Hilton Guests Control Preferences with Smartphones

April 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As if we weren’t already using our smartphones for everything, including as an automated assistant and running our smart homes, Hilton is now offering a “smart room” for its hotels nationwide. This will provide their guests the ability to manage their preferences without putting down their beloved devices.

According to a story on TravelMarketReport.com, the hotel chain plans to make some of its rooms “mobile-centric” this year, allowing guests to change the thermostat, operate the light switches, and sync their streaming service to the room’s television through the Hilton Honors app. And making the hotel room feel more like home will be possible by uploading personal images to the room’s digital frames. Then, you can take photos of your loved ones with you without actually packing any photos in your suitcase.

“Hey Hilton”

Hilton guests will be able to select their rooms and open their doors with their smartphones.This move is the first in the hotel’s ultimate goal of providing guests the ability to use voice commands to control these features. If you already have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, you’re already familiar with how they work. A simple “Alexa” or “Okay Google” will let you activate one of its different commands, like turning on smart lights, changing the channel on your TV, or even ordering more coffee from Amazon Pantry.

Hilton is currently testing the system in one of their hotels, but said they plan to “scale rapidly” in the US this year.

Hilton expects to adapt the connected room based on the feedback it receives from its users. Hilton Honors app users already have the ability to check in, make their room selection, and open the door with a digital key, thus skipping any check-in lines if you’re at a conference. According to the company, four million keys have been downloaded since the program’s inception.

Marriott International is also vying for guests interested in utilizing mobile-centric amenities. It’s testing a voice-controlled shower and a yoga class video that can be viewed on the room’s full-length mirror.

Have you had a chance to use the new Hilton Honors app or smart room? Do you use a similar device at home? Will this make you more likely to stay at a Hilton? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Hilton Hotels (Used with permission)

Price of US Passports Rose at the Start of the Month

April 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As of April 2, the price you’ll pay to obtain a United States passport increased from $135 to $145, and passports for children 16 years of age and younger rose to $115 instead of $105.

According to the U.S. State Department, the price increase stemmed from a study done by the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs that determined that the $25 execution fee the U.S. Postal Service was charging was insufficient, and they weren’t making enough money. Thus the $10 increase.

The application fee for an adult passport book is $115 ($105 for children 16 or younger) remains unchanged. Those who apply for passport renewal also will not see an increase in their prices. Renewal fees are not determined by age and cost $110 per passport book.

Photo of a US passport on a map of the United States. Which is weird, since you don't need a passport to travel within the US.According to the Department of Consular Affairs, residents qualify for passport renewal if their original passport is undamaged when submitted, was issued when they were 16 years or older, was issued in the past 15 years, and was issued in your current name. (Name changes must be submitted by mail with an original or certified copy of a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order.)

For those looking for a less costly alternative and do not plan to fly internationally, a passport card can be obtained for $55 for residents over 16 and for $40 for residents under 16, with renewals only costing $30.

This card may only be used for land crossings and sea ports of entry, and is only accepted in lieu of a passport book for border crossings in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. In other words, you can’t fly into those countries with the passport card, you must have the full passport.

But the passport card may be a viable option for anyone on closed-loop cruises which starts and ends in the United States. That’s enough to let you get off the boat on a Caribbean cruise and get back into the country.

The passport card is also Real I.D. compliant and can be used for domestic travel. This is important, since some U.S. states still do not have Real I.D. compliant driver’s licenses and state ID cards, which means people in those states are not allowed to board an airplane.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Cytis (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0/Public Domain)

Supersonic Air Travel Just Took Another Big Step Toward Rebirth

March 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Boom Supersonic has partnered with Japan Airlines (JAL) and Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson to bring supersonic air travel back to the skies. Boom, headquartered in Denver, wants to revive the ultra-efficient method of flight and make it accessible to non-millionaires. With JAL’s 10-million-dollar investment and Branson’s commitment to purchase the first 10 jets and offer the assistance of Virgin Galactic with test flights, we could see the first supersonic jet in the air this year.

Boom Airlines new jet will bring supersonic air travel back to the skiesBy collaborating to build a swift, more efficient model that capitalizes on the previous successes of the Concorde (the groundbreaking airplane fleet that was operated by British Airways and Air France for 27 years), Boom hopes to overcome the exorbitant costs associated with this specialized form of commercial flight and improve the travelers’ experience.

