Google Glasses and dozens of other brands of Augmented Reality goggles hit the road running for Christmas 2013 and over the next couple of years AR applications went from Wow to business as usual. Today people look at you sideways in many cities if you aren't wearing glasses. But there has been a downside. People can't bear to be without them.
Our household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.
However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.
Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:
Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.
The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.
What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.
I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.
The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.
The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?
They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.
Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).
What else would I like to know?
- Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
- Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
- How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
- How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
- How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
- Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
- How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
- What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
- How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?
There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?
So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.
Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.
What do you think?
Some nice person hit my car some time in the last few days, whilst it was parked unattended. I’m not sure where it was, probably in a supermarket car park. No note or apology, they obviously didn’t feel any remorse. This is what it looked like. The hole at the top isn’t my exhaust, it’s where one of my fog lights was mounted before the bracket got smashed in the impact.
Anyway, I rang AA Insurance, got answered within a minute, by a Kiwi in Auckland, I’m not joking! If you have rung a call centre recently, you have probably (as I have with other companies, not to be named here, but you can find them in this blog) waited for anything from 20 minutes to an hour, listened to repetitive Muzak advertisements and soothing statements of how your call is valued and thank you for waiting.
We went through the obligatory security questions, talked about the incident, some brief friendly conversation with an operator who was very friendly and empathetic, I listened to the honesty statement and agreed that I was being truthful and understood that this was being recorded. I was then told all my options, claim number and what to do next. From the time to picking up the phone to hanging up, feeling pleased despite the stress of the accident and knowing I was going to be without my car for a week, took less than 5 minutes.
This morning, as per the appointment, I took my car to the AA Insurance depot, met with one of their friendly efficient team, had the car assessed, at the time of my appointment, on the dot, paid my excess (ouch, would have been less if I had details of who had dented my car and wallet) and 5 minutes later was in a complimentary taxi back to my office.
I am not used to getting customer service like this. It is that rare that I felt I wanted to share my story and my endorsement. Not only did I get great service, it didn’t take long, I didn’t have to wait and I felt like they cared about me. Generally the experience with large corporates, utility companies and insurance companies seems like they are super friendly when they are signing you up and after that they don’t have time for you.
Its not over yet, I am without my car for a week, but when it comes back, I have a lifetime guarantee on the workmanship and they will have my ongoing loyalty. Just a footnote, people do business with people and providing great caring service is the best form of marketing. It’s rare enough for me to make the effort to share this story. Thanks again AA Insurance.
If I had a dollar for each time I get asked this question I would be able to retire. I have blogged about this before, but it is certainly time for an update, particularly with some of the stories I’ve seen in the media recently, which have either been advertorial or blaming GPS for sending people off the road.
Some people see car navigation as a cool toy, or think that they are all pretty much the same. Instead think about what you need it for. Going skiing? Picking up the kids from somewhere you haven’t been before on a wet, dark winters evening? Trying to get to an important business meeting on time, finding your hotel or the nearest ATM? Are you a geek, or do you need something that is basic and easy to use?
Car navigation today offers a myriad of options from mobile smartphone applications through PND (Portable Navigation Devices) to in-car devices that are factory installed. The most important things to look at are the currency and accuracy of the map data and points of interest information. It doesn’t matter how cool it is if the information is inaccurate or out of date.
NZ Automobile Association subsidiary GeoSmart has a NZ based team driving and updating maps full-time with 4 major updates every year for a number of car navigation brands, and maps roads to sub .5 meter accuracy. Have you ever been told to go to the nearest road when you are on it? This includes important things like having accurate speed zones to warn you when you are over the speed limit, school zones, current Points of Interest and safety cameras.
Traffic congestion is here to stay and it’s not just in the cities. Real time traffic is a powerful navigation tool to find alternate routes when available and with brands such as TomTom offering HD Traffic in connected devices (PND, iPhone and iPad, and in-car systems), real-time traffic is available throughout all of New Zealand where you can receive a mobile phone signal.
