The Con­nected Jour­ney

There’s a new way to make our way in the world

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Ram­sey Qubein

To­day’s travel is bun­dled, booked, some­times res­cued, and al­ways shared and re­mem­bered in the dig­i­tal realm

To­day’s trav­el­ers are im­mersed in a sea of con­nec­tiv­ity that sur­rounds them. Gone are the days when board­ing a plane meant com­pletely aban­don­ing the world and its de­mands on our time and en­ergy. Through con­nec­tiv­ity, trav­el­ers are in­spired, in­formed, en­abled along ev­ery step of the way.

Even the way travel is bun­dled, booked, some­times res­cued, and al­ways shared and re­mem­bered now has its place in the dig­i­tal realm. We are wired at ev­ery junc­ture, and this is a pos­i­tive for to­day’s mod­ern voy­ager. We can use this to im­prove our ef­fi­ciency and en­hance our ex­pe­ri­ence on the road.

Whether one’s jour­ney means gal­li­vant­ing across the globe for busi­ness or plea­sure, it is al­most in­evitable that a por­tion (if not all) of one’s travel has stemmed from the arse­nal of on­line travel tools avail­able at our fin­ger­tips.

With the tap of an icon or the click of mouse, we all re­search the travel in­for­ma­tion nec­es­sary for our trip. Some

read­ers may be shak­ing their head say­ing that they still rely on travel agents or hardly know how to use a com­puter. Well, even you, oh, de­fi­ant tech­nol­ogy reader, have be­come in­volved in this new world by be­ing forced to check in for flights by air­port kiosk (in­stead of at the fewer and fewer check-in counters) or sit through end­less tirades on news pro­grams about celebrity Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tions.

We sim­ply can­not avoid this new world. Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of 200 busi­ness trav­el­ers by Sim­plF­ly­ and Cran­field Univer­sity in the UK, nearly 90 per­cent of them use Face­book reg­u­larly, and 65 per­cent“like”at least one air­line.

In­stead of push­ing it away, I have cho­sen to em­brace it. I am lost with­out my iPhone or lap­top; sim­ply left in a Black Hole of mis­ery when the bat­tery dies; even forced to ask a fel­low trav­eler for the time or flight sta­tus. Heaven for­bid that we ac­tu­ally con­verse with some­one th­ese days. It seems that the phys­i­cal stance of 95 per­cent of trav­el­ers on a plane, train or bus is head-down, fin­gers tap­ping.

It is dur­ing those rare times when my phone bat­tery dies or it sim­ply gets left be­hind (gasp) in a ho­tel room that I have the time to re­flect on how all this tech­nol­ogy has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the ways in which we travel.

Door-to-door Con­nec­tiv­ity

All of my travel is booked on­line, and oc­ca­sion­ally on the spot via an air­line app like United or Delta. Thought­fully, the same app gives me flight de­par­ture sta­tus, an elec­tronic board­ing pass (that even in­di­cates if I have been cho­sen for TSA Pre-Check), and the pri­or­ity list of up­grades and stand­bys. The re­fresh key gets tapped ev­ery 30 sec­ond in the hours lead­ing up to a flight as I anx­iously await that cov­eted first class seat. Oh yeah, and once it clears, I can change the dreaded aisle seat to my pre­ferred win­dow chair with the touch of a but­ton. Nope, I have not spo­ken a word to an­other hu­man in the process.

But if I do want to cel­e­brate my up­grade, I can take it to Twit­ter or Face­book where I can ex­claim it to my thou­sands of friends (wait, I have a thou­sand friends?) or even reach out to the air­line to say thanks. Within a few min­utes, @DeltaAs­sist on Twit­ter will an­swer me. Their light­ning-fast re­sponse time 24/7 has saved me more than once when flights were can­celed or I needed to be re­booked due to a de­lay. Thanks to in­flight WiFi from @Gogo, I could log on and re­quest their as­sis­tance from my up­graded win­dow seat.