According to Boom’s FAQ, the plane’s interior design will provide, among other amenities, a large window, immediate access to the aisle, and a personal overhead bin to each passenger.

Its prototype, the XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, is one-third the size of its eventual commercial offering, and flies at 1,300 mph, twice the speed of today’s jumbo jet. The full-size model is projected to fly at 1,700 mph. JAL’s investment will allow them to purchase 20 jets when testing is complete. Seating 55 passengers each, they could create a flight itinerary between San Francisco and Tokyo that could take half the current 11 hours to complete.

The Boom Airplane factory

JAL president Yoshiharu Ueki hopes the partnership will “contribute to the future of supersonic flight with the intent of providing more time to our valued passengers while emphasizing flight safety.”

Supersonic air travel, which cuts the transatlantic flight time between New York and London from six hours to three and a half, hasn’t been available since 2003. When in operation, tickets were $12,000. According to Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and CEO, the expected ticket price will be just $5,000. Boom claims it is on schedule to be operational in 2023.

Would you try supersonic air travel for $5,000? Does the price make it more likely? How likely are you to fly supersonic once it becomes available? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Boom Airlines (used with permission)

Luggage the Weight of Your Chihuahua: Travelpro Debuts Maxlite® 5 Collection

March 20, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The operative word in luggage shouldn’t be “lug,” and Travelpro knows you need the freedom to pack everything you need without being weighed down as you navigate the airport terminal, hotel lobby, or cruise ship gangplank. The Maxlite® 5 Collection — the result of its latest efforts in innovation, functionality, and durability — is up to half a pound lighter than its predecessor, the Maxlite® 4.

Basically, it weighs as much as your average Chihuahua.

At just 5.4 lbs., the Maxlite® 5 21” Exp Spinner and 22” Rollaboard® retain all the quality materials, rigorously tested durability, and thoughtful design you’ve come to expect from Travelpro’s collections. It just weighs less so you can thoughtfully pack as much as possible without being concerned about your bag adding excess pounds to your business trip or vacation.

The new Maxlite 5 collection comes in a variety of sizes and colors.

While other soft-sided luggage might seem lightweight, words such as strong, tough, and durable mean what they say when we talk about the Maxlite® 5 Collection. Built using lightweight materials that resist wear and tear, even through the most rigorous use, this Collection has 16 options, from carry-on totes, garment bags, and backpacks to smooth gliding Rollaboard® and 4-wheeled Spinner models in multiple sizes, Maxlite® 5 is a comprehensive assortment.

Just because you’re choosing Maxlite 5 doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing anything! Let’s start with the Rolling UnderSeat Carry-On, which, just like its name implies, fits under seats of most major domestic airlines. With its many compartments and specially-designed pockets, such as a removable plastic compartment for cosmetics, office supplies, or electronics accessories, you’ll be so organized you won’t know how you ever traveled without it.

The 21″ Expandable Spinner and 22″ Expandable Rollaboard maximize your packing power and allow you to glide through security to your gate on their high-performance wheels. Both are only 5.4 pounds, and for those who are planning longer getaways that necessitate checking your luggage, the 25″ Expandable Spinner is only 7.3 pounds.

All bags feature Travelpro’s DuraGuard® coated fabric that resists water and stains, as well as extra strong PowerScope Lite handles on rolling models and many pockets to help you pack to the max. All are backed by the Built For A Lifetime Limited Warranty. In addition, if you register your bag within the first 120 days of purchase or gift receipt the new Trusted Companion Promise enhancement gets activated which covers damage caused by airlines or other common carries for the first year! That’s a major warranty upgrade!

The Maxlite 5 logoIf you’re traveling abroad and want an ultra-lightweight carry-on that will go the distance, check out the Maxlite® 5 International Carry-On, both in 2-wheel Expandable Rollaboard® and 4-wheel Expandable Spinner models. Both models meet the carry-on size restrictions for most international airlines, you’ll find either of these compact but capable, allowing you to travel light and travel right.

All models in the Maxlite 5 Collection are available in black and exclusively on Travelpro.com in midnight blue, and other color options include azure blue, slate green, and dusty rose.

