Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Rolling Out The Welcome Mat

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Rolling Out The Welcome Mat

Here’s how the hotel industry is working to ensure that international travelers can get here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dan Marcec


Since 2000, international visitation to the United States has dropped precipitously. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the U.S. share of overseas arrivals has fallen from 17 to 12.4 percent in that period, even as worldwide travel grew by 40 percent over the same timeframe. According to the U.S. Travel Association, losing just one percentage point of the total world international travel market potentially costs the U.S. 161,000 jobs.

You may look at that timeframe and chalk it up to the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent emphasis on security constraints. But the larger issue goes beyond the War on Terrorism. Before the Travel Promotion Act passed in March 2010, the U.S. had spent exactly ZERO dollars on advertising itself internationally as a travel destination. Now that this legislation is in place, the Corporation for Travel Promotion, as well as myriad partners throughout the travel and tourism industries, are hard at work to make sure the U.S. is on the map for international visitors.

But travel promotion in and of itself is only the first part of the process. If you attract people to come visit and they can’t get in, it basically amounts to false advertising.

“The worst thing in the world is inviting people to a party and the door is locked,” says Nancy Johnson, executive vice president and chief development officer for Carlson Hotels Worldwide, as well as incoming Chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). “International tourists want to come to America, and not only the top destinations like New York, L.A., and Disney, but also the mountains, the rivers, and everything in between.

“We need to put that welcome mat out there, and we need to make it easy to visit,” Johnson adds. “Not treating every tourist like a terrorist is essential.”

Headway on the Hill

Diligence from industry advocates like AH&LA and U.S. Travel have paid off. Just last week, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed the Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America (S.1746), or the VISIT USA Act, which is designed to create jobs. The bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make improvements to the U.S. visa process, which is currently one of the largest barricades to international business and leisure travelers coming to the U.S.

According to AH&LA, provisions of this bill that will break down these barriers include:
• Expediting entry for priority visitors
• Introducing technology into the U.S. visa system, authorizing the Secretary of State to conduct a videoconference pilot program as a method for conducting visa interviews of foreign national applicants;
• Encouraging Chinese nationals to travel to the U.S;
• Encouraging Canadian tourism to the United States;
• Encourage U.S. travel during low peak season; and
• Expediting visas for allies not currently in the visa waiver program.

For more information on these provisions, please visit the AH&LA’s government affairs portal

“Increasing the amount of business and leisure travelers to the U.S. brings significant economic benefits to the U.S. economy, and the VISIT USA Act is comprehensive legislation that makes America competitive once again in the $1.1 trillion international travel market,” says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Overall, AH&LA says that bill is a significant step toward the Discover America Partnership’s goal of recapturing America’s historic share of international travel. Last May, a U.S. Travel Association report identified difficulties international travelers experience with the U.S. visa system. The VISIT USA legislation includes several key recommendations in U.S. Travel’s report, which will help the U.S. regain market share in the overseas travel market, potentially creating 1.3 million jobs and producing $859 billion in additional cumulative economic output by 2020.

For more info on Discover America and the economic impact of international travel, please see
Expedited Entry = Agenda Item One

As most people know, traveling through U.S. customs is, to put it delicately, challenging. On top of that, international travelers also have to go through a lengthy, and often inconvenient, interview process to get a visa. That’s precisely the issue political advocates in the industry are trying to impress upon the decision makers in Washington.

“From my point of view, the most important issue we need to resolve is setting a 12-day maximum waiting time for visas,” says Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide, who has dedicated significant efforts to improving visa issues. “ Getting wait times down is crucial to make us more competitive with other nations, and currently all the important markets we target take far more than 12 days to get approval.”

For example, Marlene Colucci, executive vice president, public policy, for AH&LA, notes that the wait time is up to 150 days in Brazil, one of the key emerging travel markets.

“If you have to wait half a year, it’s going to go by, and you’ll either have to re-plan your trip or you’ll decide to go elsewhere that’s less complicated,” Colucci says. “That’s the decision most travelers make.”

Making use of modern technology can also improve the process. Allowing videoconferencing for visa interviews would expedite visa approval immensely. Colucci adds that she understands the State Department’s preference to interview in person, and that security should always be at the forefront. However, the sheer volume of potential Chinese travelers necessitates a re-evaluation of the process. It can take a several hour trip just to be interviewed for a visa to the U.S., which is a challenge in itself.

