If Bob Dylan were writing his famous song now, it might be along the lines of, “The times, they are a-changing, you need a smartphone app, man.” Well, something like that, anyway.

Like it or not, love it or leave it, big tech is here to stay. And it’s everywhere. That includes our cars and the cars and limos that service corporate businesses, weddings and joy riders.

There isn’t one luxury brand out there, from Lexus to Mercedes, that hasn’t been filling its cars with the latest tech gadgets. Every new release brings with it something new. These days you can ask your car’s navigation system to choose you’re route to anywhere or book a table for dinner, update your status on Facebook and a lot more from inside your car while using an Iphone or Android. The word intuitive comes up a lot in relation to tech in the automotive world.

But it’s not just the automotive world that’s working overtime to stay relevant and intuitive  tech wise. The whole sphere of travel transportation is catching up…fast. Tablet computers and smartphones with lightening Internet speeds have caused us to expect instant-gratification, and if these businesses don’t deliver, they’re toast.

Travel Transportation & Tech

It makes sense that the travel transportation world would catch up to the tech trends. Simon Chkifati, travel specialist and CEO of Luxor Limo, understands how important these things are.

“We’ve been in business for over a decade,” sayd Chkifati. “It’s really important for us to provide the sort of things that customers who use limos and/or car service expect. In a few weeks, we’ll be rolling out a new online reservation system that works with phones. And in about two months, we’ll have our first app up and running. There’s a lot of competition out there and we always aim to stay current.”

The business of travel transportation is a big and serious one with the potential for solid financial returns. Most cities have their own limousine associations, and these are very active in staying in touch with buyer needs. At its March 13 member meeting, the Philadelphia Regional Limousine Association went straight to the potential buyers and invited them to participate in a Q&A panel titled “Meet the Buyer” in order to better understand what clients value.

And each year, vendors at the International LCT Show continue to reveal some of the most advanced technology for the limousine industry. A plethora of tools have become available in the last few years. Reservation / account management smartphone apps like the one Luxor Limo is set to launch, lead generators like BeTransported, livery software such as Livery Coach and Trip Tracker, document digitizers like Fujitsu, and dozens of sci-fi-esque GPS and  suspension systems.

New technology helps travel transportation businesses to stay organized and efficient, and it keeps operators ready to meet clients’ needs. Investing in technology can be intimidating financially, but business owners like Chkifati aren’t worried. “Tech is a smart investment that will pay for itself in the long run. I’m convinced the new site and app will eliminate inefficient processes and streamline our business in more ways than one. In fact, if we didn’t do this, we’d lose clients by not having the right tools to compete in this industry.”

The Way Forward

The travel transportation industry is marching on but there are some hiccups. On Tuesday, February 5th, during the 2013 International LCT Show, LCT Publisher and Show Chair Sara Eastwood-McLean gave her annual State of the Industry presentation.

Among the helpful statistics and thoughtful insights, she drew from a recently published white paper on Business Travel Trends for 2013 by Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Her comments included:

  • Brazil, India and China will continue driving growth in business travel at almost twice the world average.
  • Helped by the European debt crisis, the fiscal cliff here in the states and downgraded global growth, business travel budgets are expected to rise only slightly over last year to account for increased prices, not increase volume.
  • In 2012, business travelers spent $254.9 billion, up 1.6% from the prior year. This year, the travel association expects another 4.6% increase to $266.7 billion.
  • Fewer business travelers are likely to hit the road this year as the travel industry is challenged by corporate America’s persistent economic fears.
  • Fewer people traveling do not mean lower costs. Limousine service is lagging behind the entire travel pricing structure.
  • Business travelers are expected to take 431.8 million trips in 2013, the Global Business Travel Association said.  The latest estimate would mean a 1.1% decline from the 436.5 million trips taken in 2012.
  • Service reviews will play a key role in travel negotiations.  One in two business travelers already posts reviews online. These reviews will hold more sway in the business travel program with the adoption of new corporate review sites.
  • New virtual agents that add a personal touch to assist travelers will become more popular.
  • Online booking will continue its growth momentum across all travel sectors.
  • The top travel management priority is deriving air and ground transportation savings.
  • Social media strategies will be implemented by two-thirds of the global travel managers as a key action to improve the traveler experience.
  • Technology will be the traveler’s best friend with mobile/WiFi connectivity and a growing range of business travel apps.
  • Unmanaged travel programs will tempt companies with a low-control culture. The Gen Y business travelers are by nature social, mobile and keen to manage their own travel and expenses while on the go.

Clearly Chkifati and his company are marching to the tune the times and the needs of today’s clients. In order to survive this period of uncertainty financially and globally, companies are going to have to embrace chance—tech change. If not, businesses like Luxor Limo will steal the deals right out from under their noses.

What sort of experiences have you or your company had with travel transportation? I welcome your comments for a potential follow up to this piece.