Business Travel Outlook for 2018

March 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Things are looking good for business travel. According to a recent survey by The GO Group, LLC, a ground transportation company that operates shuttle services to over 90 airports, the percentage of respondents expecting to do more business travel is almost double what was anticipated in 2016 (27 percent vs 15 percent). A mere six percent of travelers thought they’d travel less.

This is a major change from 10 years ago, when the Great Recession, saw a major drop in business travel as well as vacation/personal travel. But as the economy has improved, consumer confidence is on the rise, business travel spending is up, and more people are hopping on board airplanes and staying in hotels around the country and throughout the world.

Business travel often means working in an airport between flights. This is a photo of a white MacBook Pro taken in the Hong Kong airport.And when travel dropped 10 years ago, we saw a big rise in unemployment in the travel industry — fewer business travel opportunities meant fewer airline passengers and hotel nights, which had a ripple effect on the entire industry.

When it improved, there were key gains felt throughout the world. According to a report from the World Travel & Tourism Council,

. . . travel and tourism directly contributed US$2.3 trillion and 109 million jobs worldwide. Taking its wider indirect and induced impacts into account, the sector contributed US$7.6 trillion to the global economy and supported 292 million jobs in 2016. This was equal to 10.2% of the world’s GDP, and approximately 1 in 10 of all jobs.

Similarly, GO Group President John McCarthy believes this anticipated uptick in travel should have a “huge impact on airlines, hotels, and related industries.” McCarthy sees this increase as having nothing but positive implications for those seeking jobs within both the travel and tourism sectors.

Although an equal percentage of the respondents (27 percent) expected to see no change in the amount of business travel they would do in 2018, 39 percent were unsure how their travel schedules would be affected by their companies’ growth strategies. But the term “growth strategies” is heartening enough to make us think travel will continue to rise.

What plans do you have for business travel in 2018? Are you going to increase, decrease, or keep it about the same? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page,  or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Mark Hillary (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Five Ways Business Travel is Changing in 2018

March 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Change is constant throughout life, and business travel is no exception. As we near the end of our first quarter of the year, we’re starting to see some changes in the way we’re approaching travel and the way the technology is changing how we get from Point A to Point B.

Lyft car with the signature pink mustache. This has become a popular mode of transportation for business travel.Sharing economies such as Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft have transitioned from independent rebels operating outside mainstream business to becoming accepted as helpful ways to accomplish business travel goals and keep budgets in line.

Because of the wide acceptance of these services, particularly among small business owners, an article on The Next Web wonders how these companies will expand. For example, in 2014, small business owners only chose Uber over taxis 1 in 3 times. As of the end of 2017, that had reversed, with Uber being the preferred choice 3 to 1. Airbnb has had a similar experience among the same demographic. In 2014, hotels were preferred to Airbnb properties 16 to 1, while just three years later, that ratio was only 6 to 1. It will be interesting to see how these ride sharing and hospitality service economies navigate saturation in the remainder of 2018.

Blockchain technology advances and the use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are infiltrating marketplace transactions and this year could be a turning point in how it is accepted by the big players in the credit industry. In the final quarter of 2017, American Express, VISA, and MasterCard each announced its intentions to get in on the burgeoning tectonic shift in the way transactions are completed around the world.

One of the main reasons these three players are making moves to stake their claim in this Wild West of transaction technology is because blockchain transactions operate differently and outside of traditional banking systems. A decentralized network of computers has the ability to encrypt and maintain the integrity of a public ledger so that it is immune to hacking and fraud. Blockchain also allows individuals to conduct business without a middleman, such as a credit card company or bank, and this innovation has the potential to alter the landscape of how both businesses and citizens do business in significant ways.

While we are still a ways away from it being ubiquitous and part of the way everyone buys and sells goods and services, blockchain and Bitcoin’s use overseas is forcing banks and credit card companies to implement initiatives so they aren’t left behind.

Much faster than we expected and may be ready for, self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic concept. They’ll be operational in a limited number of cities as early as 2019, after Uber launched its first test fleet in 2016. Its recently-announced partnership with Volvo to add 24,000 such vehicles to its fleet, and Lyft’s partnership with Waymo to make similar advancements in its business strategy, self-driving cars are only going to increase the availability of another viable option for business travel very, very soon.