“The travel and wait time in China is significant, and if you use this technology that’s already here, it expands the number of people you can interview,” says Colucci.

The International Tourism Facilitation Act, introduced by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), takes into account the State Department’s concerns about videoconferencing, and works to improve the process in an alternative way. Namely, the bill proposes “to incentivize the State Department – without risking security – to improve the visa process by allowing the Department to reinvest fees charged for visas if the Department improves the efficiency with which it processes visas, and allow the Secretary of State, in appropriate circumstances, to grant a waiver of up to 3 additional years (4 years total) for foreigners to renew their tourist visas without requiring the tourist to go through another in-person interview,” according to Klobuchar’s official news release.

“No matter what, we want to make sure the system is responsive to the market,” says Colucci. “Demand is up 234 percent, and we have to respond to the demands of the public.”

The good news is that the issue is being addressed in both houses of Congress and in the administration, but the book is still in its early chapters. From here, it’s up to those in the know in the travel industry to continue to make sure legislators and influential policy makers understand how important this is to the overall economy.

“I’m pleased to see the State Department and Department of Commerce working hand in glove with Homeland Security to finally ‘get it’ and collaborate,” says Johnson. “This is an awakening for America. The people who understand what’s happening have to have their voice heard.”

Nassetta agrees. “We started down this path two years ago in earnest, and there was not wide understanding of what facilitating international tourism meant,” he says. “But now, I think there is fairly wide recognition that this is beneficial to the country, and I think there is a very constructive, productive dialogue that’s occurring that will be impacted by this. If it’s done properly, it’s good for everyone, not just the travel industry.”

Hotels turning to digital concierge services

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Hotels turning to digital concierge services

By Jane L. Levere

New York Times

Posted: 07/04/2011 04:46:56 AM PDT
Updated: 07/04/2011 04:47:03 AM PDT


Click photo to enlarge

Wes Landsfeld, from Ft. Worth, Texas, uses the GoBoard, a 55-inch… ( LIBRADO ROMERO )

Some hotels have begun to expand the definition of concierge to mean more than just a knowledgeable employee. It now can also mean smart digital devices. Software companies are creating programs that offer information like restaurant recommendations, flight arrivals and departures and driving directions via smartphones, touch-screen devices, iPads and other electronics to guests at mintier hotels that do not provide traditional concierge services.

Even more upscale brands that employ human concierges are joining in. They are offering location-specific information, developed by each hotel’s staff, accessible via the Internet, iPhone apps and even live chats. And all Hyatt hotels let guests send requests, via Twitter, to customer service agents who are on call 24 hours a day.

When it comes to concierge services, “we as an industry cannot operate in an analog way in a digital world,” said John Wallis, global head of marketing and brand strategy for Hyatt Hotels.

With the proliferation of misprice and limited-service brands, high-tech concierge services represent an effort by hotel companies “to differentiate themselves, to add a service that usually ranks among the highest for guest satisfaction and to achieve higher rates,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

He said


these services could be more attractive to younger guests, “Gen-Xers and Millennials, the target segment for many of these brands, who typically require or even prefer less personal interaction, and desire quick answers, any time, day or night.” Older, more international guests, he said, “tend to prefer personal service.”Still, the question remains whether digital concierges can ever equal their human counterparts. Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, said he did not think they would. “Nothing will ever replace a face-to-face concierge,” he said. “A guest visiting a city for the first time will have a lot of questions and will need to have interaction with a concierge that technology won’t replace.”

But hotel chains are moving ahead with the digital version nonetheless. InterContinental Hotels has been among the most aggressive developers of high-tech concierge services, starting in 2007 with videos starring individual hotel concierges offering destination-specific advice. Today, 150 of the brand’s 171 hotels have created the videos, which are available on each hotel’s website and on YouTube and iTunes.

Intercontinental has given, on a trial basis, iPads to concierges at 10 hotels to offer guests advice. It has also developed an iPad app with the same information for use by guests. In addition, the company is now testing live chats between guests and concierges through Skype and FaceTime, by Apple (AAPL). Hotel employees meet weekly to update destination information. And guests receive an email from the chief concierge five days before arrival offering suggestions and maps.