From the air­plane door to car door takes me less than a few min­utes since I can use the @Uber app to hail a taxi or or­der

As they say, wheels squeak louder on so­cial me­dia

up a towncar @GroundLink, typ­i­cally one that is in close prox­im­ity so wait time is re­duced. For­get the days when you had to stand in the rain, hand ex­tended, wait­ing for a surly driver to swing by, splashing pud­dles on you be­fore you can hop in­side. If I so choose, I could swipe my credit

card on the driver’s smart­phone. Apps like Square pro­vide a card reader that is at­tached to the side of a phone and al­lows any­one to re­ceive credit card pay­ments with­out costly ma­chines or pro­cess­ing equip­ment. I love earn­ing fre­quent flyer miles on my taxi tip too!

With ho­tel apps, I can book a room in less than min­utes (the Ho­ app says it will take un­der 90 sec­onds to com­plete the process), and have a key in hand be­fore I know it. Some ho­tels like Hy­att and Sher­a­ton are even test­ing out lobby kiosks that al­low you to check in, swipe a credit card and se­lect a room with­out ever see­ing a hu­man be­ing.

For me, this type of con­nec­tiv­ity is vi­tal to a pleas­ant, stress-free travel ex­pe­ri­ence. And travel providers are only happy to oblige as it lessens the cost of staffing their fa­cil­i­ties with so many hu­mans and per­mits an op­por­tu­nity to give trav­el­ers more “con­trol” over their ex­pe­ri­ence. Let’s face it, we all like to be in con­trol.

Trav­el­ers & Providers Linked

Let’s take a look at a few ex­am­ples of how con­stant con­nec­tiv­ity is a win-win for the trav­eler and the travel provider.

It is hard to be­lieve, but tips from friends have be­come an enor­mous in­flu­ence in de­ci­sion mak­ing for travel. While it may be en­tirely in­di­rect, this type of in­ten­tion upon fol­low­ers is awaited and ap­pre­ci­ated thanks to a pre­vi­ous in­ter­est in fol­low­ing.

As they say, wheels squeak louder on so­cial me­dia.

Once, a change in my sched­ule led me to ad­just my flight sched­ule while in Cal­cutta, In­dia, but with no lo­cal num­ber for Delta Air Lines to call, I reached out to @Delta As­sist on Twit­ter. The so­cial team is on watch 24/7 in their At­lanta of­fices re­spond­ing to re­quests and con­nect­ing with trav­el­ers in English, Span­ish and Por­tuguese. They had my reser­va­tion swapped out in min­utes, and I never had to pick up the phone to make a pricey long-dis­tance call.

Or how about the time when KLM Royal Dutch Air­lines swapped out my pre­ferred seat on the up­per deck of a Boe­ing 747 to ac­com­mo­date a D-list celebrity, but never checked with me first. I headed back to Twit­ter to an­nounce my dis­plea­sure that a full-fare pay­ing busi­ness class pas­sen­ger had to learn of a seat swap at board­ing. @KLM re­sponded to my comment within min­utes ask­ing for the reser­va­tion code to do some in­ves­ti­gat­ing of their own. Also re­spond­ing to my Tweet were nu­mer­ous other fol­low­ers of my @ Daily Travel Tips han­dle agree­ing with me on the air­line’s un­wel­come seat change. A sin­cere apol­ogy on KLM’s part was promptly given, and to­tally ap­pre­ci­ated. This en­tire ex­change was hap­pen­ing in the “Twittersphere” for the whole world to see.

If I sim­ply want to rely on the power of my iPhone’s GPS sig­nal, Foursquare scours the neigh­bor­hood around me sug­gest­ing in­ter­est­ing restau­rants, sights or busi­nesses.

In­sta­gram al­lows users to share their pho­tos with so­cial net­works while adding spe­cial ef­fects to tweak them be­fore post­ing. Blurb Mo­bile al­lows you to make slideshows out of pho­tos and videos while Posta­gram lets you turn your pho­tos into phys­i­cal post­cards to be mailed di­rectly from your phone to friends and loved ones. Those pho­to­genic mo­ments that in­spire you on the road can now be taken to the masses for the same spon­ta­neous ef­fect. Even those who may not travel can be trans­ported across the planet from their own phone.