While it may still be some time before you’ll see a self-driving car pull up to the curb to take you where you need to go, artificial intelligence (AI) has already made significant inroads to the way we create itineraries online for business travel. Labeled “cognitive projects” in an IBM report of the business travel industry leaders, a third of all companies in this space are working on AI enhancements that will personalize the business traveler’s experience.

Whether you call it “interactive customer service” or a “chatbot” that pops up when you’re considering a specific flight itinerary, these cognitive projects are being designed to analyze large data sets and the preferences of other travelers in order to create an itinerary that appears to have been customized.

Business travelers may not even notice the influx of AI into the process, since the technology is being developed in such a way that it can converse in natural language with prospective customers in order to determine and meet their needs.

All of these changes are the result of the fact that there’s money to be made in business travel. According to the Global Business Travel Association, business travel is expected to increase by 6 percent this year, up from 3.5 percent in 2016. Increased trade worldwide and growth in both manufacturing and emerging markets are driving optimism. While this may be good for the economy, businesses will have to find creative ways to absorb or streamline the projected 3.5 and 3.7 percent increases, respectively, in airline tickets and hotel accommodations.

With all this potential for dramatic changes, the mature nature of the business travel industry will find ways to adjust and welcome these shifts because it knows they ultimately result in growth.

What plans do you have for communicating in an emergency? Do you have any plans or strategies already in place? Have you ever had to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PraiseLightMedia (Wikipedia, Creative Commons 4.0)

PreCheck and Global Entry Merger Considered

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are considering merging their respective “trusted traveler” programs, which means you don’t have to choose which program to use if you travel both domestically and internationally.

According to David Pekoske, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator, easing traveler headaches across both the domestic and international systems is the main reason he is evaluating the idea with his colleague Kevin McAleenan, CBP Commissioner.

PreCheck, administered by TSA, provides travelers the option to go through a screening process that, for a fee, puts them at the proverbial “front of the line” when navigating security. Global Entry, administered by CBP, provides many of similar benefits for those wanting to streamline their customs and immigration process when re-entering the country after traveling abroad.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.This means, if you travel abroad frequently, you need PreCheck to leave the country fast, and Global Entry to get back in just as quickly.

Pekoske told TravelPulse.com the maintenance of two distinct infrastructures for PreCheck and Global Entry is a “big duplication of effort, sometimes in the very same airport.”

Currently, both programs support 12 million travelers. Sharing technology advances and data is another reason the idea is attractive to Pekoske. Global Entry, run by CBP, already uses facial recognition, while TSA doesn’t yet have the ability to use this when screening travelers, and that additional security measure appeals to DHS.

The travel industry is watching this development closely, and is all for the merger. According to Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, for the American Society of Travel Agents, “Having two trusted traveler programs with similar costs, benefits, and application procedures has proved to be, at times, confusing and frustrating for travelers. A single program allowing travelers to get through the airport screening process quickly would be a welcome development, and we urge DHS to move this concept forward.”

There is no timeline for moving this concept forward from talking to implementation, but anything that would streamline the processes would be advantageous to the flying public.

Do you use PreCheck or Global Entry? Would you like to see the two merged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Grant Wickes (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

AI to Change the Hassles of Travel

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

With the simple scan of a traveler’s facial features, many air travel hassles could be eliminated or at least reduced. But we may not be as far away from that reality as you think. According to a survey conducted by air transport communications firm SITA, 29 percent of airports and 25 percent of air carriers are working toward implementing this technology in order to streamline passenger navigation through security, customs, and boarding by 2020.

We reported last month about the test runs of fingerprint scanning to alleviate time spent waiting in lines at several American airports, but due to the steady increase in travel worldwide — a 7.4 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 — the need for more efficient processes to move the masses as well as enhance security is only too obvious.

This is the kind of AI-based security that could get you through travel security checkpoints.Here’s how it may work, as Sumesh Patel, SITA’s Asia Pacific president, explained to CNBC: Travelers would go to a face-scanning kiosk upon arriving at the airport. The captured biometric information would be matched to the person’s passport specs. At that point, an electronic token would be created and inputted into the airport’s system. At subsequent security checkpoints, the technology would be used again in order to match the passenger’s identity with the electronic token.