Last year, Marriott International’s Renaissance hotels — there are more than 150 in 34 countries — introduced a program called Navigator that offers suggestions for dining, drinks, shopping and sightseeing. This information, generated by Wcities, an online destination content provider, and by hotel employees, can be found on each hotel’s Web page and on an iPhone app. Guests can also ask Renaissance’s human concierges for help.

Hyatt’s high-tech concierge service, offered to guests at all of its hotels, luxury or mintier, is Twitter-based. Introduced two years ago, it lets guests send requests to HyattConcierge. Customer service agents in Omaha; Mainz, Germany; and Melbourne, Australia, must respond to messages in 15 minutes or less. If requests require more than a 140-character response, the agent will email or call the guest. One recent message came from a guest at the Andaz Wall Street, who, rather than calling hotel workers directly, requested a hangover remedy that included two extra-strength Advil and wheat toast with butter.

Marriott International’s Courtyard, a mintier brand, has gone in a different digital direction. Its GoBoard, a 55-inch touch-screen device in the hotel lobby uses software, from Four Winds Interactive, to provide weather information, news headlines and employee recommendations for restaurants and other local attractions. Marriott plans to upgrade the information provided through the devices this summer, and will offer them brandwide by 2013, said Janis Milham, vice president of Courtyard.

Intelity, another software provider, is working with Wyndham’s Wingate hotels, Starwood’s Aloft hotels and others to give guests airline information as well as customized dining, shopping and recreation recommendations through laptops, iPads, touch-screen devices, televisions and mobile phones.

Wyndham Worldwide will give owners of hotels in its 15 brands the option of offering the Intelity service to guests, said Paul Davis, senior vice president for strategic sourcing. He said some of the recommendations of service providers are paid listings by the providers.

Aloft is testing Intelity’s program on iPads in hotel lobbies. Brian McGuinness, Aloft’s global brand leader, said much information offered to guests was generated by hotel employees and none is the result of advertising.

Tourism in a World of Technology

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

The goal of “Tourism Tidbits” is to provide travel professionals with a monthly, easy-to-read overview of creative ideas. With proper referencing, we invite you to quote or reproduce  “Tourism Tidbits” and to pass it along to a friend.

“Tourism Tidbits” is published monthly in English and Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish.  Mtra. Patricia Koalska of Mexico does the Spanish translation, Ericka Amorim of Lisbon, Portugal provides the Portuguese translation, Elise Magras from the French Caribbean provides our new French translation, and Dr. Turgut Var provides the Turkish translation.

T&M extends its heartfelt sympathies to all those who have lost so much in the recent tornados that have swept across the southern USA, to the victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, and to the victims of violence in the Arab countries.

for May 2011

Tourism in a World of Technology

In these precarious economic times, the hospitality industry composed of tourism and travel is facing a quintessential question. Technology has the great advantage that it allows tourism industries to replace expensive human labor with technological labor, thus not only reducing labor costs but also avoiding issues of customer service.   Yet technology may produce a whole new set of unintended consequences.

How does it draw the line between technology and personal service?  There is no doubt that technology plays an important role in tourism and travel.  Most of us are now used to booking our airline reservations on line, dealing with telephone trees and other cost saving devices. These technological advances have allowed corporations to save on manpower while at the same time empowering customers to make their own decisions.  On the other side of the equation, travelers use more technology then ever before and often the tourism industry has taken advantage of this desire (need) to stay in touch with its clientele.  Most of us are now used to being almost harassed with on-line surveys or computer driven telephone calls.  Now we have entered into the world of e-marketing, a system that may be called an advanced form of “spam.”

Although many hotels do provide free internet services, many of the “better” hotels have added additional charges for local calls, for internet access and a per page fee to receive a fax.  These additional charges combined with less personalized service often means that travelers have the idea that technology has become a one-way street. Technology is used to provide less personalized service and at the same time to generate additional revenue at hotels, on airplanes, and at transportation hubs.

Despite the misuse of technology, tourism and travel are highly dependent on technology and its use has made life a whole lot easier. There is no doubt that the cell phone has become a major part of our lives. And although technology etiquette may lag behind technology machinery the inconvenience of someone speaking too loud on a cell phone is more than outweighed by the safety, security and convenience that cell phones bring to most of us. On the other hand, technology’s growth has allowed worldwide terrorism to attack the tourism industry.  Cell phones can save lives or detonate bombs; air conditioning units serve to make life bearable in hot climates, but also pollute the atmosphere and can be carriers of disease.   The dawn of the computer age permits us to know weather forecasts around the world, allows business travelers to stay in touch with their offices and to supersede the problem of cross time zones negotiation, but can be used to destroy air travel.

