Planners and attendees function as full-fledged business travelers as they make their way to offsite group meetings and events. And anything that helps to relieve the stresses of getting there and back, as well as navigating the unfamiliar, will help the meeting start out on the right foot. To the rescue come a number of apps created both specifically for frequent corporate travel and for general leisure travelers that smooth the way.
We’ve come a long way from the days when syncing your calendar or email to your phone was a headache requiring several rounds of back and forth with tech support. Both meeting planners and meeting attendees now constantly use their phones as mobile offices while they’re in sessions or on the road, reviewing documents, responding to emails and doing research on the Web.
Nicole Campana, global event specialist for Redwood City, California-based Oracle explains, “I run marketing events. In the marketing cloud, when we talk to venues about our bandwidth needs, we make it clear that we want them to assume that everyone is always on three devices: phone, iPad and laptop. Most of all, though, I see people using their phones.”
This is not just because phones are the smallest and easiest to hop on of the three main devices Campana mentioned, but also due to the increasingly wide range of ways to use what was once a simple device just for placing calls. Business travel apps available today turn your phone into a travel concierge and a personal assistant.
“I usually add an app if it’s going to help me personally or professionally save time,” explains Tanya Zuckerman, CMP, CMM, manager of meetings and events for Urbandale, Iowa-based Bayer CropScience. “I am just really getting into the apps, but most have quicker access than their sites and the information is more accurate, so if I hear of anything new I am quick to download and try.”
Part of what is so powerful about integrating travel apps into your routine is that they help you at each key leg of your trip, from getting the traffic when you head to the airport, to tracking your flight delays; and from keeping the pulse of what’s going on on social media during your event, to helping you file your receipts and expenses each day.
“I use all of the airline apps, and even specific airport apps if I am tracking flights,” says Zuckerman. “I can stay ahead of what’s being posted, and as soon as I land, I can access without having to wait on the Internet.”
She adds, “I also use Concur to track and upload my receipts, BCD TripSource and Passbook.” This trio of powerful business travel apps — Concur for photographing, filing and approving expenses; BCD TripSource for itinerary management and Passbook to store usable images of loyalty cards, boarding passes, and other travel and attraction tickets — can substantially reduce the paper weight you lug around during events.
Jessica Gioglio, social media strategist for Canton, Massachusetts-based Dunkin Donuts, also relies on the receipt photographing function of Concur, which has made preparing expense reports finally cease to be a time-consuming chore for many business travelers, both to plan travel and file expense reports. “Expense reports are far easier via the app than the desktop experience, plus you can upload photos of receipts from a smartphone, making the tedious task of filing an expense report much easier,” she says. “During events, I use Evernote as an easy way to take notes and send seamlessly to yourself while traveling, and DropBox for storing and sending large files and presentations.”
Campana and her team at Oracle have found ways to adapt relatively common travel apps to help connect while they travel for their events. “I use TripIt myself, to keep my team and family appraised of where I am.” Like BCD TripSource, TripIt is an itinerary management app, but the extended version automatically updates you on flight delays and rebooking options, as well as allowing you to share your travel plans with other users. “A lot of people on our team use it, so it’s a good way to see who is where. You can share it so others can just see your current or next trip, which is what I do with most of my coworkers. It’s a good way to look quickly and see is he here? Can he do that?
“As a team we also use Foursquare a lot in the same way,” she says. This ubiquitous location-based app is widely used in non-travel and non-corporate settings to alert others in your network when you have arrived at or are leaving restaurants and hotels as well as many other listed public locations such as airports and parks. Did they check in at the airport? Did they land? Did they check in yet at the hotel or the meeting venue? During the event, it helps if you have an event you’re running in multiple locations. That’s when we check in more. For this event we have coming up, we’re all on the same floor, so we may only use it Sunday and Monday when people are getting in.”
A large percentage of planners surveyed for this story do not use any apps yet for their business or personal travel. Some do not have smartphones, while others do and only use them for email and surfing the Web. In some cases, even if a planner has his or her own smartphone, it is not a standard company issue, so it’s hard to ensure that they can connect with other planners in their department or attendees through the same apps.
One concern, particularly in higher security industries such as legal services and pharmaceuticals, data security is a concern. Many planners are not sure what apps they can use for their company information and event-related data in particular.
Alternatively, while many planners who use apps prize them for having the most updated information, others don’t find this to be the case. “One of the most frustrating app issues is outdated information,” says Jeriana Strother, conference, meetings and travel assistant for Dallas, Texas-based GameStop. “Why do they still have the information available for a restaurant or hotel that is no longer in business? I don’t get it. Current information makes or breaks my travel app experience.”
Even avid app users such as Zuckerman wish there were more apps to specifically meet the needs of road warriors. “I am on the hunt for an app that can help me find quick and healthy meals or recipes on the run whether food trucks, take out or delivery,” she says. “Also something for getting a quicker more effective workout. I just downloaded 7 Minute Workout so that I have something I can do in my room. I’d love to see something on safe places to walk or run or even a police app on where there are crime issues so that I can avoid those places and hotels that are in high crime areas. I’m sure these are all out there, but I haven’t heard of them yet.”