Th­ese types of ex­changes merit plen­ti­ful good­will for a brand, and when is­sues are not re­solved promptly, po­ten­tial cus­tomers

Head­ing to a new city? Sim­ply ask your friends and fol­low­ers for ad­vice, and peo­ple chime in happily

will no­tice. Whether on Face­book, Twit­ter or In­sta­gram, trav­el­ers can voice their opin­ion for the world to see.

TripAd­vi­sor has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way peo­ple make ho­tel de­ci­sions for their trav­els, and Yelp has done the same for restau­rants. Crit­ics ar­gue that un­less you know some­one’s frame of ref­er­ence, it is hard to judge their com­ments. What is el­e­gant and classy to one per­son may be be­low par to some­one else. There are also oc­ca­sional re­ports of com­peti­tors post­ing false re­views to harm an­other brand.

Still, shar­ing one’s ex­pe­ri­ence on­line is akin to buy­ing a high­way bill­board and pro­claim­ing one’s feel­ings. It is open for all to see, and travel brands are tak­ing due no­tice to en­gage with both com­pli­ments and com­plaints in real time.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the time when a Hy­att ho­tel mis­tak­enly checked an­other guest into my room, which I dis­cov­ered in a mo­ment of sur­prise when I re­turned to find some­one else un­pack­ing next to my al­ready opened suit­case. I shared the odd­ity of the mo­ment on Twit­ter, and @Hy­att Concierge re­sponded im­me­di­ately and con­tacted the gen­eral man­ager to en­sure all was back in or­der.

When trav­el­ers post pho­tos on Face­book, Pin­ter­est, Twit­ter or In­sta­gram, their friends and fol­low­ers take no­tice and of­ten comment. Travel brands can take ad­van­tage of th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties, and some­times even en­cour­age guests with signs to share their ex­pe­ri­ences on­line. Many ho­tel brands rang­ing from Res­i­dence Inn and Court­yard by Mar­riott to Hil­ton

have signs or cards at check-in ask­ing for com­ments on­line. True, this opens up the can of worms for neg­a­tive com­ments too, but ho­tels are wis­ing up and task­ing em­ploy­ees with the need to re­spond to all on­line com­men­tary.

Friends Know Best

We trust our friends and take their rec­om­men­da­tions highly, which is why brands can ben­e­fit from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the realm of so­cial me­dia. Head­ing to a new city? Sim­ply ask your friends or fol­low­ers for ad­vice, and peo­ple chime in happily to share their own ex­pe­ri­ences and rec­om­men­da­tions. A print guide­book can hardly com­pete with tai­lor-made sug­ges­tions from the peo­ple that know you best and whose opin­ion you trust.

Be­ing con­nected to oth­ers is hardly a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cept, but in the travel world, a grow­ing plethora of smart­phone apps is mak­ing it that much eas­ier. Cool new apps like Trip­birds and Twig­more de­ter­mine who among your friends has trav­eled to a cer­tain des­ti­na­tion and no­ti­fies you so you can di­rect your ques­tions to them. Gogobot takes that ca­pa­bil­ity one step fur­ther al­low­ing you to di­rect those same ques­tions out of your own per­sonal net­work and to the site’s own mem­bers.

While plan­ning a visit to San Morino, a Face­book friend saw my travel sched­ule via an app known as TripIt and e-mailed me the help­ful tip of fly­ing into Ri­mini since it is eas­ier than tak­ing the train. That lit­tle sug­ges­tion saved me hours. The so­cial as­pect of travel plan­ning goes be­yond chat­ting about up­com­ing trips with friends and now ex­pands to dis­cussing travel op­tions with peo­ple world­wide (whether you know them or not).

Small World, Big Pos­si­bil­i­ties

So­cial con­nec­tiv­ity has shrunk our world while ex­pand­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties we have to ex­plore it. Smart­phones put ev­ery­thing just a click away. Re­mem­ber the days when we thought the flip phone was our con­stant con­nec­tion to the world; now we see it as a tad ar­chaic.

Busi­ness travel has never been so con­ve­nient thanks to the tools that await us at ev­ery turn. Can you only imag­ine what we will be us­ing in the next decade? I guess there’s no app that will see into the fu­ture – at least, not yet – so only good old fash­ioned time will tell. BT

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