I want a “Mobile Guardian Angel”…

Innovations in mobile and cloud computing have revolutionized the lives of business travelers.  Consumer-targeted mobile travel apps now flood the marketplace “empowering individuals” to easily view and manage their itineraries check-in for flights, look-up flight status/schedules and so much more.  I use the term “empowering individuals” because all of this fantastic technology is primarily targeting individual travelers, leisure and business, to enable them to fend for themselves when on the go.

Although it is a great thing for me to have a handy-dandy “McGyver-Like” travel app that allows me to creatively deal with whatever evil travel event I may encounter, like a canceled flight (oh dear!), a misconnection (oh no!) or a sold out hotel (eeek!).   Being a business traveler means that I am traveling on behalf of my company or organization and often utilize a travel agency or management firm to handle my travel arrangements.  My company has a duty of care responsibility to ensure that my travels are safe and efficient. Furthermore, my travel agency is paid a fee by my organization to ensure that I get to and from my destination efficiently and within the policies that have been established by my company.

That said, it is a lot of work and responsibility for me to be my own “McGyver” on the road.  Not only do I have to execute my business objectives for the trip, but once I receive my policy-compliant travel itinerary and walk out the door to catch my flight, I am now on my own in that big scary world of airports, public parking, bad weather, clue-less cab drivers, sold-out hotels and lost baggage.  I am away from the protective umbrella of my company and cut-off from my travel agent, both of whom have a vested interest in my well-being.  Thank goodness I have my smartphone with a suite of mobile travel apps that can alert me to a delayed flight, summon a taxi cab or book a hotel room on the go.  That does make the travails of travel much easier for “ME” to cope with, but when I am out there, my company isn’t able to fully extend the duty of care that they need to.  Also, my agency is often blind to my situations, as I am using mobile tools being provided by numerous mobile vendors, airlines or hotel chains.  My travel agency is cut off and disintermediated by many vendors and suppliers who are not as vested in me as my company and travel agent are.

What I need is a Mobile Guardian Angel…

I would like to see apps that keep me connected to my company and/or travel agency.  These are entities that are vested in me and my travel well-being.  They have an obligation to me as an employee, and as a vendor to my company, to provide a duty or level of care when I travel.  Such apps should enable communication between my travel agency and myself, as well as enable the travel agency to monitor key elements of my trip so that they can act when necessary to ensure my safe travels.  Although it is great to have an alert pop- up to tell me my flight is delayed or canceled where I have to figure out what has to be done, I would prefer it if the message came from my agency that there was a delay and that they have re-booked me on an earlier flight or even secured me a hotel room, if necessary, that I know complies with my company policies.  That is service and a level of care that adds tremendous value to the travel agency offering.  Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of apps that are available for travelers are innovative and fantastic, but do require me to take action while on the go, when I am not aware of all of the options available to me.  I am a seasoned traveler and I do have my own bag of tricks when things go wrong on a trip, but in the end, a travel agency acting on my behalf, and that of my company, will have much broader capabilities of re-accommodating me and factoring in my company’s policies.  This type of service brings tremendous value to a business traveler at a time when travel is becoming more of a commodity.

Fortunately, various types of “guardian angel” mobile applications are starting to hit the marketplace.  Examples of purely connected self-service applications are being deployed by many of the leading corporate online booking tool providers. These tools provide travelers with a view of their itinerary, as well as limited booking and re-booking capabilities that keep the traveler connected with their company policy/programs and their travel agency for fulfillment.  This is great functionality that helps a business traveler stay connected to their company’s policy, and even enables them to rebook themselves through automated tools that takes advantage of their travel agency’s fulfillment and defined company policy.  These are great tools, but they are still self-service solutions that require the traveler to take action on their own behalf.

Even more interesting to me is a solution being introduced by FlightStats, Inc., a leading provider of flight alert and monitoring technology, which extends the travel agency connection beyond the point of sale and throughout the entire trip cycle.  Their solution, FlightStats Agent Advantage, really leverages flight monitoring and notification technology and merges to efficiently connect the traveler with all of the stakeholders in the trip process whether that is the TMC, corporate manager or even friends and family.

Using a sophisticated rules engine to notify the traveler, corporation or other stakeholder of events that impact the trip or triggering actionable alerts to the travel agency when they can truly intervene and assist the traveler.  Let’s say I’m on a plane from New York to Los Angeles with a connection in Dallas.  Without my knowledge, my connecting flight out of Dallas is cancelled due to a mechanical issue which will result in a long and inconvenient delay, causing me to perhaps miss a late afternoon meeting.  However, using a solution like Agent Advantage, my travel agency is aware of the cancellation before I even touch down in Dallas.  The agent has checked alternate schedules and re-booked me on an alternate flight just 10 minutes later than my original, and has contacted the airline to ensure there is no additional cost associated with the re-accommodation.  As soon as I touch down in Dallas, my phone alerts me to the cancellation event via SMS or e-mail, advising me of the cancellation and the re-accommodation, along with any special instructions.  Such a scenario saves me time and enables a potential negative situation to be overcome without any effort on my part.  This type of blending of technology and travel services creates tremendous value to the travel stakeholders in a variety of ways:

  • Travelers will have a pleasant and convenient travel experience through the enhanced connection and communication between the travel agency and themselves, friends/family and colleagues.
  • Corporations will have peace of mind that their travelers are being monitored, and that if there are any unfortunate delays or events that occur during the travel cycle, that they are aware of those situations and action can be taken when possible to minimize delays, ensure safe passage and avoidance of potential excessive transitional costs involved when a traveler “wings-it” by buying a new ticket or booking the first hotel they find in a crunch.
  • Travel Agencies can provide new and enhanced value to their travel services that extend beyond the point of sale, and gives them a connection throughout the entire travel cycle.

This is an exciting time in mobile technology and I believe that the next cool apps will be solutions that serve as my “guardian angel” – guiding me to and from my points of travel safely and efficiently.

What do you think?

~ Jim Hetzel

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