Whilst traffic is a major urban problem, this winter has already seen hundreds of road closures due to slips, accidents, flooding and more, most of them outside the major cities. Many people don’t think outside of the city until they get stuck.
When there is a weather bomb the AA Roadwatch website can have up to 100,000 page views in a day and that’s before people even get in their cars. Some brands and devices only offer traffic information via RDS-TMC broadcast radio in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, which has limited capacity for the amount of information it can send due to bandwidth restrictions and of course if you are driving outside of those cities, it can’t help you.
This technology was launched in NZ by GeoSmart back in 2006, but now they can stream live traffic and congestion data every two minutes across all of NZ via a mobile network, this means that you are fully informed of the road conditions for some 97% of the road network of NZ.
When people ask what is the best GPS, there is no correct answer. There are many great products and it comes down to when and where you want to use them and what information matters to you.
They start with ‘free’ products on Smartphones. These may provide routing, but are unlikely to have information such as speed zones, lane guidance, turn restrictions or have the latest map data. They generally don’t have the maps loaded into the phone which means that every single map image and set of instructions has to be downloaded as you go and this can add up to a significant cost on your mobile data account. Recent research in Europe has shown that often adding the data costs result in ‘free’ being much more expensive than buying an app or a device where the maps are stored locally.
There are paid apps for Smartphones and tablets including products such as Metroview NZ City Maps which gives you one NZ city or region for $9.95 with full car navigation and the maps on your device, to TomTom which offers effectively the same experience as you would get on a TomTom device, even with real-time traffic, funny voices and even social media location-based apps. Obviously a benefit of a mobile app is that your mobile is always with you and you don’t need to have multiple devices.
There has been a price war in recent times with portable devices and you can purchase devices from as little as $100. Keep in mind that generally you get what you pay for. To put a device out at really cheap prices, something has to be sacrificed. Some products state that they will give you “up to” 4 map updates a year (which could mean just one) where others will “guarantee” 4 map updates per year. Are they up to date with changes such as speed zones, new roads, State Highway realignment, the Auckland SH1 tunnel and viaduct switch, new suburbs and subdivisions?
On the matter of updates, how do you get them? How easy are they to install?
Try the device in-store with roads you know have changed. Entry level doesn’t have to mean inferior but it pays to understand what you need from it. We are also starting to see larger screens on portable devices up to 6 inches, which is great for trucks or people with poor eyesight.
The future of car navigation is a connected device, whether it is a mobile smartphone, a PND that contains a SIM card and is always connected, with the ability to do location-based search, social media and location-based check-ins and look for live car park availability, entertainment and events, or a device that comes factory fitted in your car, also has a SIM card and has the ability to tell emergency services that you have had an air bag deployment and can provide your location.
This market is evolving all the time. Next time you look at buying a nav unit or application, think about the last time you needed help. Were you in a hurry? Did you get stuck in traffic? Do you travel outside of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch? Think about an area that you know has changed recently, for example the Victoria Park Viaduct over-bridges southbound or the tunnel going north. When the Wellington Street on-ramp is open again onto the Northern Motorway, would you like to know about it? Have you arrived at a motorway on-ramp only to find it is closed for maintenance? How did you feel? Did it matter? Did you know how to get to another ramp that was open?
GPS units aren’t all equal. Try a unit before you buy. Don’t just read what it says on the packaging (or at least read the fine print carefully), ask someone who has one if they would buy the same product again. It’s not just about the money, it’s about the freedom to go wherever you want via the best route at that specific point in time, to be able to relax and enjoy a stress free journey.
Do you have a car nav story? Did it help you on a trip? Are you happy with your purchase?
I recently wrote a blog about TripAdvisor and how to make the most of it on your FIT (Free Independent Traveler) trip.
What can you learn as a developer or someone who wants to own their own app to win loyalty and business in the hospitality and tourist industry?
