By DONNA BALANCIA
Technology offers a range of options for travelers in booking and planning vacations and business trips. That means hotels have to plan to accommodate a range of tech-savvy customers, many of whom are still getting acquainted with new ways to experience travel.
Marriott was way ahead of the game, for instance, when it upgraded its information systems to TV-sized touchscreens in the lobby for visitors’ needs. While more of a novelty only 10 years ago, now touchscreen technology is a big factor in the hotel experience and visitor-planning experience.
The hospitality industry is caught in transition, trying to stay on the cutting edge while still accommodating a solid percentage of guests who don’t want to use technology. Today, there are high-tech, low-tech and no-tech options useful for making travel plans and enjoying all a destination has to offer once on the ground.
Tech-confident travelers can book completely online without ever speaking to an agent. In addition to finding a hotel on the web, aggregators like Booking.com and Hotels.com also offer choices in rental cars and tickets to events.
There’s also the hybrid option, where the traveler can book online and confirm with a human at the hotel, and then there’s the good, old-fashioned way of booking straight with the hotel or through a trusted travel agent. With regard to the old-fashioned way, one positive is that a hotelier or travel agent can add a human touch and can be of assistance if a refund is needed or cancellation occurs.
Digital mapping apps
Many travelers applaud that old-style maps have gone away. The cumbersome and large, poster-sized papers that block the view when driving were the bane of travel. Those in California remember Thomas Guides, books that would leave the traveler rifling through pages connecting the roadways all the while seeking addresses while driving.
Today, with GPS navigation embedded in phones and in apps, it’s easy to find any destination with the punch of a button and even have a voice talk you through your directions. Waze, Google Maps and MapQuest lead the way. For Android phones, there’s BackCountry Navigator.
And if there’s a desire not to drive, the rideshare apps Lyft and Uber are options. All in the palm of a hand.
Many people can’t be without their communication system for any length of time — even in the air on a flight — so on-board WiFi has become a priority. United, American, Jet Blue and Delta are not alone in offering on-board WiFi. Quatar Airways, SAS, Thai Airways, WestJet and even Mango Air connect the passenger.
The other airlines are catching up in the effort to offer WiFi to travelers on the plane. It’s not available on all flights, and there’s an upcharge, but it’s a winner for many who don’t want to disconnect.
Interactive map and coupon apps
When the traveler gets to the destination, interactive apps with local attractions, hotels and transportation are plentiful. Many destination marketing organizations create their own localized apps, so travelers can consult with a concierge when they arrive at the hotel.
But nationally, Groupon Getaways and TripAlertz can help cut costs. The coupon apps get the travelers in the door and give them a little discount on everything from meals to souvenirs.
When traveling out of country, it’s always handy to know a phrase or two in the host country language. There are translation apps like iStone and Viator that help travelers become more acquainted with the local language.
Most of these language apps are free, and then there’s always the good ol’ standby: Freetranslation.com
When in doubt about a place, seek out social media apps like Twitter and Facebook. While it may not be the first choice to use, Twitter often sets the tone in a few words or less about a destination, while Facebook can show the photographs and customer comments that give even more information.
Of course, when in doubt, also on that handheld device, there still is the telephone. And with a little hope, there will be a human on the other end.