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Mobile devices are turning everyone into Carmen Sandiego

By Owen Williams / January 29, 2014


Mobile devices are turning everyone into Carmen Sandiego

The hospitality and tourism industry has been changing rapidly ever since the birth of the first airline app. Between flights, hotels, rental cars, restaurants and entertainment venues, mobile reservation services have made it easier for adventurers to book accommodations and activities on the fly with a few swipes of their finger. And now that Google Maps has added reservation reminders to its iOS and Android app, explorers will find it even easier to manage their itineraries all over the world. If the Internet crippled the travel agencies mobile devices are destined to finish them off once and for all.

You’ve got the whole world in your hands

It’s incredible to think of how much collaboration is required for this modern form of trip planning to work. For example, Google Maps must be able to talk to reservation systems at hotels and airlines in order to make those bookings pop up as you browse the virtual terrain. Although it may take some work on an airline, hotel, concert venue or restaurant’s end to fully integrate with apps like Google Maps, businesses are rewarded with many more would-be travelers.

Other types of accommodations are also booming on the mobile model. Airbnb, a website that allows anyone to rent their spare room (or whole house) to web-savvy voyagers all over the globe, offers an app that shows accommodations available in the user’s vicinity. The app makes it easy for locals to list their dwellings online and for visitors to rent them. It also gives tourists the advantage of having a contact person from the area, in case they have any questions about where to eat or what neighborhoods to avoid. The fact that Airbnb’s user base has been growing like gang busters since it launched in August of 2008 — with the exception of a little setback in NYC — bodes well for this booming industry.

Better bookings and beyond

Mobile isn’t just improving the hospitality industry by simplifying the reservation process. It’s also making it easier for travelers to venture into unfamiliar territory. Companies like STQRY allow visitors to get more information about their surroundings simply by scanning QR codes with their smartphone or tablet.

For example, the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand uses STQRY to provide patrons with more information than they could possibly fit on a placard outside of a cage. In addition to expanding their customer’s knowledge of exhibits, STQRY also enhances the zoo’s understanding of their customers. The STQRY app gives owners and managers a clear picture of which attractions are gaining the most interest, while allowing them to quickly change the display information through an easy-to-use interface — reducing the cost and waste of reprinting signs and brochures.

Competitors like Proxima are developing solutions that allow visitors to take advantage of iBeacons, which can detect visitors nearby and send them relevant content about what they’re looking at. For example, a visitor to an art gallery can see detailed information about art pieces on their phone without having to scan a QR code, just by installing the gallery’s mobile app.

Tourists can also get expert local advice on their mobile devices. Applications like Foursquare and Highlight make it fun and easy to find the best places to visit in town based on information other visitors have shared. Other apps like Lime&Tonic and Jelly use crowdsourcing to make it easier to ask a wider audience about what to do or where to eat in an area.

Some businesses are even trying to devise mobile solutions to things that most people don’t consider a problem. Y!kes, an emerging app for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows devices, allows customers to check-in to their accommodations, enter their room and even select their floor in the elevator, all with their phone.

Theme parks are using similar techniques to replace traditional means of organization. Disney World has already released apps that allow visitors to plan their entire trip, manage tickets and access theme park maps. Now with MyMagic+, Disney is allowing visitors to sync their plans and tickets with an electronic armband that provides access to their hotel room, park rides, restaurants and other park attractions.

Getting mobile with mobile

Transportation is also seeing a revolution led by smartphones and tablets. Services like Uber and Lyft allow visitors to order a ride without making a call or having to know their actual current location. Cab companies are finding it extremely hard to compete with these services, because consumers can get price quotes before they even order the cab.

Other apps like Citi Bike are making alternative modes of transport accessible to visitors. With the City Bike app, users can find nearby bike stations, plan routes and discover new restaurants and attractions in the vicinity with their mobile device. It’s a cheaper and healthier alternative to relying on cabs to travel from point A to point B.

Mobile phones are giving travelers unprecedented power and flexibility to make informed decisions about where they are visiting and get helpful information about an area. For example, Roadtrippers allows visitors to see almost every place of interest in the vicinity of the roads they are traveling along and add them to an itinerary of places they plan to visit along the way.

Giving the power to the traveler

Hotels, transportation and other attractions need to think of new ways to delight visitors. Providing consumers with frictionless experiences makes them more likely to recommend your service to friends and other travelers online. If there’s one thing hotel, restaurant and tourism experts have come to realize, it’s the power of peer review sites.

The hospitality industry is experiencing a big shift, led by services and devices that allow visitors to make faster decisions about their arrangements. All businesses should strive to build mobile experiences that are capable of keeping up with the wandering eyes and shortened attention spans of the modern world traveler. At the very least, hotels, restaurants, airlines, transportation services and entertainment venues need to make sure their establishment pops up on Google Maps — along with a rave review or two.

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