The first thing is content. Most applications are city focused. That’s understandable, but based on my experience in the Southern States was that there were loads of tourists looking for cool things to do and see, but they were so hard to find. If I hadn’t found the Blues Trail Guide at the Natchez Trace Information Centre, I would not have visited Crystal Springs because according to TripAdvisor there was nothing there but a single restaurant. In fact I had the most wonderful day there, meeting the Mayor at City Hall and spending a couple of hours with Theresa, the Granddaughter of legendary blues giant of Crossroads fame Robert Johnson at his museum.
Now you may not have heard of Robert Johnson, or watched the movie Crossroads, inspired by his legendary story, but if you are a blues fan, then this is a must do pilgrimage and to actually meet and talk with his granddaughter is something you won’t likely do at music museums or historic places of interest anywhere in the world. My point is that outside of the cities is where the real people live and the world is full of exciting and interesting places outside of Disney, Alcatraz or the Empire State Building.
While I make that criticism, I do have to say that TripAdvisor was by far the best for the apps I used on my trip. I was able to find the properties I wanted to stay in, I was able to filter things to do, types of accommodation and more, I guess the key thing was lack of information outside of cities.
As a future step, I’d like it to have the ability to learn about me, profile me based on my interests and make suggestions to me. Given the wealth of information they do have, this would not be too difficult.
When it comes to accomodation, maybe they could also help me with search functionality that would allow me to eliminate properties with keywords, for example ‘show me all properties in Xville excluding keywords ‘bed bugs’ and ‘bad internet’. I understand the problem for properties who may be unfairly targeted by competitors trying to put people off their properties, but that is a security issue and there are always opportunities for redress. The fact is, wherever I saw comments about bedbugs etc, I avoided those properties like the plague. So all it did was make it take longer for me to find those comments, but I still didn’t stay at those properties. What frustrated me the most was that I spent up to 2 hours some nights, instead of relaxing, trying to work out where we would go next and where we would stay, which took a bit of the gloss off an awesome trip.
I’d like an app, and I know people are building them, which allow you to list your interests and then it will generate a tour or recommendations to meet your interests. Issue for me is most of them are based around specific advertisers who are often self rated, or very generic interests. That doesn’t work for me, I want apps that have all places, business and non business.
Probably the biggest one for me is I want live events. This was the hardest thing of all and TripAdvisor didn’t support this. If you ask a tourist what some of the best things they did were, it was about real life events, fairs, the bath-tub river race, Civil War reenactments (there were plenty but other than driving past one by accident we wouldn’t have had a clue where to find them), concerts, shows, the rodeo in Hattiesburg MS which we only found out about because we were in a hotel restaurant having breakfast and met a family who were competing in it.
Tourism is hurting around the world. Lots of people are traveling their own countries rather than going overseas. Lots of treasures are being missed in towns that have a lot to offer and many of those businesses need our tourism dollars more than the big cities.
A footnote to state and regional tourism organisations, particularly USA, Australia and New Zealand. It is frustrating and short sighted in my humble opinion to stop your tourism efforts at the border. I loved the Tennessee tourism book, but it was too hard to use and it stopped at the border. I also understand that your tax dollars stop at the border, but tourists don’t. Same to Louisiana who obviously had their book made by the same publisher. If you are using the same company, then that company could perhaps look at making quality location based applications that make it easy and attractive for people to enjoy holidays and spend their money.
Perhaps the key is to ask the tourists what they want rather than just continue to focus on traditional print business as usual.
If I had only one application to use on my road trip it would be tripadvisor. Having said that it wasn’t enough on my road trip although I spent more time using this app than any other. I put a lot of planning into the trip before hand and contacted US State Tourism organisations asking for information. Only Tennessee came back to me with a booklet including useful maps of the whole state and things to do, places to see, which was great. I filled it with post it flags.
