This weekend I am doing something I have rarely done for the past (almost) 20 years—taking a quick vacation and not thinking about work.* I felt it might be good to take a look at the experience through the eyes of my customer to give me a different perspective. My girlfriend and I booked a mini getaway to Asheville without any industry perks or rates.
Throughout the weekend, we both began to see how much has changed; for better and for worse.
While security has definitely added a layer of hassle to air travel, the process has also been sped up. Electronic check-in, curbside check-in, and mobile boarding passes have all worked to our advantage to speed up our time from curb to gate—unfortunately today’s security somewhat negates any time savings.
We are both still amazed at how these huge metal tubes can actually fly—the wonders of my youth are still intact. The onboard experience has changed the most. Most amenities, including service, are all but gone. I remember headsets, seatback covers, full meals, wider seats, and a flight crew that seemed to actually enjoy their jobs. Sure there is more technology available for entertainment and productivity (at a price), but it seems that it might be in place more as a distraction from the experience rather than an added perk. But all in all, at least for a short haul flights, the experience is still pretty good. I am not sure I could handle a trans-Atlantic flight on a domestic carrier.
Rental cars have changed significantly. As I look back on my professional travels over the past five years, I am usually taking shuttles or hiring a driver to move me. The rental car was the only option this time and the process was seamless. Rental facilities are often adjacent (walking distance) to the terminal, negating the need to wait for a shuttle. A quick check-in, ID presentation, and dire warning about renting and relying on my own insurance and we are off. Pick whatever car you want and go. While I had known that Dollar, Advantage, and Thrifty were owned by Hertz, I did not realize that they shared the same vehicles. Dollar will always price lower than Hertz. And as for their “Never Lost” GPS—they ought to re-brand it as “Never Right.” I was trying to conserve data on my phone, and their GPS got me in the general area, but never to my destination—3 miles from my hotel, and a grassy median strip about 4 miles from the location where I was to drop it off. I was tempted. Tell your clients to stick with Google maps on their cell phones.
The hotel experience is the aspect of a getaway that has been enhanced the most. After all, it is the place where we may be spending most of our time. Travelers are more demanding now and want more amenities; and hotels have provided them at little to no additional cost. Spacious rooms with workspace and Internet connectivity are the norm along with large flat panel televisions and to a large degree upgraded baths. Rooms are still cleaned daily and front desk employees are there to help their guests. Technology has also been a huge factor in creating a positive, stress-free experience. I stayed in a Starwood Aloft hotel (first time) and used the wireless key and was able to pre-check in from the mobile app, be alerted when the room was ready, and have a master key installed on my phone (no need to even visit the front desk) which worked on the elevators, parking garage, and the room. Aloft is a really great middle of the road property. The amenities are there, but they are not over the top. The rooms are spacious and the décor is funky in an Ikea or mass market cruise line kind of way. You can tell that a lot of the furnishings (other than their signature bed) are on the low budget side—a prime example was the “mosaic” over the bed. It looked great from a distance, but up close you could see it was just a print on some fiber board. It was certainly nothing to get upset about—just a comment in case you are looking for true high end.
All in all, I have to say that with the exception of the cramped and serviceless airlines, our clients are in pretty good shape. Technology has really enhanced the process to the point where it nearly makes up for any airline hassles.
Have you traveled as a client lately? Am I on target? Or was this an anomaly?