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The Connected Journey

Published: 02/07/2013 - Filed under: Home » Features » Home » Archive » 2013 » July-August 2013 » Special Reports »

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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 SimplFlying.com 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 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 Hotels.com 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 @DeltaAssist 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 @DailyTravelTips 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 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 @HyattConcierge 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.  

— Ramsey Qubein


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