Mobile applications can assist business travelers with
nearly every aspect of their trip once they're on the ground and, through other
applications on the back end of travel, buyers are finding ways to ensure these
helpful applications are not harming compliance.
Once the travel day arrives, travelers' mobile devices can
get them aboard a plane, procure transportation to their hotel, help them
navigate the city and its public transportation systems and book dinner
reservations for the evening. Hotels have lagged other travel vendor categories
in applications—and many of the large brands' applications largely are for
travelers to manage rewards and book stays—but a few, such as Omni Hotels,
allow travelers to check in remotely.
Individual hotels have worked with third-party developers to
present deeper mobile offerings. Texas' Westin Austin, for example, this summer
partnered with Los Angeles-based Runtriz for an application through which
guests can order food, request their car from the valet and schedule spa
Eventually, mobile devices could allow travelers to bypass
hotel check-in altogether. InterContinental Hotels Group in late September
announced that it is piloting technology that allows travelers to use mobile phones
as room keys.
IHG has begun testing the technology, called MobileKey, at
the Holiday Inn & Suites Chicago O'Hare Rosemont and the Holiday Inn
Express Houston Downtown. The properties are inviting travelers via e-mail to
receive secure links on mobile devices to encrypted tones that can open room
doors on arrival, bypassing the front desk when checking in.
"More of our guests, especially Gen-Y and business
travelers, are looking for simpler, more efficient ways to check in and get to
their rooms," IHG senior vice president of revenue and guest technology
Bryson Koehler said. "Due to the proliferation of mobile devices, a
MobileKey could be a great option."
Top applications for travelers on the road, said Travel
Technologies president Jon Farrier during a panel discussion on mobile
solutions at the National Business Travel Association's recent International
Convention & Exposition, include restaurant/dining applications Yelp and
Urbanspoon. Yelp maps nearby restaurants with user ratings, while Urbanspoon lets
travelers search a city for restaurants by cuisine type and price, even
featuring a slot-machine-style randomizer if they would like to leave their
dining experience to chance.
Another popular travel application is Taxi Magic, an
application that integrates with taxi dispatch systems. With it, travelers book
taxis from a mobile phone, track their arrival, charge rides to their corporate
cards and receive electronic receipts. Participating taxi suppliers include
cabs in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.
Michelle De Costa, global travel manager at technology and
marketing consulting firm Sapient, said her travelers use the Sapient-produced
application GoHow Airport, which helps them navigate the airport on their day
of travel. It launched for Denver International Airport and is spreading to
other airports, she said. "It does flight tracking, but it has other
features, like showing you airport dining options," she said. "If
your flight's delayed, it can tell you healthy food options around Gate 28, for
As with hotels, car rental vendor applications largely
center on finding locations and mobile booking. While such capabilities are
helpful to travelers, they can be a headache to travel buyers trying to
maintain a corporate policy.
"The challenge of mobile is that it decentralizes the
decision and purchasing process," said Tom Wilkinson, president of TRW
Travel & Expense Management in Pennington, N.J. "The more powerful
these tools are, the more likely it is users can make decisions out of a
managed environment and violate corporate policies that help the company
safeguard and keep in touch with travelers."
Mobile applications also are proliferating on the back end
of travel, boosting buyers' abilities to enforce policy. Expense management
supplier CyberShift is one of the granddaddies of that trend, having allowed
users to manage expense reports on a BlackBerry since 2007. Concur launched
Concur Mobile in 2009 and since has integrated several applications into its
platform, including Taxi Magic and the restaurant reservations application
"We're enhancing the level of information that's
available to the traveler while on the trip," said Mike Hilton, Concur's
executive vice president of worldwide marketing. "We're also looking at
the ability to share itineraries through sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and
Sapient's De Costa said her travelers use Concur's mobile
solution, and the new version seems to have worked out some of the kinks in the
first version. "It's great for calendaring and scheduling dining
reservations and taxi reservations," she said. "We provide a lot of
feedback to them. Being a technology company, we have no shortage of feedback."
TRW's Wilkinson said ultimately airlines, hotels and other
suppliers, rather than travel management companies or third parties, will
develop applications designed to directly help travel management, not just the
travel process. "For example, if you were checking into a flight or a
hotel, it would be great if a mobile message could be sent back to corporate,
showing the rate you paid versus the corporate rate," he said. "When
that becomes prevalent, buyers will be giving these tools to users to make life
This report originally
appeared in the Oct. 25, 2010, issue of Business Travel News.