Beacons have the potential to completely automate our lives. These tiny transmitters will seamlessly give companies information about us that help them provide better service; puppeteer real-time opportunities for us to save or enjoy; and simplify the exchange of funds. They will remove many of the arduous steps we go through to get something done today. Steps which are so engrained into our psyches that we don’t yet even realize how much they are interrupting our lives. Traveling in particular is full of millions of annoyances that beacons, sensors, and other advances in mobile tech will soon help to squash. Just imagine a 36-hour business trip:
Extremely frustrated by how slow people drive when it starts to sprinkle (it’s not even raining very hard) you pull into the airport parking lot an hour after you planned to, just as the gate is about to close. You get an alert on your phone from the airline acknowledging that you’ve arrived (at least they know you’re there), which is followed up with details on the next available flight. You confirm the suggested rebooking and instantly get your mobile-ticket. As you start walking toward the terminal, a message from the parking lot has mapped out your exact parking space so you can avoid the almost guaranteed aimless search when you return.
You approach security and an Transportation Security Administration official glances down at her iPad and acknowledges your hard-earned status to skip the “normal” line, no questions asked. You have time to kill before your rescheduled flight and a welcome message from a sports bar inviting you in for half-priced beer. A reminder from the airline tells you that priority boarding is starting soon, waking you from a state of serious game watching you’ve fallen into. You make the universal “ready for my check” gesture at the waitress and a few seconds later, you get the bill on your phone. After confirming the discount has already been applied, you add a tip, confirm your credit card and payment, and walk out.
While en route to the gate you get a message from the newsstand reminding you that you should pick-up a pair of headphones in response to your distressed tweet about leaving them at home this morning. You enter the store; get directed to the exact location on the shelf where the headphones live (between the peanuts and weekly magazines), scan the barcode via an app, select your payment method, and once again leave at your own pace. No lines.
You can’t help but notice the crowd of impatient travelers that have gathered around your gate – waiting like irritated sheep for their boarding zone to be called. The headphone-buying detour made you miss your announcement, but a push alert tells you that you are welcome to board. Once in your seat, the flight attendant, having access to travelers’ profile information and preferences, brings you your preferred beverage – unprompted.
You touch down at 10 p.m. As you pass through the main terminal, your favorite car service welcomes you to the city and asks if you want a driver to take you to the hotel saved in your trip management app (note: you did not have to think about reserving a car in advance). You approve, accept the charge, and head directly to the exact door where the driver is waiting for you.
You finally arrive at your hotel exhausted and hungry. Upon walking through the door you receive a message that you are automatically checked in and can head straight to your room (your smartphone is your key). Recognizing that you were in flight during dinner, the hotel automatically pushes the in-room dining menu to your phone as you wait for the elevator. You make your selection on the ride up and have ordered before you even reach your door.
After you finish your meetings the following afternoon and head back to the hotel, you get a special discount to hit the on-premises golf-course before dinner. Too good to pass up, you confirm your spontaneous tee-time with one tap. Following your solo game, you head to your room to shower before your business dinner and remember that you don’t have any post-meal plans. You check the recommendations the hotel has sent you based on your interests. A jazz trio playing at a wine bar down the street? Sold. You reserve your ticket with one swipe and pick it up at the concierge on your way out.
The next morning you wake up, verify the details of your ride, and head to the airport. And it all begins again.
The travel industry should (and is starting to) take step towards providing messages or experiences that surprise and delight consumers while being proactive in meeting anticipated needs. While more advanced actions like preemptive rebooking are more than a year away, travel players are starting to experiment with the technology.
Low-cost airline easyJet is currently testing beacon functionality at its three busiest European airports. It has placed devices around the airport to push messages at “critical points in the airport journey.” Similarly, The James Hotels earlier this summer began using beacons to provide a “concierge-like experience” to guests, providing perks and offers tailored to specific locations.
The beacons and other sensors that will be hidden on hotel doorways, elevators, airport gates, security lines, parking lots, restaurants, and shops will trigger messages and offers, solve problems, disseminate critical information, and streamline the entire process. Every aspect of the traveler’s journey will benefit from automating procedures, personalizing every experience and predicting issues – and beacons and mobile are set to fuel this change.
Puneet Mehta is cofounder and CEO of MobileROI.
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