MANILA, JUNE 21, 2009 (STAR) By William Hamilton-Whyte - Video conferencing has been touted as a killer app, almost literally, for the travel industry, as meetings can now be done with parties overseas.

But nothing beats the face-to-face contact, which only physical travel can bring. Customers want a meeting before they ink that million-dollar deal, and business partners want to size each other up before investing together. Of course, the very same business travelers will find every chance to drop their suits, put on their Bermudas, and hop on the plane, for their own holiday.

In short, the travel industry is alive and well and the expanding mobile industry, with its growing number of users, and increasingly sophisticated devices and systems, are unleashing a never-before era of convenience, mobility and cost- and time-savings for travelers — both business and leisure.

Rapidly improving technology means that mobile devices are multimedia devices that can be used as to buy tickets, make bookings. All these are possible because of the popularity of mobile Internet.

The installed base is growing: according to Juniper Research, there were some 500 million mobile Internet users worldwide in October 2008. This figure will triple by 2013. This shows that there is a huge and growing number of users who are ready and enabled, and the onus is somewhat on transport companies, travel service providers, human resource and IT departments, as they need to keep up and make better use of this new trend that offers superior convenience and, in this current economic slowdown, a tighter rein over costs.

What are some of the specific conveniences that a combination of online and mobile services can bring? For one, customers can book flights, hotels while they are on the go, and when traveling plan changes — as they often do, bookings can also be amended easily.

However, the use of mobile technology in the travel industry will not be limited to just mobile Internet access, for the sophisticated devices can be used as paperless boarding passes, room keys, and many more. This means that the travel industry needs to brace itself for a huge impact caused by mobile technology in how travel is booked, managed, paid for, and executed.

Industry players in the ecosystem, and not just mobile device makers, are jumping in. Travel management companies and associations, for example, are working closely with corporations to help plan and execute more cost-efficient travel plans for the corporate warriors.

If the estimates are correct, adopting mobile technology makes sheer commercial sense for the travel industry, and not just the travelers. For example, according to Juniper Research, airlines can save $500 million a year by dropping traditional boarding passes in favor of mobile boarding passes.

While it might take a while before the entire travel ecosystem goes “mobile,” certain key segments of the travel industry are already embracing the mobile wave wholeheartedly. According to Juniper Research, transport-based mobile ticketing, led by strong growth in rail travel especially, chalked up 37.4 million transactions in 2007. By 2011, the volume is expected to explode to 1.8 billion. More remarkably, the growth is coming mainly from not just developed economies like Western Europe and North America. According to Juniper, Far East and China are leaders in the growth of mobile ticketing, too.

A travel experience is of course not limited to buying a ticket using a mobile device and then zipping from point A to point B in an airplane. The real “fun” begins when one has feet on the ground, in a foreign city or town for the first time. Obviously, not everyone is familiar with every city or location in the world, even the most frequent travelers. Not everyone can afford or have the luxury of having a local host — be it a friend, business partner or even colleague to bring them around.

With a presence in more than 150 countries and many of our colleagues hitting the road all too frequently, Nokia, as the world’s largest device maker, has been very active in addressing this issue. For a start, many of the newly launched models come with Assisted GPS. This means users can pinpoint their location down to the nearest corner.

Knowing one’s current location is of course just part of the story. The challenge is getting to one’s destination in the fastest and most convenient route. And this is where Nokia Maps comes in. This popular service from Nokia marries A-GPS functionality and a treasure trove of maps of more than 200 countries, and regardless of whether the users are walking or driving, the turn-by-turn navigation guide will escort them to their destination. Third-party service and content providers can also take part. For example, restaurant guides can alert users of the recommendations closest to where they are.

Does this mean that the visiting executives can thus turn the tables and show their host around? With mobile technology, why not?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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