The 1987 film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” tells the story of Neal Page (Steve Martin), an uptight advertising exec whose hour and 45-minute flight home to Chicago for Thanksgiving turns into an epic misadventure. We laugh as he endures, among other things, a downgrade from first class to steerage; a diverted, delayed, then cancelled flight; a pitiable motel room; an MIA rental car; an abortive train trip; the bus ride from hell; and all along the way, the world’s most annoying yet lovable travel companion, master shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (the late John Candy).
The story behind the story is that while the experiences of the characters portrayed by Martin and Candy exploit every comic situation, technology has done little in the intervening 20 years to make the basic travel pitfalls faced by our intrepid duo no less plausible today. If only Neal and Del could have had at their fingertips travel technology that would have enabled them to really manage their journey — not simply in searching and booking prior to their departure, but, most important, throughout the entire trip experience.
In fact, mobile technology is about to empower travelers to do just that.
That is the conclusion of some 2,700 travel professionals, thought leaders, and senior executives from travel companies who looked into our travel technology future recently and observed that the journey itself remains ripe for technological innovation. That finding was one of three key travel trends accelerated by the recession, according to the report titled “The Amateur-Expert Traveler,” released by my company, Amadeus. This innovation is already occurring, but widespread adoption of mobile technology to alter the travel experience has not yet occurred, either because it is too new, or because not enough travelers have figured out how to use mobile tech to manage their travel experience — or because free, high-speed Internet access at airports, and especially in the air, is not yet a reality.
The nexus between the mobile Internet and user-generated content is becoming increasingly important, according to Forrester Research’s Henry H. Harteveldt. “Travel is one of the businesses that lends itself to user-generated content and the sharing of ideas, opinions and suggestions….”
He noted that a big factor behind this increase will be the growth and evolution of mobile Internet devices that are geared more for data than voice. These will enable person-to-person or group messaging that might be written or voice, SMS text, or other data. “Along with this,” Harteveldt added, “will be the emergence of new types of Internet sites.”
“The Amateur-Expert Traveler” report points out that some of the most intriguing Apple iPhone apps combine mobile devices with user-generated travel content. For example, Roadtrippr is like a wiki of cool travel destinations. Users contribute information about attractions in their hometown and, in turn, use it as a resource when they are on the road. When used on an iPhone, the application is aware of the user’s location and tailors the content accordingly. Another popular GPS-powered iPhone travel app that depends on user-generated content is EveryTrail. In fact, developers like Tapulous are creating applications for mobile platforms (in this case, the iPhone) that let people buy additional content from within the app itself.
The mobile device of choice among travelers is becoming the smartphone. Earlier this Year BusinessWeek reported that sales of smartphones were set to surge. The only question now is how fast it is all happening.
Airline Futurist • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com