The major boon for travelers would be the elimination of the current, intrusive nature of the security system. The current challenge, however, is integrating the existing systems such as retinal and fingerprint scanning and facial recognition into one secure operating network that will not only help customers but provide sufficient data for border protection for countries. You only have to hear about all the data breaches at major retailers and even credit scoring agencies to know how important this is.

While this may sound futuristic, Dubai International Airport’s CEO Paul Griffiths, head of the world’s busiest airport, is absolutely convinced a system of this nature will be a reality within the next 10 years.

“Most of the touch points that we currently loathe about airports today — the security and immigration — will disappear. And technology will enable all of those checks to be done in the background,” Griffiths told CNBC.

What do you think about this new technology? Are you for it, or a little concerned? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Gerald Nino/CPB (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Airbnb Announces New Tool Strictly for Business Travelers

January 23, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve booked a room, apartment, or home through Airbnb for leisure travel and you’re considering how you might use the home-sharing platform for business accommodations, you’ll be happy to know that Airbnb has a new search function/program specifically for business travelers.

Categorized as Business Travel Ready (BTR), available properties must have a designated workspace or desk, wifi, and 24-hour check-in, although many of them often boast other amenities. The search function also highlights entire homes available for short-term use so that teams can share accommodations or individuals can have the entire space to themselves.

In order to access the BTR properties, you must link a work email address to the Airbnb account — so no Gmail, Hotmail, etc. It has to be your work email. You can sign up as a business traveler through airbnb.com/business-travel-ready, and you’re ready to find your next business travel lodging.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California; they have a new tool for business travelers.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

he has 150,000 properties listed globally, and 250,000 companies are using the site. According to a story on Travelpulse.com, David Holyoke, CEO of Airbnb’s business travel department, expected the number of people using the site for business purposes to quadruple in 2017.

While only 10 percent of their bookings are business related, the amount U.S. businesses spent on travel expenses topped $290 billion last year, and was expected to increase by more than four percent last year.

In 2016, the company achieved an industry first when it partnered with American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), BCD Travel, and Carlson Wagonlit Travel to add home-sharing accommodations to its traditional corporate travel offerings.

Have you used Airbnb for business travel? Would you do so now that they have improved their business offerings? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

How Tech Has Transformed Business Travelers’ Productivity

January 9, 2018 by · 1 Comment 

If you were taking bets on whether business travelers would say their time on the road boosted their productivity, would you wager that a large percentage says it does? Or do you think most people say their travels have cut into their productivity?

If you said the former, you’d be right. According to a survey by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, 80 percent of business travelers claim that technology has greatly increased their ability to get work done while away from the office.

(Part of it may also be from not having to attend so many meetings.)

Many business travelers take their laptops with them to get work done.With a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop — the top three “travel tools” business travelers declared they couldn’t live without — no longer do people lament over lost time spent en route to clients. The advent of wifi in the sky and almost everywhere in between, downtime is almost a thing of the past. Business travelers utilize flight time and layovers, as well as time in hotel rooms to catch up on correspondence, complete proposals, and send documents wirelessly to keep projects on schedule.

“The business traveler can be so much more productive than even five years ago thanks to technology,” said Simon Nowroz, Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s CMO told Travelpulse.com, a travel news site. “Think about the advances where a business traveler used to have so much down time between a flight, taxi and hotel. Now, they can log in and work while on the plane or wherever they happen to be. With the continued emergence of the tablet, as well as numerous apps, travelers don’t feel out of touch as they carry out business.”

This ability to continue working whenever and wherever has prompted many — 78 percent — to actively seek ways to travel for business. Nearly nine of 10 survey respondents also claimed that they gained significant knowledge and perspective as a result of their business travels.

How do these road warriors stay connected while away from the office? Email is still the prevalent method of communication with 44 percent selecting it as their primary means of keeping in touch. Surprisingly, nearly 24 percent make phone calls while only 14 percent prefer to text important information to those back at the office.

Three other modes of technology cited as helpful in maintaining connectedness with loved ones were phone calls (44 percent), Skype (24 percent), and texting (14 percent).

Business travelers, do you stay more productive when you’re on the road? Or do you find that you lose productive work time because of time in the car or in the air? How do you stay in touch with loved ones and the office while you’re traveling? Share your ideas with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: ChrisDag (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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