Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Travel Experience as a Brand

The travel experience, especially via air, has some problems. I just traveled to Austin, Texas, and back on business. Here are some of the problems I incurred. Unfortunately they are not isolated, and they undermine the brand for travel as an experience.
  • Seat assignments were not as preferred, because it appears we booked too early?
  • The wait for a cab in Austin was interminable, not because there weren’t any cabs but because of the process of calling them up one at a time, while they moved at a "crawl," with a line of 20 or 30 people all standing in 100-degree heat.
  • I thought the unusual and less-than-aesthetically-pleasing entrance to Austin must have been a cabbie shortcut, but it wasn’t much better on the return. Durham is worried about wayfinding, but we’re not alone.
  • Upon arrival at the hotel with a very courteous cabbie, we learned he didn’t take credit cards. We came up with cash and asked for a receipt but learned later it was blank… this is a loophole for fraud.
  • During the commotion, the bell staff had unloaded the trunk and immediately called me over to the stand. After the cab had left, I learned they had not unloaded a shoulder pack with my keys, my electronics and charger cables, etc. Fortunately, it occurred to me that it was missing right after checkin.
  • The first person I tried to explain it to at the bell stand was too busy to focus. We called the cab company and got nothing but a rude reaction from several dispatchers, all of whom explained that the company didn’t know which cabs were out on service and not all of them (and none of the ones serving the airport) had radios.
  • Finally one of the bell staff who had made the mistake took up our plea and went down to check the security tapes, only to find they didn’t capture either the cab number or whether the missing piece had or had not been unloaded.
  • The good news is that two and a half hours later, the cab returned, and the driver returned my pack. Good guy, and I was sure to commend him to the dispatch company and the security and bell staff at the hotel.
  • On the way out, the airport HVAC wasn’t working well in Austin. We were able to change our seat assignments at self-checkin but were not able to get seats at all in DFW for RDU. When we arrived in DFW, the terminal for departure was on the opposite side of the airport with only 15 minutes to make the trip.
  • We got there on time… got a person to switch so the seats worked… but then sat on the tarmac in a sweltering plane for two and a half hours while a mechanic worked on the hatches in the rear.
A lot went right on this trip. Austin has done a lot to rejuvenate its downtown without making it generic and fueling a very active street music scene with good restaurants, etc. The conference was exceptional. The hotel was outstanding.

But we need to do a lot to improve overall travel experience.

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