The Future of Business Travel

Imagine you’re flying to Johannesburg for a meeting. When you land, you stand in line for a cab outside of the airport. As you wait, software in your glasses whispers real-time translations of the announcements made in Afrikaans over the loud speaker.

Once you’re in the cab, you check into your hotel room on your smart phone, which will double as a digital room key. The window of the cab turns into an augmented reality screen, pointing out the building where your meeting will take place the next day as you drive by it.

It may sound like a scene straight out of the Jetson’s, but this is the near-future of business travel. Three years ago, Microsoft released this scene in their vision of the future of technology. Their predictions are right on target for what has happened since 2011 and where we’re headed in the next few years.

Mobile technology in particular is catalyzing this innovation. According to the Pew Internet Project, 58 percent of American adults have a cell phone, 32 percent have an e-reader and 42 percent own a tablet computer. The connected individual is interacting with their smart phone over 150 times day. And we’re so tethered to our phones that 44 percent have indicated that they sleep with their phone next to the bed because they don’t want to miss any calls, texts or other notifications during the night.

Mobile and other technologies are already transforming the way business people travel. Think about it: in 2006, not a single business traveler carried an iPhone, Android or tablet. And today, we’re seeing the following examples of innovation:

· Last year Delta equipped more than 19,000 flight attendants with handheld devices to streamline customers’ in-flight purchases

· Mobile point of sale (POS) systems where iPads become cash registers have already surpassed $2 Billion

· Travel bookings that take place on mobile devices are set to grow to 60 percent in 2014

· Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide made a splash earlier this year when they announced virtual room keys

· Marriott Hotels and Resorts added mobile check-in and checkout capabilities

· Evolve Controls has unveiled its Room Operations Center, which provide apps that are designed to deliver touch control of virtually every element in a hotel room, ranging from temperature and lighting to the operation of the draperies and beyond

· Yotel, located near Times Square, has deployed airport-style check-in kiosks, so guests only interact with a human if they really need to. Should they need to store luggage, a giant robotic arm called the Yobot serves as a bellhop

No doubt, the travel experience is changing, making us more efficient and productive in our businesses. Here’s what we can expect in the future:

· Facial recognition: If you travel to a particular hotel often, facial recognition software will be able to identify that you’re a VIP. That enables the front desk staff to greet you by name and pull up your room information before you even step up to the registration desk. Then, through a smart content delivery system based on facial recognition, the software can anonymously capture attributes about you, such as gender and age. Eventually, marketers will be able to deliver targeted advertisements to you based on this technology. Last year, NEC debuted their NeoFace Facial Recognition Suite, but we’ll see this type of technology become ubiquitous in the future.

· Desk-free computers: In the next several years, it’s likely that we’ll see monitors disappear, completely replaced by a projection on a wall or table. In the next three years, you could see them in your hotel or airport. Using the cloud, you can tap into any of your online accounts on these devices, virtually eliminating the need to charge your device on the floor of an airport gate or hotel lobby, as so many of us do. And mobile boarding passes will be downloaded with a simple hand gesture.

· Augmented reality: A number of augmented reality apps already exist that allow you to overlay a digital world on top of your smart phone or wearable device (such as Google Glass). Suddenly, you have a world of geo-location based data (hotels deals, restaurant ratings, GPS, etc.) at the blink of an eye. Apps like Wikitude and Word Lens exist now, but they will become mainstream over the next couple of years.

It’s mind-boggling to consider how much more efficient technology has made the travel experience. I remember the days before cell phones, laptops and Skype, where business trips meant that we disrupted the normal flow of business. Fifteen years ago, who would have thought that you could have a collaborative whiteboarding session with someone halfway around the world without even leaving your office? The rapid evolution of technology has brought with it two great gifts. The first is the ability to connect with our counterparts at all corners of the world. The second, and greatest gift, is the power it gives us to create. The possibilities are endless and that is a future I am excited to experience.

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