Technology then has become a mixed bag for the tourism industry. It creates a great deal of conveniences while at the same time has been used as a way to increase revenues and to lessen customer service.  The world of technology has made air travel safe and abundant but has also brought about the need to go through long security lines and daily hassles. Certainly, some parts of the industry have begun to use technology prudently.  When used ethically, technology can be a great help in increasing our communication and security.  If on the other hand technology is used for selfish or destructive purposes than it can become a nemesis within the travel and tourism industry.  Hamlet’s question “to be or not to be” has never seemed more poignant in its relationship to travel and tourism.  To help you decide how much or how little technology is right for your tourism business, Tourism Tidbits offers the following suggestions:

Remember that tourism is about people “interfacing” with other people. No matter how good your technology may be, technology does not provide human warmth of take-home experiences.  Be mindful that tourism is about the selling of memories and then ask yourself at what point are you willing to sacrifice memories for efficiency.
-Make sure that your employees are well trained in the use of technology. Technology is only as good as the people who use it. Often tourism centers hire people who simply are not up to the task, misuse the technology and create more problems then they solve.  Train, train and then train your people some more.  Do not update so often that your employees’ knowledge base lags behind the technology’s capabilities.
-Use technology wisely: While even the best computer can never substitute the care and love that comes from another human being, technology if used properly can solve many a problem in tourism.  Among these are:
* Issues of time. Nothing upsets the tourism industry’s clientele as much as the misuse of time.  The proper use of computers to facilitate both check-ins and check-outs of places such as hotels, allows the person-on-duty to attend  to other problems.

* Clarity and consistency. In an interrelated multi-lingual world a great deal of information can be provided to guests in their own language without linguistic, pronunciation or grammatical errors.
* Ease of place – use technology and social networks to allow visitors to research from home and to gather basic information.  However, many hotels and transportation companies seem to hide telephone numbers on their web sites. Combine basic information that can be given on a computer with the human side of information. Remember that if the tourist can never reach you, then you may find that your customer has found a more user-friendly location.

If we like it or not technology touches almost every aspect of the tourism industry.  If we are smart enough to use the benefits of technology such as convenience, speed, and accuracy and avoid some of the pitfalls, lack of human contact, user friendliness, size of lettering, and lack of human contact, then technology can be a great time and cost saver. But if the tourism industry forgets the importance of the human element and that tourism is all about the experience then it is making a major error.

Travel: the Original Social Media

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Travel: the Original Social Media
Dear Fellow Traveler,

In recent weeks the world has witnessed unprecedented change roll across the Middle East, as a revolution in one country, aided at least in part by the burgeoning power of social media, helped spark a revolt in another country (again aided by social media), which helped spark yet another, and so on. These events remind us that today, thanks to technology, we are interconnected as never before in human history.

While the growing power and influence of social media across the globe is striking and undeniable, it’s worth noting that a force similar in many ways to today’s social media has for millennia shaped our cultures and our history. Since long before Marco Polo returned to Venice to tell his fantastical tales of 24 years spent in the East, travel has served as a catalyst for the dispersion of ideas and ideals across the globe.

Travel, it could even be argued, is the original social media. Like social media at its best, travel at its best deepens our understanding of the world around us and creates bridges of understanding between both individuals and cultures.

Ultimately, whether travel (or social media, for that matter) is a force for good or ill depends entirely on us. Will it help lift millions out of poverty or will it simply further enrich a fortunate few? Will it contribute to the lasting conservation of our planet’s remaining great wildernesses, or help hasten their demise?

We at Sustainable Travel International fervently believe that travel can be a force for good in the world because we’ve seen it with our own eyes, again and again; important conservation projects funded by tourism revenue, local people empowered by decent jobs and educational opportunities created by tourism, and the connection and understanding engendered by the simple power of a smile and a handshake.

If you are a travel provider and you share our belief that travel can and should have a positive impact on our world, we’d love to talk to you about how our programs can help you operate more sustainably. Or, if you’d prefer, just scroll down and register for our upcoming free webinar ” Sustainable Tourism 201 – Putting Pencil to Paper” on March 22nd to learn more.

Safe and happy travels,

Matt Kareus
Director of Marketing

Virtual Sommelier

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Virtual Sommelier

Advances in technology helps take the mystery out of wine.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Beth Kormanik
(2 of 2)

Here’s a quick fact: more people own a smartphone than a subscription to Wine Spectator magazine.

So when hotel and restaurant patrons want to enjoy a glass of wine but aren’t familiar with a brand, varietal or year, it makes sense that they would turn to their phones for help.

Making that process easier is Cellar Key, a technology that allows people to scan a 2D barcode to access information about a wine.

“Wine as a subject matter can be intimidating, and people don’t want to ask questions,” said Luke Higgins, Regional Sales Manager – Atlantic for Lion Nathan USA, an owner and importer of wines that launched the proprietary marketing platform in September. “This is one of the most exciting opportunities to communicate with consumers and give them the message we’ve always wanted to, from our cellar door.”

Smartphone users can download an app (Cellar Key uses ScanLife) and start scanning the barcodes, or tags, as they’re also called.

After scanning a Cellar Key barcode, viewers have a variety of information at their fingertips: a video tour of the winery, accolades from wine publications, an introduction to the winemaker and suggested food, wine and cheese pairings.

The idea is to convey to consumers at the point of purchase — at a restaurant, on a room service menu or in a wine shop — information about vinticulture and other characteristics about a wine.

Historically, wineries offered case cards or a blurb on the back of the bottle and enterprising wine buyers could visit a winery’s website — but that may not be practical for a consumer ready to make a purchase. A sommelier is a great resource, but one is not always available, particularly for room service orders or wine purchased from a hotel market pantry.

Cellar Key is used at hotels including New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the Marriot Marquis Times Square, Hilton New York, Crowne Plaza in Times Square,  and the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk’s Citrus restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

Hotels decide how they want to market the program, but most use promotional tools such as hang tags on bottle necks, shelf talkers, case cards, brochures and tent cards.

The content is intended to educate, entertain and virtually connect the user to wineries. Imbibers can instantly rate the wine and share their experience on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

Cellar Key features 20 wines and five wine brands including Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand; Argyle Pinot Noir and Vintage Brut from Willamette Valley, Oregon; St Hallett Faith Shiraz and Poacher’s Blend from Barossa, Australia, and Argento Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.

Ben Glover, the chief winemaker of Wither Hills in New Zealand, said the content in Cellar Key conveys important information about wine to buyers.

“The magic about Marlborough is its effervescence and fantastic acidity. It cuts through oil and butters,” he said. “It’s not just about the wine, but the pairing with the food.”

For now, paper tags slip over the neck of Wither Hills bottles and instructions to buyers on how to scan them is on the back. Eventually, the tags will be incorporated into the bottle design itself.

Even though Cellar Key a consumer-facing technology, Higgins pointed out that it also can be used to educate hotel and restaurant staff about wines.

Controlling Your Pour

Promoting wine through technology is also a priority at Hyatt. At the Grand Hyatt New York, guests can experiment and educate their palate at “the Wine Gallery.”

The gallery, situated adjacent to the signature New York Central restaurant, features five interactive wine displays — coolers that contain a bottle of wine and regulate the pour. Guests can purchase a card with a pre-loaded amount of money and taste any or all of the wines. The serving sizes range from a 1-ounce “taste” to a 3-ounce “half” and a 5-ounce “full.”

“There’s nothing better than having interactivity,” said Barry Prescott, Hyatt’s corporate beverage director. “Consumers want to be a part of the process.”

The dispensing machines are the WineStation from Napa Technolgy. An argon gas keeps the wines fresh, and the system keeps track of the level of the bottle and shows the operator when the bottle was opened — although the guest does not see the date.

“As an operator we love it because it eliminates waste,” Prescott said.

Prescott said guests can get creative with the system. They can stick with small pours to get an overview of world wines, or have a small taste of an exclusive wine.

Guests can choose flights or taste a wine before making the commitment to buy an entire bottle. They can also order food to enjoy with their wine.

“It allows them to experience a wine they haven’t before,” said Jose Montalvo, the hotel’s beverage director. “We want to demystify the wines.”

It’s user-friendly for the operator, too, he noted. It’s easy to replace empty bottles of wine, or swap a low performer for a more popular varietal. He updates the wine list via computer or can scan a barcode at the station.

The Grand Hyatt New York is the first Hyatt to use the system.

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