The Louis Vuitton pet pouch is no longer the hottest travel accessory this side of a Paris Hilton reality show. Chic luggage, Inspector Gadget-like toothbrushes from the Sharper Image, any number of whatchamacallits you've likely played with (but never purchased) at your airport Brookstone: They've all been overshadowed and replaced by high-end loaner tech toys.
The latest travel trend is incorporating tech into offerings at hotels, airports, on airplanes and more. Today, for example, Virgin America announced that it had teamed up with Google to provide guests with Chromebooks for free on select flights. Manhattan's ever-buzzing Ace Hotel announced a similar partnership with Google as well, to provide the notebook and curated travel city guide app to guests and lobby visitors.
The marketing benefits of these partnerships are undeniable for all involved. Those offering the products appear modern and swank, impressing customers with the latest gadgets on the market. And those providing the products—the device makers themselves—gain extended access to a highly valued demographic: the consumers who can afford to stay in chic hotels and take first-class flights.
Across the country, tech is popping up at all sorts of travel hubs. At JetBlue's JFK airport terminal, Nintendo has set up a station to show off its Wii and 3DS devices. Even the historic, 100-year-old Algonquin Hotel is forward-thinking, offering guests Amazon Kindles pre-loaded with best-sellers and modern classics. And only two weeks ago, American Airlines announced it will be providing Samsung Galaxy Tabs to premium-class customers.
"It enables us to have a wonderful device for our customers," said Rob Friedman, American's VP of marketing, in a recent interview with Fast Company. "At the same time, it provides Samsung with a tremendous opportunity to be in front of our customers, and have our affluent customer-base interact with their product."
While the Google-Virgin America and Samsung-American Airlines deals are partnerships forged for cross-promotion, Apple does not need to involve itself to create exposure. At airport lounges around the globe, from Amsterdam to New Amsterdam, iPads are a common amenity. San Francisco's Galleria Park Hotel rents iPads out to guests. London's Eccleston Square Hotel includes iPads on the nightstands of every room, enabling guests to book a massage or order room service. And InterContinental Hotels has outfitted its concierges with Apple's popular tablet. Such features are commonplace at hotels everywhere from San Diego to Las Vegas to Paris—travel website HotelChatter.com has a whole section dedicated to "iPad hotels."
We reached out to a slew of other industry leaders to ask whether they planned exposure-seeking partnerships of their own. HP, which will release its TouchPad on Friday, declined to comment. RIM said they'd have to check whether there were any plans or partnerships that might feature the BlackBerry PlayBook at hotels, airports, or on airlines—they didn't get back by press time. And Motorola, whose Xoom tablet was seen as a strong competitor to the iPad, did not respond to requests for comment.
The infiltration of various tech brands in these types of deals is a strong indicator of the tablet market as a whole. You don't need to look at market share reports or consumer surveys to discover who's leading in the space. Just go to your hotel or catch a flight. Industry newcomers such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Chromebook, and others will need to strike partnerships and spend millions of dollars in marketing to get the same kind of exposure as Apple.
But how can they ever hope to take off when Apple doesn't need to promote itself in order to receive promotion? They're all stuck on the runway, while Apple is skyrocketing in sales, sailing through the air, ordering another round of daquiris and, yes, loving a fresh pillow and hot towel, thank you!
[Homepage image: Getty Images; top image: Flickr user relaxa hotels]