All tourist organisations have material like this book, but they don’t make it easy to access and they don’t appear to collaborate interstate. This is a major negative for a traveller on a road trip that regional tourist operators in New Zealand and Australia should also think about. I managed to get a similar book for Louisiana when I arrived in New Orleans, which looked like it was designed by the same company. I was lucky that the property we stayed in had one in the room. Otherwise you need to find an Information Centre, but of course these aere widely spread out and you need info to find one.
The biggest problem was that these books were segmented by town or county and not well linked to the main map. They were designed more for people who are looking at locating themselves in a town for a holiday and exploring from there. Also the maps for each state ended strictly on the state line, so if there was something worth enjoying on the other side, it wasn’t going to be on the map. This makes it really difficult to plan a multi state holiday. It would be far better for State and Regional Tourism Operators to work together to mutual benefit. I’m going to cross the line whether you make it easy for me or not.
So back to tripadvisor. If you install it on your mobile or iPad it will help you find Accommodation, Restaurants, Flights and Things To Do, sometimes. What I found was that they worked pretty well in cities, which was the same case with apps such as Foursquare and others, but when you go to rural USA, which was my plan for 3 weeks, the information tends to be more limited to accommodation and sparse when it comes to the many interesting attractions that people have put huge effort into but leave most people blissfuly unaware of them.
My main use for tripadvisor was accommodation and this was really interesting. When you travel through rural America there is a huge variety of accommodation options from very cheap to very expensive. The great thing about it is that it is full of reviews from people who have stayed at those properties. Reviews is something that scare the hell out of tourism industry publishers who charge people to list on their publications, websites, reservation engines etc and in New Zealand some property operators have complained about competitors giving them bad reviews, therefore saying the systems don’t work.
My message to them is that I trust my peers more than I trust advertising, especially those who have stayed at the properties. When you do advertise, make sure you are honest and deliver on your promise. When you say you have high speed WiFi Access throughout the property, make sure you do because this could be the deciding factor as to why someone books and stays with you and the one negative if it doesn’t work, that they will tell the world about.
For the app user:
- Read many reviews. Look at the dates they were posted and read them carefully. Often there are unique stories where the person had unique needs or expectations that were not met. The more reviews you read, the more you will get the real big picture. Some people are unreasonable or feel that if they are doing a review they have to find fault. Do other people contradict their comments or are there common threads?
- Think about what your needs and time frames are. For example I got a cheap hotel for one night in New Orleans as we were arriving at 1AM and leaving again first thing in the morning. The review said it was clean and tidy but the air conditioning was noisy. They were right, but we knew we were going to be so tired after 30 hours of traveling that it wouldn’t keep us awake and the price and location was good.
- We ended up rating properties based on the things we were looking for and canceling out any that looked dodgy, for example several had complaints about bed bugs.
- We were able to ‘star’ the ones we thought were ok for a re-look.
- We also looked for situations where people had complained and the manager of the property came back and offered solutions and responses. In some cases there were managers who responded to every comment good and bad.
- The problem is that there are many options and when you are doing a road trip and trying to find attractions etc, you can easily waste hours of what should be relaxation time on your trip, but this is one of the costs of being a FIT.
- Tripadvisor offers many choices of reservation engines and price checks. I quickly found that once I had found a property I liked, a phone call to their front desk not only got me a cheaper price than all of the reservation sites, but also cooperation on a better room. Many properties will put you in a crappy room next to the laundry, the road or the busy swimming pool when you get a cheap online booking. If someone recommends a room number and their review sounds like what you are looking for, ask for that room.
Tips for the Tourist Operator:
- Your property is likely to end up in tripadvisor whether you submit it or not.
- People will talk about your property whether you like it or not. Most of them will be bona-fide guests who benefited from the application and are therefore sharing their experience.
- Put yourselves in their shoes. Your business is about hospitality and for your guest it is totally personal. Treat them as you would your family.
- When people make a comment about your business, good or bad, acknowledge and respond to it.
