Five needed business travel innovations
Search for hotels using Hipmunk's “heatmap”.
The Global Business Travel Association, an organization of more than 6,000 travel buyers and sellers, met in Denver last week for its annual expo.
I was a judge for the Business Traveller Innovation Awards, charged with selecting one winner (among 13 contenders) for a new product that offers the best solution to a problem faced by business travellers. The following were my personal favourites:
Problem: Easily finding the most comfortable flight and a hotel that appeals to your personal preferences.
Innovation: Hipmunk.com (the overall winner of the competition) is a unique meta-search site that displays flight choices in a visual timeline and ranks them based on levels of “agony”, taking into consideration flight duration, stopovers and availability of wi-fi. You can choose hotels using a “heatmap” tool that displays hotels in proximity to attractions, nightlife, food, shopping and vice (bars, casinos, adults-only venues).
Problem: You only need a car for a few hours — not an entire day.
Innovation: Taking a cue from popular car sharing services like ZipCar that target local residents, Hertz On Demand offers travellers the option of renting a car for just a few hours -- including gas, insurance, GPS and 180 free miles. You book your car online and pick it up at the nearest location, drive it, then return it to the same or another location. Membership is free, there are no enrolment or annual fees, and prices are reasonable — for example, you can rent a Fiat 500 in London for just £5 per hour; compact cars in San Francisco go for $8 to $12 per hour. The service is currently available in the US and Europe, but there are plans to expand worldwide.
Problem: There are irritating and expensive fees for wi-fi when using multiple devices or collaborating on group projects.
Innovation: The credit-card-sized MiFi Intelligent Mobile Hotspot device from Novatel receives cellular signals and re-broadcasts them as wi-fi connections for up to five devices — a sort of personal hotspot. This is great for groups working on laptops, tablets or other mobile devices in areas with cellular access, but without wi-fi. It’s also a great way to avoid steep hotel wi-fi connection fees. At about $30, the device is cheap, but monthly service plans (from US cellular companies Verizon or Sprint) run about $60 per month. Outside the US, you can buy “pay as you go” plans from providers like Virgin Mobile for about $150.
Problem: Getting driving directions via your GPS device when you can’t get a cellular signal.
Innovation: If you tend to drive more than you fly, the Navigon Mobile Navigator app for your smartphone is worth a look. No need for a separate GPS unit in your car when you have this “GPS-on-steroids” smartphone download ($30) that provides spoken directions, rerouting around heavy traffic and weather info. But best of all, it can provide directions in areas without a cellular signal because maps are stored on the phone.
Problem: Difficulty finding a reputable car service in cities with which you are not familiar.
Innovation: Most business travellers have no problem choosing a car service or cab to get from the airport to the city, or across town for meetings in cities they frequent. But Limos.com helps find reputable, pre-screened car services in unfamiliar destinations worldwide and provides discounts, insurance and options for single travellers or groups.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel