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Best travel websites need superior accessibility for travelers on the road

Travel research

Spring is almost here, and many travelers are looking to rid themselves of cabin fever by hitting the open road for a trip to pretty much anywhere but home. Given today’s mobile-enabled society, these same customers expect to be able to access the best travel websites from their smartphones or tablets. With the nation’s leading providers expanding their 4G LTE network coverage areas, Internet speeds close to a cable or digital subscriber line service are possible from a car, hotel room, or even a recreational vehicle.

Because of the increased availability of high-bandwidth Internet on the go, travel website providers need to be at the top of their game when it comes to two major issues related to the technical architecture of their website. First, rich media content — such as video walk-throughs of a vacation rental property or photos of a restaurant — needs to be delivered in a fast, bandwidth-optimized fashion. Second, the website’s design needs to take into account mobile Web accessibility principles so the site renders properly in smartphone browsers.

Work with a content delivery network partner for mobile website optimization

For mobile Web accessibility, the best travel websites need to make sure their in-house or subcontracted Web development staff are up-to-speed on the latest mobile design standards and best practices. On the other hand, optimizing the delivery of rich media content is best handled by a partnership with a leading content delivery network (CDN) skilled in Web acceleration and other techniques to provide travelers with a captivating experience when accessing a website from the road.

The best CDNs leverage TCP-anycast routing to accelerate Web pages’ loading processes, which is useful for slower mobile Internet networks. Using gzip compression ensures that vital mobile bandwidth is conserved. Access to the Internet’s leading peering points means travel websites are easily accessible from many popular vacation destinations all over the world.

When considering their site’s architecture, travel website providers need to take into account the increasing number of travelers who use their mobile devices to go online. Leveraging a CDN to optimize the delivery of their websites in a bandwith-constrained mobile environment is a smart play for providers.

Photo credit: Flickr

The evolving customer service experience in the hospitality industry

With the ubiquity and constant connection of mobile devices on the rise, the average consumer’s preferences are shifting away from interacting face-to-face with customer service representatives toward a desire for more digitized services. The hotel customer service experience is evolving, with more high-tech options for guests than ever before. A new survey of 1,000 British hotel customers by AppyHotel.com found that half of the respondents actually preferred asking for assistance from staff via digital means rather than speaking with them directly, Breaking Travel News reports.

Many hospitality businesses are making upgrades to their current systems to accommodate customers’ new technology expectations. High-end luxury hotels are modernizing whole segments of their customer service offerings, but small and mid-size hotels that can’t usually provide concierge services to their guests now have a cost-effective option for supplying such amenities with these new tools.

Defining the digitalized customer service experience

Courtyard by Marriott, for example, is upgrading their hospitality technology with new digital signage in all of their lobbies. These displays act as high-tech information desks, supplying guests with all the travel data they need in real time, including flight status, local weather, suggestions for activities and restaurants, and area maps with step-by-step directions.

Other new digital offerings include streaming informative videos about area attractions directly to guests’ rooms, interacting with customers through Twitter, and even offering online ordering applications for room service or groceries for customers on extended stays.

Are you prepared for these upgrades?

Providing real-time, high-bandwidth content and services to customers requires more than just shiny new digital screens. Businesses making these changes to provide a more tech-centric customer service experience must consider the IT infrastructure necessary to keep such applications running smoothly. Behind the scenes, increases in website traffic during high-volume periods could cause frustrating lag times for users. Any downtime will not only waste these valuable resources, but it could also negatively affect the customer experience.

Content delivery networks (CDNs) can help support current infrastructure by complementing existing servers, allowing guests to access digital information without interruption even during high-volume periods. Customers pay based on the access that they need, and the best CDN providers offer scalable bandwidth that can help any business keep up with customer demands, no matter its size.

As customers demand more technology from their service experiences, the hospitality industry must continue to evolve their digital offerings to keep up with these new trends.

Digital billboards reach new heights in airline travel

Billboards

Airlines are joining in the digital revolution by replacing older entertainment options with digital billboards and in-flight entertainment technologies.

