Love it or hate it, mobile is already transforming travel. Just over 74% of the Earth’s population subscribes to wireless services, according to a recent report from Amadeus, and 16% of travelers are already using smartphones to book their trips.
But the travel part of travel, the getting from here to there and back again, is only part of the travel experience. Booking travel and reporting expenses loom large for travel managers and business travel sellers, but actual travelers are paying more attention to other mobile applications.
“We see a lot of cool apps that travelers are using that make their experience easier,” Kerin McKinnon, executive vice president of global business development at Atlas Travel International, Milford, Mass., told Travel Market Report.
“Location - finding your way, finding things you need on the road - is probably the standout need. Google Maps is probably the most popular out there, but it’s not the only one. Some of these apps are exciting to me as a business traveler.”
A quick selection of McKinnon's current favorite apps for business travelers follows.
WifiFinder (for Android and iPhone) may provide the most complete collection of wi-fi hotspots worldwide. McKinnon and other travelers use it to find the nearest wi-fi hotspot so they can avoid paying exorbitant international phone roaming charges.
GoogleSMS (for any text-enabled mobile phone) lets travelers use Google’s search on mobile phones via SMS text message. Just text to 46645 and Google will text the answer back. Many Google services are available as apps.
TripCase (Android, Blackberry, iPhone) and GateGuru (Android, iPhone) provide alerts for travel delays, gate changes, and other last minute problems.
SitorSquat (iPhone) finds the nearest public restroom.
OpenTable (web-based) and Yelp (Android, Blackberry, iPhone) have thousands of restaurant reviews and reservations for cities worldwide.
Location, location, location
Miriam Moscovici, director of strategic marketing and technology planning with BCD Travel, has her own favorite apps. Like McKinnon, she’s big on location-based apps.
“I’ve been calling them geo-scary apps, using these little computers we call phones to access information about your location to do something useful. We are going to be seeing a lot of traveler safety and security types of advances as sophistication around geo-location grows, but you can already do amazingly practical things.”
Here are two of Moscovici's current faves. As with other geo-location apps, if you turn your phone's geo-location function off, these apps won't t work because they won’t know where you are.
TaskAve (iPhone) lets you set up a to-do list and associate the list with a particular location. When the phone gets near the pre-set location, you get a reminder of the task. It’s an errand-assister today, Moscovici said, but easy for travel managers to set up to encourage travelers to use preferred vendors and local suppliers that have already been vetted by other travelers.
Glympse (Android, Blackberry, iPhone, WinPhone 7) shares your location using a web-based map with anyone you choose. In the old days — last year — you had to text “@ joes pub” to colleagues. With Glympse, you send a map that shows the precise location of Joe’s Pub and the recipient’s location. No more questions about how to get from there to here.
Leisure and biz travel use
The one thing all these apps have in common is that they got their start in consumer travel. In a recent survey by digital content specialist Frommer’s Unlimited, 52% of respondents said they use their mobile devices to access travel content. That’s up from 27% in 2010.
App providers know the world is rushing their way and staged a special mobile travel showcase at the recent U.S. Travel Association’s Pow-Wow trade show in San Francisco. The audience: leisure travel agents and tour operators from around the world. The hope: Travel sellers point their clients to specific apps along with specific destinations.
Here are two apps that could help business travelers, too.
SugarSync (any mobile device with web access) combines file back-up, data synch, and file sharing in a single app. It lets you access and use files you’ve synched from any phone, tablet or other mobile device with web access and automatically downloads changes to other devices and computers you select. No more dragging and dropping to update remote computers or wondering which version is most current—they’re all up to date.
Inrix Traffic (any mobile device with web access) uses crowd-sourced information and road sensor data to show real-time traffic conditions on 160,000 miles of roads in the U.S. and Canada and predict conditions one hour into the future. It can’t cut through congestion, but it can show alternate routes that will get you there faster.