- If you sell rooms cheap on reservation engines don’t automatically give them the crappy room that you never sell if there are better rooms that are going to stay empty. I had a property in Auckland, Sebel Suites, do that to me early this year. They said they could only give me a room with a view of the carpark, because I had booked
on a cheap promotion. The thing was that they didn’t sell many of the nice rooms overlooking the beautiful Auckland Viaduct Basin that night (I followed up the next morning), but if they had, it wouldn’t have been fair to the people who paid full price. So here’s my advice to them, which the Duty Manager didn’t want to hear. I live on the outskirts of Auckland. I have the choice to go home, but sometimes my wife and I like to go to a show, or out for a night, have a few drinks and not have to worry about driving home. We have stayed in many properties in Auckland. We have told all of our friends and tripadvisor which ones we liked and which ones we felt let us down. We will never again go to the Sebel Suites, we will go back to hotels like the Sky City Grand which has some great promotions on their site. As I said, it travel and tourism is personal.
- Make sure your business is on sites and apps like TripAdvisor.
Bottom line, I almost hated tripadvisor by the end of my holiday because we became almost fanatic about reading the reviews. We found the star ratings didn’t help much and whilst there was a function to save the ones we wanted to revisit, we couldn’t also flag the ones to avoid. We spent a huge amount of time on the site, BUT in every location we found exactly what we expected. We knew which rooms to avoid, and quickly learned to read between the lines.
For developers, this is an excellent site / application to learn from, not perfect but very good, even using your location on your mobile to help you find locations. For users, do give back. If you value crowd sourced feedback and make decisions based on it, you need to give back as well. If you are in New Zealand or Australia, talk to us at GeoSmart. We can help you with practical experience as both frequent travellers and users of apps and a mapping company that cares very strongly about the quality of our location-based data, maps, Points of Interest and the success of applications developed using it. We are local and keen to help. If you are here, but aiming for the world, we can help you get a start based on what we know about the industry and our experience as travelers. We want to help grow New Zealand international success stories.
Planning a road trip somewhere or know somene who is? The may be interested in this series of blogs, which they can find at http://luigicappel.wordpress.com Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think may benefit from it. I wish I had been given a lot of this advice before I left for my trip.
I will follow this up with some ideas as to what would have made tripadvisor a better app for the road tripper, which may be of interest to people looking at developing apps for travel and tourism and am happy to discuss my ideas and experience.
This is a follow on from my blogs on preparing for a USA Road Trip, but it is equally relevant to anyone going to another country and especially where they drive on the opposite side of the road to what you are used to.
It is very easy when you relax into your trip and get up in the morning, to accidentally start driving on the wrong side of the road and many people even in New Zealand have had accidents and even died by losing concentration and automatically driving on the wrong side of the road because they have been doing it for years at home.
The thing that struck me on my first driving experience in the USA was that the traffic lights are often in the middle of the intersection. In New Zealand they are before the intersection, so I almost stopped in the middle of the road.
One of the things on the top of my preparation list was learn the key elements of the US Road Rules. I had my navigation but it wasn’t going to tell me who had right of way. The rules work really well for you once you understand them.
One that was really interesting is 4-way intersections and we found loads of those. The rule is whoever gets there first has right of way, so you really have to pay attention when you get to them.
Another rule that works really well is that you can turn right at a red light if the way is clear, unless there is a sign saying you can’t at that particular intersection. Make sure you come to a complete stop first, I’m told police are often hiding waiting for people to drive straight through.
A rule that I thought was really good on the Interstates was that if a car was broken down on the side of the road, you have to change lanes to give them space.
Whichever country you go to, its worth spending half an hour to make sure you know the basic road rules. Relax and enjoy but don’t relax too much. I was driving onto a major intersection a couple of weeks ago and the nav said turn sharp left, so I did and found myself facing a one way highway full of traffic coming straight at me. I managed to back out safely, but it reminded me of the importance of staying alert at all times. Having said that, I really enjoyed the road trip and the little bit of preparation beforehand made a big difference.
