Is there an app for that?
We were recently asked what we think the next "big thing" will be in corporate travel management. We believe the next big thing among business travelers will actually be quite small. In fact, they keep getting smaller and faster every time we upgrade.
Smartphones are quickly outpacing laptop sales and the time is upon us when road warriors are taking to the skies with only smartphones and touchpads and no longer lugging around a traditional laptop. If you are a reader of my weekly newsletter, you know that even this old dog recently ditched his Dell and made the leap to a touchpad. While we had a rocky start, I am starting to see what all the fuss was about.
I discovered there are numerous "apps" available to help make traveling easier. Many of these apps are even free, including GoHow Airport which has partnerships with three airports so far-Denver, Boston and Minneapolis-to provide parking lot status, road conditions, and security wait times in addition to terminal maps and other helpful information.
Other free apps that can help travelers find the nearest coffee shop or newsstand when a flight is delayed and otherwise get around unfamiliar airports include GateGuru and Flysmart. There is also an app available from the TSA that allows travelers to report actual security wait times and find out what can and cannot be taken through security.
Some apps include information on more airports that others. Some have larger maps that are easier to read. Some require a wi-fi connection; some do not. Of course, paid apps are a dime a dozen as well, and none cost more than a few bucks. What the travel app world lacks in consistency it makes up for in options.
Travelers can have boarding passes, itineraries, schedule adjustments, maps, and flight alerts sent electronically right to their smartphones. But what about apps that can help travelers when they are in a bind?
Can travelers find alternative flights if their travel is disrupted or plans change? Sure there's an app or mobile site travelers can get to. Can they buy a new ticket using their mobile touchscreen? Sure they can!
But, will they be offered alternative flights based on your preferred suppliers and contract rates? Will the transaction be captured for your management reporting? Will any part of their mobile experience be customized for adherence to your travel program policies and procedures? Who knows?
With the increasing availability of independent travel apps, our industry needs more mobile-ready technology options that will meet traveler needs while maintaining the policy compliance, reporting integrity, and security features of a managed travel product.
Soon, having a corporate online booking tool that is not mobile-compliant will simply not be enough to satisfy corporate travelers and corporate travel managers. While some options do exist today, current choices are limited and can be cost prohibitive for smaller travel programs.
As professionals in the managed travel space, it is clear to us that keeping up with the conveniences travelers' want, but deploying and maintaining those features in a secured, privacy-protecting, policy-controlled way, is the next big challenge facing how we interact with our travelers.
In consumer trends, our industry simply has to pick up the pace. Do you remember life before email and electronic ticketing? We used to rely on the US Post Office to mail tickets to travelers, and travelers' expectations of a reasonable response time were 3-5 days.
Today, a traveler's expectation of a reasonable wait time for information is hovering around a nanosecond-the time it takes to touch the screen on their latest gadget. There is no excuse for not keeping up.
Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments at Robert@polkmajestic.com and invites you to stay informed by subscribing to his weekly travel industry newsletter at www.polkmajestic.com.