec­tiv­ity has be­come such big busi­ness that even non-hu­man trav­el­ers are in­volved. Ac­cord­ing to United Par­cel Ser­vice’s Mike Man­geot, UPS now re­ceives more than twice as many daily track­ing re­quests as they have pack­ages. “Smart de­vices are…chang­ing the world of com­merce,”Man­geot sug­gests, not­ing that e-com­merce ship­ments have grown to 40 per­cent of to­tal vol­ume.“Com­merce via con­nec­tiv­ity is only go­ing to in­crease,” Man­geot pre­dicts, men­tion­ing UPS’s new My Choice sys­tem that al­lows cus­tomers to re­ceive alerts about in­com­ing ship­ments and to spec­ify de­liv­ery time and lo­ca­tion. “We’re happy to pro­vide the in­fra­struc­ture to fa­cil­i­tate that.” BT

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