I’m going to go into more detail continuing from my previous US road trip blogs, but I want to start with the 3 items that were critical to the trip. Actually it should be 4 because the first thing is you can’t do a road trip without a vehicle. I booked an SUV with Thrifty Car Rentals, online. I have to admit some trepidation with this because they were less than half of the price I had been quoted by a number of New Zealand travel agents. I needn’t have worried. These guys were super professional from start to finish and I highly recommend you use them. Even with a queue we were done with the paperwork in about 15 minutes. We were then told to take our pick from a variety of Fords and Jeeps. We chose the Ford Explorer in the picture because it had tinted windows to hide prying eyes from the fact that we had all our luggage on board much of the time.
So back to my list:
- Car Navigation. I downloaded USA maps on to my TomTom GO LIVE 820 before we left. For a long trip the cost of renting car nav is probably more than buying one. I didn’t realise I could have also downloaded live services, which would have been awesome and solved some of the problems I had along the way, but nevertheless, our trip would not have been possible without TomTom. One lesson I learned in setting it up was that the file was way too big to go on the device, but when I put a SD Card in the slot it installed so easily I was worried that I had done something wrong. I hadn’t, it just worked. Grateful thanks to TomTom. It guided me to all the places I needed to go (I changed the voice to American, Kiwi and Australian didn’t really cut it with names like Lake Ponchtrain)
- My iPhone. I will go into detail in upcoming blogs about all the apps I used on my iPhone and why, largely because there were no single apps that could tell me what I needed to know about attractions, accomodation, food etc. This is great for the development community, but if I was’t a geek, we would have missed out on so much and probably have been dissapointed with our ability to meet our bucket list expectations. Not only the apps, but also the ability to stay in contact with family at home, using a combination of voice and data apps including Facetime, Skype and Voxer.
- A USA SIM Card. We spent about 2 hours in New Orleans getting a local SIM Card. Thanks are required to the team at Keep N Touch on Canal Street who were awesome. Our first trek into town was to Riverwalk Mall, thinking it should be easy to get a SIM card but the two mobile shops there could help us, but they only sold mobiles and accessories. Someone in the mall told us to go up Canal and there would a store there which could help us and they were right. The whole team from the store at Keep N Touch rallied around us for a $50 prepay card from H2O for my iPhone. First they had to take a micro SIM out of one of their phones to see if my phone was locked, then set up an account for me, then help me get it working. $50 got me unlimited calls throughout the USA, unlimited text messaging throughout the USA and 2GB of data! It worked pretty much flawlessly everywhere we went, while my wife’s Vodafone mobile had coverage less than half of the time.
I’m going to write a lot more about mobile and location based apps in upcoming blogs, but basically these were the essential elements without which we would not have enjoyed our trip half as much and you would do well to do the same as we did. The other item I will mention is that we have a service on our Orcon telephone and Internet account (I haven’t had a good run with them, but this one feature was great) giving us free calls to the USA for up to an hour at a time including US mobiles. Once we had the SIM set up, our children were able to call us on mobile, within the constraints of the time zones and we used it a lot.
This is a follow on from my previous blogs.
So when you do it all yourself, the first things you start worrying about are whether the bookings you made will be honored. I printed off 2 copies of everything including copies of our passports because there is always the risk that your luggage will not arrive at the same place as you do. I emailed copies to myself as well so I could access them from a variety of sources as well.
Some properties are really good at responding to your requests and others seem to have all the technology but really don’t manage it very well. I once arrived, excited to be at the Pink Flamingo in Las Vegas, booked through a travel agent who through time zones were asleep, when the front desk told me they had no record of my booking and were full with a conference. After a lot of pressure they found me a room for one night and then I was on my own, so I have reason to be cautious. When I booked my first night’s accommodation at the Days Inn at New Orleans Airport using the Booking.com app on my iPad, I requested a quiet room and confirmation that they would pick me up at the airport when I arrived at the airport. I didn’t get confirmation, so I rang them a couple of days before I left. They told me to call from the airport when I arrived. No problem there.
