Best New Business Travel Technology
For road warriors, the “advancement” of being able to check in for a flight and print a boarding pass online is so yesterday. However, the following 11 innovations may just help business travel become easier and smoother—a prospect that makes all of us sit up and take notice.
1. Online Hotel Check-in
Imagine being able to choose your hotel room (quiet, away from the elevator) as you do your airline seat (aisle, maybe emergency-exit row for more legroom). Well, this isn’t just a dream—it’s already a reality at some hotel properties. This year, for example, Homewood Suites—part of the Hilton chain, with 194 properties nationwide—began letting any guest who fills out an online profile not only check in online ahead of her arrival, but also choose her room. Previously, this feature was offered to Hilton affinity club members only. On the Homewood Suites site, guests can view hotel floor plans and room availability. Hyatt hotels will debut a similar Web-based check-in and room-selection service later in 2008.
2. Business Travel that Combines Commercial Flying with Private Jets
Research shows that 70 percent of U.S. travel takes place at only 30 airports, leaving business travelers few options if there aren’t convenient flights available from those airports or if weather delays bring travel to a halt. Enter JetCombo.com, a booking service that launched in early 2008 to mine flight and airport availability worldwide for private and commercial jet service. This option gives business travelers access to 18,315 underused airports in this country alone. For example, a traveler who needs to get from Toulouse, France, to Atlanta, Georgia, could save $1,500 and more than two hours of travel time by reserving flights through JetCombo, which would take him on a private plane from Toulouse to Barcelona or Madrid, then a nonstop commercial flight to Atlanta.
3. Your Cell Phone Multitasks as a Projector
Layovers and flight delays are par for the course when you travel all the time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when you got stuck during a layover with your colleagues and a client, you could just have your meeting in the airport food court, PowerPoint presentation and all? And what if you didn’t even need a laptop to get your presentation off the ground and projected onto the wall? This summer, 3M will bring handheld projection technology to the masses, when its mobile projector is incorporated directly into cell phones, digital cameras and standalone devices. These devices will have the ability to project a four-foot-by-four-foot image from the hardware’s memory.
4. More Flights with more Email Services
The ability to check email at 10,000 feet may no longer be the luxury of those on high-end international flights. Certain airlines are testing FCC waters with modified versions of in-flight connectivity. Late last year, JetBlue began using its LiveTV system to allow passengers to use BlackBerrys and laptops to send email and instant messages with its new “BetaBlue” wireless-enabled Airbus 320. Southwest is also talking about bringing this service to passengers on a trial basis this summer, and Continental Airlines announced in February that it will begin offering email services on all of its 225 planes flying domestic routes, starting in 2009.
5. Boutique Hotels at Motel Prices
Hotels with easy access to airports have always been important to business travelers. Starting next year, you’ll find boutique-quality amenities for a lot less cash at some properties. For example, E-Suites Hotels in Tampa, Jacksonville, Raleigh-Durham and Phoenix will offer an average daily room rate of $140–160. Despite this eminently reasonable price, each suite will be tech-centric, featuring a large, custom-built ergonomic workstation with built-in network ports, analog modem jacks and multiple power outlets. There will also be plenty of plugs for recharging handheld and other portable devices, plus HDTV in each room. Conference facilities will be equally technologically forward. The first property opens in early 2009.
6. Pay Cabbies with a Pass
Travelers have always been able to swipe their payments at private car services. In 2008, 5,000 cabs in New York and 1,600 cabs in Philadelphia, working with Verifone Transportation Systems, will have this same credit-card convenience, but with a twist: Many of these cabs have “Pay Pass” capabilities. If you have a Pay Pass–enabled credit card (it uses radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology), you just have to wave your card in front of the console to pay. Before the transaction is over, the system even offers various tip percentage options to eliminate the pesky task of having to figure the gratuity in your head. Expect to be able to pay cab fare by credit card in Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas, too, by the end of 2008.
7. Reap the Rewards of Zipcar
As of March 2008, travelers staying at AKA extended-stay properties get a complimentary one-year membership to Zipcar, a car-sharing company. This enables travelers in more than 50 U.S. cities, as well as Vancouver and London, to receive unlimited access to a car for as little as an hour at a time, without having to deal with a traditional rental-car company.
8. Boost Those Low Cell-Phone Bars
While most urban areas have consistently good cell-phone reception, there are still pockets of places where you find yourself saying, “Can you hear me now?” to silence on the line. That’s where cell-phone repeaters, or signal boosters, come in handy. These devices amplify a cell-phone signal in places where you’re lucky to get one bar. Created in Korea for the consumer market, they started showing up stateside in 2007. Expect them to become more widely available throughout 2008, says Sina Khanifar, co-owner of RepeaterStore.com in Laguna Hills, Calif. You can get a repeater with a direct connection (a cable physically connects to the cellular device) or a wireless connection (the device is mounted in your car, then the signal is rebroadcast). Typical kits cost less than $200.
9. Better-Designed Airplanes
Scott McCartney, travel editor at the Wall Street Journal, recently asserted that “airlines are now realizing that environmental issues, more than economic slowdowns or airspace congestion, may be the greatest threat to the future growth of air travel.” The newest kid on the tarmac to help solve this problem is the Boeing 787, which will use 20 percent less fuel yet travel at speeds similar to today’s fastest wide-bodied aircraft. Another improvement in efficiency: the way the airplane is designed and built. By manufacturing a one-piece fuselage section, Boeing has eliminated 1,500 aluminum sheets and 40,000–50,000 fasteners. Expect to see the 787 on runways in early 2009.
10. Increased Availability of Tableside Credit-Card Processing
One of the best ways to avoid credit-card theft when dining out is never to let your piece of plastic leave your sight. In Europe, where waiters bring you a handheld device to pay for your meal right at your seat, that’s a snap.Thankfully, tableside credit-card payments should finally arrive in the States in the near future—in fact, this technological advancement was one of Hotels magazine’s trend predictions for 2008. The only downside to tableside credit-card payment? You have to decide on your waiter’s tip on the spot. “In Europe, the tip is [usually] included,” says Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman of travel, hospitality and leisure for Deloitte, who has dined in a few progressiveNew York City restaurants with this service. “In the U.S., it’s a little weird, because the server is there waiting while you write the tip down.”
11. The Growth of Green Hotels
One of the newest hotels to go all green is the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, N.C., which opened in late 2007. It is Platinum LEED-certified because it offers a whole-building approach to sustainability through site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. In real terms, this means that, among other things, the hotel uses a third less energy than a conventional hotel by employing ultra-efficient materials and solar energy to heat water, plus recycled materials, such as the steel beams, sheetrock and asphalt. Look for new properties elsewhere to start employing similar green practices. For a list of hotels that are already going green, visit environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com, which qualifies properties using a rating system of one–seven green trees (the site gives the Proximity three green trees).
LEAH INGRAM is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania.