Monday, March 8, 2010

Smart phones take hassle out of travel

Business traveler Mike Monroe no longer rummages through his bag at the airline counter fishing for his flight ticket or confirmation number.
The consultant from Lakeland, Fla., has gone paperless, thanks to Continental Airlines' electronic boarding passes. Once he checks in online, the carrier e-mails a bar code to his phone. That code is scanned at security checkpoints and gates instead of a boarding pass. "It takes away a lot of annoyances."

Monroe is a member of a growing army of tech-savvy travelers whose smart phones are transforming their travel habits. Beyond online maps and travel guides, travelers are turning to their phones to look up aircraft seat configuration, track taxis, reply to early hotel check-in requests, order room service and locate nearby colleagues.

Airlines and hotels are refining their mobile Web sites and creating applications, or "apps," for downloading to popular phone models, such as iPhones, BlackBerrys and Google Android phones. Entrepreneurial software developers are rolling out new services daily, such as "location-based" apps that tap into a phone's GPS to determine the user's location and offer discounts, as well as pitch products.

The apps are making a difference. Airlines and hotels say bookings completed over smart phones are rising dramatically, even as business over other sales channels, including their Web sites, have turned sour or remain flat.

"I've been hearing it's the year of the mobile for the last five years. But something is different now, and I think it's because of the consumer adoption of the mobile phone," said Michael Menis, a marketing executive at InterContinental Hotels Group.

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