Another thing I would recommend if you are going on a long trip and have kids or family at home you need to stay in touch with, is to arrange free-calling from home to the country you are going to. I have that set up with Orcon already for my music business. Effectively from home anyone can call any number on the USA, including mobiles for up to one hour at a time. We used that a lot.
I also tried a few VOIP / Mobile apps for low-cost communication. The one we used daily was Voxer. They promote their application as a Walkie Talkie and one of its key features is a push to talk function. The nice thing is that the other person doesn’t actually have to be there or respond straight away. It also allows you to send photos and TXT messages without using the mobile phone system, so much cheaper. It was also an easy way to let them know to call us.
One of the things I found when I did my research on how I was going to be able to plan our trip on a daily basis was which properties had applications of their own, such as for Apple devices. In most cases what I found was that a very large number of properties in the hospitality and tourism industry had very nice brochureware applications. They seem to be typically template driven, designed to keep the cost down, but the weakness with most of them was that once the property had set up the application, or paid a developer to do it for them, they forgot all about it and didn’t keep them up to date. This reminded me very much of the tourism industry in general when it comes to web sites. It doesn’t inspire people to visit the property which is surely the reason they pay for them in the first place. I also found that hardly any of them took advantage of the ability to use the GPS in Smartphones and provide directions based on your location.
I suspect that many destinations do not appreciate the number of people using Smartphones and web applications and also the fact that those people are typically at the higher income level and the type of customers they want visiting their business.
One that really impressed me big time was Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Not far from New Orleans. I was keen to enjoy some history about plantation life and slavery and based on their web presence, booked 2 nights in a historic Doctors House, which was restored to original condition, supplemented by a massive spa bath, cable TV and air conditioning.
They have a great website, excellent iPhone and Android applications, which are well worth downloading and trying out even if you don’t go there, because they are excellent examples of getting it right. They also have a Facebook page, are on Pinterest, YouTube and much more. Many of these pages are updated daily and their use of social media and location is matched by their professionalism when you visit. It is little wonder that they do exceptionally good business. Anyone looking at how to grow their destination business could do well to use them as an example.
There are several plantations in the area, but this one is by far the busiest and I am sure it is their use of technology combined with Southern hospitality and attention to detail at all levels that gets random people like me from the other side of the world to visit. If you are in Australia or New Zealand and want to do something similar, we have partners at GeoSmart who can assist, but you do need to understand that setting up applications and pages are the start, not the end. It is not build it and they will come, it is about maintaining it consistently and engaging with people. This will come up again and again during this series of blogs about road trips and FIT tourists and travellers.
Yesterday I wrote a blog called Location Based Lessons from FIT USA Road Trip and I am going to write a series of blogs about this experience.
At first it wasn’t going to be a road trip. As a songwriter I wanted to go to Memphis and Tennessee. I also wanted to go to places that neither I nor my wife had been, so all our experiences would be mutually new.
I would have loved to go to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, but we were too late to get tickets and accommodation in and around Nashville was up about 400% during the festival week. I googled tours for the Tennessee area and the awards and came up with pretty much nothing. There was a tour from Australia, but I really didn’t want to spend a couple of weeks with Aussies. It turned out there was a NZ tour going, I actually met them randomly in Chattanooga including getting a hug from the fantastic fiddler Marian Burns, who had so much fun playing that she had lost her voice. It was odd being in a country where people think NZ is either in Australia or somewhere below Wyoming, one woman said NZ is fabulous, they have some amazing homes in the Balkans, but I digress and she was from Alabama:)
So I contacted a few travel agents in Auckland. I visited a few and asked for brochures for the USA. No one had anything other than cruises. I then went on websites and phoned a few, saying I would like a rental car and to basically do a 3 week driving tour, focussing on Tennessee and Mississippi, based around music and history. What could they do for me. I quickly found out that they had no experience in the USA and the options they came up with made very little sense and were hugely expensive. They were not particularly helpful and their ideas ranged from fly to Chicago and drop the car back in Kansas to why don’t you do a tour of Canada. Their quotes for flights and rental cars were way above retail. They didn’t tell me about interstate drop off fees and I ended up doing half the work for them and still found them wanting.
