Thursday, July 30, 2009

How a Single Vacation Experience Can Impact Loyalty

I generally do not blog about my own personal travel experiences, but I felt compelled to do so after my family's recent trip to Hawaii. To validate that I am indeed a frequent traveler, I am currently a UA Global Services member, a SPG Platinum and a Marriott Silver Elite. I have made 11 trips to the Middle East in the last 12 months and traveled to Amsterdam, Berlin and Dublin on the way back from some of these business trips.

In order to use free tickets on UA for my family, we extended our stay a few days before and one day after. We exchanged our Marriott timeshare in Lake Tahoe for a timeshare on Kauai. We stayed at the Sheraton Kauai for three nights and the Kauai Marriott for one night.

When I checked-in at a separate line for SPG members at the Sheraton Kauai, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we had been upgraded to a corner suite which were three connecting rooms and three balconies. This is a picture from one of the balconies. This was a great start to our vacation and reinforced the Starwood brand.

Our Marriott Lake Tahoe timeshare is one of the most desirable timeshares on the market at the foot of Heavenly Ski resort overlooking Lake Tahoe. We were sold on the timeshare a few years back based on the superior level of the property and its value in exchange through Interval International. When we arrived at the Pono Kai we received no recognition (the property is managed by Blue Green) and though I had requested an ocean view, called two weeks prior to the property (on the advice of the property) to request it again, we were given a garden view. Overall the property was fine and we enjoyed our stay, but the lack of recognition and the lower quality of the property has made me question the value of our Lake Tahoe Marriott timeshare investment.

At the end of our trip we stayed at the Kauai Marriott. There was no special line for Elite member check-in. In addition, I had requested an upgrade and I was not aware that having done so, we would have to pay an additional $150 per room for the ocean view. An email came to me the day before checking in stating the $150 charge. I was disconnected during entire trip so I never saw this email. We were using points for the two rooms for a one night stay. When I asked to downgrade, I was told that no garden view rooms were available. We had to wait approximately 3 1/2 hours to check in and the room though newly renovated was only a partial ocean view and did not have any furniture on the patio to allow us to enjoy the expensive upgrade. The property is beautiful and the renovated room was very nice, but the lack of recognition and overall treatment has influenced my future travel booking behavior.

As a frequent unmanaged business traveler, I generally have complete choice on where I stay. I am currently working on two projects for the US Government which will involve lots of trips to the DC area over the next 2-3 years and I have consciously chosen to stay at Starwood properties as a direct result of my Kauai experiences. As a Global Services member, UA treats me great. The three nights in the luxury suite at the Sheraton Kauai has increased my loyalty to Starwood. Given the money we've invested in the timeshare and the number of nights I've stayed at Marriott this year, the lack of recognition and surprise charges dilutes any positive feeling I've had towards the brand. Overall it was a great vacation, but proved first hand how loyalty can be impacted by a single trip.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Dark Side of UGC - The Cleveland Video

We've all read about the value of user generated content (UGC) and viral marketing. Unfortunately the best intentions do not always produce the desired results. Positively Cleveland, a DMO that promotes the region created a "Hastily-Made Tourism Video Contest". The goal was simple, use UGC to promote the city. This video was "created" for the contest, but obviously was never selected. None the less the first version of this funny but disturbing video has attracted 1,206,632 views. The second version to the left has attracted 994,291 views. When searching Cleveland on YouTube this video comes up 1st!
The lesson here is an important one. Travel companies can try to use UGC to enhance their online offering, but beware as the Internet user population may take this opportunity to do exactly the opposite from your intended goal. The sad part of this video is that though it is obviously a farce, it does show our country's declining "rust belt" and the toll the Recession has taken on the area.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Augmented Reality to Enhance the Travel Experience

One of the future trends identified in the PhoCusWright mobile research was the use of mobile devices to augment reality. Layar a browser available on the Google Android platform has announced the opening of its API to a select group of developers. As mentioned in the TechCrunch article other AR browser players include:" Tonchidot’s Sekai Camera and Mobilizy’s Wiki Tude. Even IBM is playing around with mobile AR apps." The Layar video uses a real estate example, but the value to the traveler should be very obvious.
In recent speeches to airline and hotel executives I have been emphasizing how mobile is a new platform for developing appplications that never existed before. Developing AR browser based applications for travel is a great example of this opportunity. The ability for the traveler to view a real world structure and augment that with various types of data such as historical information, services (e.g. restaurant reviews) and special interest subjects (e.g. architectural design) are just a few examples on how AR browsing can enhance the travel experience.
The mobile platform is much more than a phone as it is truly a sensor of the physical world. Already it is common place for travelers to tweet, blog or upload pictures about their current destination. AR browsing takes this one step further by enhancing your surroundings with data that you find relevant.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Is the Finger Print Reader on the IPhone the Solution for M-commerce and Security?

Apple has filled patents for fingerprint recognition system for the iPhone. This may have major implications for m-commerce and security as well as mobile user interfaces. Fingerprint reader technology has long been used for computer security. The interesting thing about Apple's research is that involves the use of fingerprint patterns to actually identify distinct fingers. The idea is to match specific functions to specific fingers. This table shoes how an index finger press might perform on action (PLAY/STOP) while a middle finger press could fast forward.
Clearly fingerprint reading is coming to mobile phones. When implemented consumers could become comfortable with storing personal information on their mobile phone provided no one can access it due to the fingerprint lock. There has been a great deal of discussion on the concept of a portable profile that could be used across sites to provide more personalized interaction. Given the personal nature of the mobile device, fingerprint controls may provide the needed security to make a portable profile a reality. Travel apps could use specific fingers for targeted tasks such as purchase or rebook. Clearly fingerprintf identification and interaction is something to watch over the next few years.