Last fall, Rosenbluth International opened a state-of-the-art, interactive, travel-tech laboratory on the fifth floor of its Philadelphia headquarters. Its mission: to discover the future. Called the Continuum, it melds Epcot Center aesthetics with a focus group mentality: you walk through a simulation of the phases of a business trip and punch your thoughts into a personal communications device. The data collected from each room will help design Rosenbluth's "integrated products" in the future.
Diane Peters, a longtime Rosenbluth employee and now a consultant, says the vision for the project grew as the company invited in partners like Visa, Continental Airlines, and AT&T to design a virtual business trip of the future, from home office to airport to hotel to conference room.
What's the payoff? It's more than a showcase, Peters insists. It's about capturing client data and using it to shape the experiments on display. "Mostly it's about what clients would like to see, either from the company or the industry," she says. "Continental, British Air, United — everyone submitted product-specific questions. Then Rosenbluth added 'blue sky' questions on top of that: If you could have anything from the airline industry what would you want?"
The tour starts in a comfortable product presentation room, with a point-and-click video program that shows off Rosenbluth technology. Using client (or potential client) data, an electronic tote board tallies up how much the viewer could be saving on travel expenses by going with a particular Rosenbluth-created strategy or product.
Then it's time to take your trip. In a "home office of the future" developed by AT&T, an interactive TV/phone conversation sparks a need to fly to San Francisco; travel reservations are then handled online, via television. In the next room you find a simulated airport, where E-ticket machines spit out your round-trip passes. Then you come to seats on a cut-away section of a British Airways plane; a Hertz rental car simulator equipped with a "never lost" electronic mapping system; the hotel room of the future as imagined by Wyndham; and finally a conference room equipped with a video-phone product called "Pro Share." (This part, says Peters, "isn't just for show"; Rosenbluth uses it for meetings with leaders in its foreign offices.)
The key to all this, as Peters and the presentation make clear, is product integration. "The travel information generated during a business trip is used to solidify future relationships with suppliers, as well as to fine-tune corporate guidelines," she says. And the information generated by visiting clients will determine which ideas become real.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.