So off to the net and DIY from scratch. The first thing I did was find the Tennessee Tourist Development Department who kindly posted me a tour book and map of the State. This was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time reading, using Post It Tags and looking on Google Maps. I searched some car rental sites and found that Thrifty had the best deals by far and I managed to get a Ford Escape SUV for under half of the best prices that NZ travel agents offered me.
The next step was, while I wanted to be a FIT traveller, I needed somewhere to crash on the first night in New Orleans as we were arriving around midnight. I installed the Booking.com application which was recommended to me and booked an airport hotel, The Days Inn, for the first night, a couple of weeks in advance. I didn’t want to pick up a rental car in a city and start driving on the wrong side of the road at midnight after about 30 hours of travel and little sleep. The nice thing with Booking.com is that you can book and provide your credit card details, but in most cases if you cancel within a certain time, they don’t penalize you or take your money.
I also installed TripAdvisor on my iPhone and iPad which was both my lifeline and my nemesis. More on this in upcoming blogs. I relied heavily on the reviews on TripAdvisor and they never let me down. TripAdvisor was the best app I used on the whole trip, but it was incredibly time-consuming. It told me that The Days Inn was closest to the airport, had a free shuttle to the airport and that many rooms had noisy air conditioning. I figured we were going to be so tired it wouldn’t matter and I was right.
TripAdvisor is an excellent location based services application for not only acccomodation, but also places to eat and things to do. Of all the apps I used, this was the best, but it still left me wanting. This was a great lesson for me as a location based services and mobile data evangelist, eating the dog food so to speak. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have learned so much on this trip and the big lesson is that if you are not a geek, then you have a massive learning curve with mobile data location based apps as available today. If you are a developer, particularly down under, you have brilliant opportunities to develop new applications that are more user friendly, and I can help.
I then started planning for the next 2 nights in Louisiana, which I will discuss in my next blog. I will mention that we placed a bid on MyAirNZ for a Skycouch as this was my wife’s longest flight to date (Auckland to Los Angeles) and we had 2 more flights straight after that to get to New Orleans. We were told that we could bid for upgrades using airpoints and considered that as an option but looking at the Premier Economy that looked really impressive (and obviously felt so, looking at the big grin of a retired senior politician beaming at me from one of them on the return flight to NZ) they didn’t allow you to lie down, or get anywhere remotely like that. If there are two of you and you are happy to lie down in spoon position, I’d go with the cheaper Skycouch option and note that if they are not all sold, they get cheaper the closer you get to the flight, although there is a risk that if you wait too long you miss out.
I also installed Air NZ mPass on my iPhone which I also strongly recommend you add to your smartphone. It was quite helpful at times, which I will also explain later, at least when it comes to Air NZ flights, but not very helpful for code shares where it pretty much failed.
In my next blog I will discuss my next two days and how the American tourist and hospitality industry is getting really well-connected when it comes to mobile apps, social media and web sites, but there are major disconnects between having the apps and doing something with them. They appear to be ahead of New Zealand when it comes to business prescence on apps and websites, which is something NZ travel and tourism businesses need to address, because inbound tourists are going to have expectations I don’t believe we are meeting. A large percentage of those tourists will have smartphones and expect more. On the other hand, whilst everything looks wonderful, many properties pay lip service to social and location based media after they have invested in the technology and completed the app sign off. This is a similar attitude that many properties have to their web sites. Build and forget.
Want to know what happens next? Subscribe to this blog and wait for the next one which won’t be far behind.