More advertisers are looking to creative digital signage as a way to access their customers and prospective customers in ways and places they never have before. Digital billboards have become a fantastic way to connect with consumers on the go, and they have recently reached new heights as airlines embrace a makeover for their seat-back trays.

According to tnooz, Clear Channel Airports has partnered with SmartTray International to create a new line of products that will replace the seat-back tray as we know it. Airlines will be able to easily switch out the old trays for the newer version, which has space for food and drinks as well as a place for passengers to prop up their tablets for easy, in-flight entertainment. Now that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has allowed the use of devices during flights, technologies like the SmartTray will become increasingly relevant in the digital advertising space.

Wi-Fi servers deliver in-flight content by streaming video to passengers. An enormous advertising opportunity emerges when passengers are encouraged to use their devices with the SmartTray, essentially turning their tablets into digital billboards. Airlines will have to decide which revenue stream will be most lucrative, selling downloadable in-flight entertainment or offering free on-demand television and movies with advertisements. There is no doubt that sending ads directly to an already captivated viewer is an exciting proposition for companies focusing on this demographic.

Whichever way airlines decide to generate revenue with these new, in-flight billboards, it is clear that there will be a growing demand for uninterrupted content delivery for their customers. They are hardly the only ones taking high bandwidth live-streaming to the next level. Wired reports that Spike Aerospace is building the first supersonic private jet, which will include digital display technology that live-streams images of the skyline outside, replacing the windows on the airplane.

High-performance content delivery networks will play an essential role in making all this live-streaming possible. The challenge for airlines moving into the digital space will be providing this rich media content to their passengers without running into lagging response times due to lack of infrastructure. Partnering with an industry-leading CDN provider that can deliver quality video and IPTV will ensure consumers get the entertainment they need, fast and consistently.

Photo credit: Flickr

Olery analyzes hospitality trends for Abu Dhabi hotel classification system

The Yas Hotel Abu Dhabi

Olery has recently partnered with the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority to provide cutting-edge technology for the organization’s new hotel classification system, according to Hospitality Net. The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority can now use Olery’s Guest Experience Index (GEI) to compare hotels’ actual hotel star ratings with guest reviews on travel websites, including Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, and TripAdvisor.

Olery creates innovative tools for organizations in the hospitality and leisure industries to help them keep up with the latest hospitality trends. Specifically, the company tracks online performance with the goal of increasing business revenue for hotels and related hospitality venues. Should a hotel’s GEI fall below the Authority’s minimum score for a particular star rating, the hotel in question can be further investigated by the Authority. The organization will work with these underperforming hotels to advise them on where and how they can improve services.

This software is extremely important, as today’s hotel star rating system is often seen as outdated. Dr. Wouter Hensens, the Project Director for Exceed Hospitality who also facilitated this particular project, said in a statement that “current classification systems are often dysfunctional as they are voluntary.” He goes on to say that he believes that the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and Olery are addressing the main concerns of hotel classification systems with the new technology.

Olery also provides the Authority with an interactive dashboard that reports on the performance of apartments and hotels in the area in real-time. Moreover, Olery’s technology solution also allows the Authority to create customized reports on hospitality trends based on hotel star ratings on a monthly basis.

As online travel review websites are becoming increasingly popular and influential when consumers book hotels, it will be interesting to see if this particular technology will play a larger role in the future.

Photo credit: Flickr

Vacation personalization: The role of social media in the hospitality industry

A Hotel Room

When you book hotel reservations on an online site like Orbit or Travelocity, you’re handing over money to those sites as well as the actual hotel. According to Hotel Cluster, online travel agencies raked in $2.7 billion in hotel booking commissions in 2010.

These integrated travel websites and agencies seem to have a monopoly on personalization. Your air, hotel, and car reservations are bundled together, giving you cheaper rates. Then there’s the convenience of integrating your holiday planning with social media applications, which further personalizes the experience because recommendations are tailored to you based on previous activities.

Well, the major players in the hospitality industry have decided to take back some of that action by making social media and personalization a major focus of their offerings, hoping to draw customers to their dedicated sites to make bookings directly. Here are some of the ways they are doing it.

Content marketing

Using content marketing enhances the personalization of your travels. Hotels are starting to utilize both paid and unpaid blogs, targeted Facebook marketing, and even enhanced travelogues in order to cater to consumers.

