Do you know where you have been in the last two days? Most probably your phone does. Recent happenings on ‘Location-gate’ have raised lots of questions related to privacy violations due to storage of user’s location on mobile. Apple has clarified in its FAQ that they are only storing Wi-Fi access point data and creating a crowd-sourced location database to pinpoint a user faster using GPS, WPS and other types of positioning data. However the aspect around usage of this data creates numerous opportunities for all businesses and travel in particular.
Today travel is still grappling with how to effectively leverage mobile for their business while the writing on the wall is clear i.e. Mobile is the next computing platform. The puzzle gets even more complicated with fragmentation of platforms, narrow views around replicating existing desktop computing applications onto the mobile and adding newer innovations to the mix like augmented reality, QR codes, NFC, etc. The problem statement itself is tiered and so should be the solution approach. By taking different perspectives to the problem, we can peel off each layer of this opportunity onion (not problem).
The first perspective has to be the life cycle view of things i.e. to catch, connect, close and continue. Each stage requires a different level/type of interaction using mobile devices. We are tuned to seeing technology playing a role in silos within the trip life cycle evident from the way desktop/web applications were previously built. But today there is a paradigm shift in the way end consumers have become ‘always available’ so they can be engaged at every step of the life cycle. Let us take QR codes for example (Basic primer on QR codes – They are 2 dimensional bar codes with special features like more storage and hyperlink triggers. They can be read by a user’s smart phone using a free app and mobile camera). Imagine you are on a trip, and while flying you find the menu encoded in a QR code pasted on the meal tray in front of your seat by using your mobile device. When you reach your destination you use the QR code printed on your e-ticket printout to get discount coupon for car rental; you find another QR code on the dashboard of the rented car in the deep linked video that explains the functioning of this particular car including data like car tyre pressure values; the channel guide is in the form of a QR code on the LCD in your hotel room; discount for the next rental is printed as a QR code in your car rental return receipt. While waiting to catch your return flight you found a QR code in the check-in queue to register for the frequent flier program and by the time you turn up at the check-in desk, the agent informs you that you have been upgraded. Such is the power of mobile technologies; now imagine combining it with location.
This brings us to the second perspective of marrying location with other ‘context awareness’ data. By context awareness we are really talking about traveler’s interests, preferences; trip context like business or leisure, romantic or adventure; stage of the trip like planning, shopping, at airport, during check-in; time of the day/calendar month and others. Applying context awareness data on top of the location information can generate new use cases for travel businesses to exploit. Merging destination information into surface table technology can help inspire shoppers at airports/waiting lounges. Devices with accelerometers and built-in gyro can replicate virtual gaming experience similar to a Wii remote for a passenger with time to kill during airport layover period. Secure meal vouchers on NFC enabled devices can be provided to passengers checking in/transferring on to a delayed flight. Just pointing at a feature using augmented reality can bring back history/details of that destination and many other similar ways to enhance the experience. At the end of the day, travel is about selling experience and now with powerful mobile devices that experience can be uninterrupted and at your customer’s fingertips.
I am speaking on this topic at Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2011 (Business Design Center, London – Main Auditorium on 10th May 3:30 PM BST).
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