There is obviously no one-size-fits-all experience for travelers, so hotels must cater to a range of customers. Adventurous and seasoned travelers, for instance, like to take things into their own hands, staying in crowdsourced accommodations found on sites such as Airbnb in an attempt to feel like locals. Younger travelers enjoy socializing (and the cheaper rates) at hostels. But now, hotels are using blogs to market that same sense of adventure to consumers, highlighting destination spots that are easy on the wallet, but also provide an authentic and immersive experience.

Sheraton Hotels, for example, created the #socialhour initiative, providing opportunities for socialization among hotel guests while also tying the experience directly to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. On May 15, 2013, Sheraton Guests shared a simultaneous global toast during #socialhour, a unique event powered entirely by social media.

Social network integration

Have you ever tried a restaurant or visited a night club because you saw your friends rave about the food or drinks on Facebook or Pinterest? Social networking review sites like Yelp have a strong hold on consumer choice. The hospitality industry, too, is banking on the fact that you share your travels and interests with your friends.

Innovators like Double Tree Hotels partnered with Google to create a video, Twitter, and Facebook aggregator called DTour. The initiative offers not only Double Tree produced videos and content, but also provides a global map on which Double Tree hotel customers can share their individual travel experiences in videos, tweets, or Facebook posts. While traversing the DTour map, you can see the wide variety of activities and accommodations that Double Tree has to offer.

Smartphones

Yes, there is an app for everything, but many hotel chains either don’t have apps or maintain apps that are fairly simple and uninteresting. Food service giants such as Dunkin Donuts and Pinkberry have apps that allow an amazing level of personalization. The Pinkberry app lets users recharge their Pinkberry card, acquire coupons, and easily share purchases and favorites on Facebook. Dunkin Donuts recently launched an instagram campaign using the hashtag #mydunkin, which encourages users to post their Dunkin Donuts inspired stories and photos on Instagram. The hospitality industry wants to build on this success and encourage volunteer content creation, tying in each step of the reservation process to a social media application.

The Ritz-Carlton mobile app doesn’t stop at allowing quick room reservations and check-ins. The app is location aware, presenting you with special offers based on your current location. The Ritz-Carlton mobile app also allows you to access room service, provides location-based travel tips, and has social media integration.

Finding the right technology

Building the travel experience of the future is not only a problem for artists, designers, and creative professionals, but also for operations and development. The hospitality industry wants to utilize social media, produce corresponding mobile apps, distribute multimedia rich content, and enhance the personalization of your travels. The only way to distribute such media effectively is by using a content distribution network (CDN).

Mobile apps for hotel reservations need to be fast and responsive, and the multimedia-rich content such as images and video that will be incorporated must be dispersed across major points of presence (POP). These POPs will cache data and effectively distribute content to devices based on geographic location, allowing hotels to quickly distribute updated content and present fresh daily deals and perspectives to potential customers.

With hotels redesigning their Web applications to facilitate social media integration, their infrastructures will quickly become obsolete. Hotel chains are moving to the cloud and large data centers in order to keep up with customer demand. A CDN can replicate static features of hotel web applications globally so that customers can access content even when the hotel Web application is overloaded, ensuring a seamless user experience without costly discontinuities.

Business travelers require VoIP to make international phone or video calls. In addition, business customers may need to keep up on the international business climate by viewing global TV news channels. Content distribution networks can deliver streaming video and TV up to ten times faster than other solutions. Hooking up VoIP and IPTV with many points of presence allows content to be delivered quickly in hotels. Content distribution networks are the only technology which can allow every customer at a large hotel to stream video simultaneously, a feature necessary in today’s globalized marketplace.

Marketing Experiences

According to Media Bistro, 30 percent of travelers find hotel deals through mobile apps, and 46 percent of all travelers “check-in” on social networks while on vacation. Events like DTour and #socialhour allows hotels to market tangible experiences, rather than just use their sites and apps for room reservations. As the hospitality industry continues to develop unique mobile apps and social media integration, the highlight of any vacation may soon be the personalization of your experience that these technologies offer.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.