While there are some apps, particularly in the health market, that meet some of these needs, nothing has yet bubbled up to provide a comprehensive solution for these business travel issues, though the market keeps putting out apps with a finely tuned focus on meeting many of the business-related needs of the business traveler.
Many travel apps, while useful domestically, really shine when you go abroad. What you may lose in terms of access to destination-specific information, you gain in apps that provide a real value add by allowing you to get around and communicate like you would at home — without racking up a monumental data bill.
As hotels are increasingly catching up with and building out to accommodate planners’ heavy bandwidth needs, many apps allow planners and attendees to keep in touch with their team at home and onsite, and even conduct lengthy calls for free while on the road.
“WhatsApp is great for international travel when you need to be able to text messages on Wi-Fi versus data,” says Gioglio. WhatsApp, a popular, free messaging service, allows users to message anyone in their phone contacts who also has a WhatsApp account. There’s no need to add people to the app; it automatically senses who you are able to contact from your phone book. “Groupme is an awesome app that allows you to create groups to chat, and is great for events,” she continues. “We used this extensively at SXSW to share exciting events and tips, and to schedule meet-ups for coffee or drinks.”
While many people are familiar with Skype, an app similar to Apple’s FaceTime widely used for video calls from camera-equipped computers, not as many are familiar with its powerful capabilities for travel. When you install the app on your phone, as long as you have wireless Internet, you can make and receive calls as if you’re on your home network. No need to use minutes as you would with Wi-Fi calling. Calls are free if between another Skype user or incur very low rates to call other cellphones or landlines. Similarly, Viber, one of the top new apps in the last year, allows you to call any another Viber user over Wi-Fi for free.
One of the most compelling ways apps can enhance your travel experience abroad is negotiating language barriers. Whether you need to learn a few key phrases to get around during site visits or you prefer to have a pocket-sized translator to instantly do everything for you, apps have come a long way to make international travel far less of a headache.
With Triplingo, you can set preferences for formal or colloquial phrasing; whether you are on a trip of a business nature; and specific questions or topics that come up often, and the app will design a custom language program to teach you the phrases you need.
Talk to Me offers real-time translation in 15 languages, ideal for times when you have a layover in a country that you’re not well versed in and can’t find anyone to help you who speaks English. Similarly, Word Lens allows you to snap a picture of a sign or product description, and quickly translates the content for you.
An even more specific translation app, mPassport, is your key to negotiating tricky medical situations abroad. The app comes with translations of common symptoms, conditions and medications in 12 languages, and it has a vetted list of doctors and clinics in 30 destinations who can treat you or anyone on your team who needs help in English.
Both at home and abroad, one of the simplest but most frequent things planners and attendees need is reliable insider information about their destination. UrbanDaddy, a website and newsletter focused on unearthing the most interesting dining and activities in cities around the country and globe, has released an app that allows you to choose restaurants based on your group and needs. Taking out a group of male colleagues? Choose the “guys” option for a casual but classy place for a drink. Need to recommend a place for a client meeting to an attendee or exhibitor? There’s a setting for that, too.
“When I travel, I use UrbanSpoon, Trip Advisor and occasionally Yelp,” says Strother. “I am able to find unique restaurants, attractions and hotels that meet my standards. I also use Trip Advisor when making hotel reservations for others. Trip Advisor and UrbanSpoon were recommended to me, and I haven’t been disappointed with the results.” While UrbanSpoon and Yelp are primarily used for restaurant recommendations, the TripAdvisor app also includes city guides for many locations that provide an extra resource: downloadable maps to help you navigate foreign cities without data. The city guides also feature picks for what to do in each city depending on your needs, family activities, top attractions, off-the-beaten path sights and more.
“I would like to try Hotel Tonight, but I always forget about it, mainly because I make my hotel reservation days, sometimes weeks, in advance,” she continues. Though this app is less relevant for planners for the reason Strother mentions, if someone on the team needs to come a day earlier or stay a day late at the last minute, this app, which has been revolutionizing the business travel space, can come in handy. It collates a list not only of cities with availability for the evening in question, but also that meet Hotel Tonight’s criteria and are set to offer users a special deal.
Another new app to hit the scene, MyCityWay is ideal to set up right before you leave for your meeting destination. It creates a dashboard for your new location incorporating everything from weather to local news to traffic cameras to restaurants and service recommendations.
To get a bird’s-eye view of what is going on in your destination on social media — particularly to see what attendees are buzzing about and how to steer the conversation — try the new app CO Everywhere. “CO Everywhere is a local Boston startup that allows you to circle the area you’re around and pull in all the conversation and info from Yelp, Twitter, Instagram, Eventbrite and more,” says Gioglio. “It’s a quick and easy way to see what people at the event are buzzing about and help meeting planners get a feel for an area.”
Beyond the event app, there are many apps that can be used to help planners and attendees get the most out of the destination, and make the process of getting to and from it seamless.
If you have a few extra minutes, try surfing the www.meetingapps.com online portal for more useful mobile apps.
Many are easy to set up and use, though if you have concerns about the security of corporate data, it’s always best to check in with your technical team first. But if you have both a corporate and personal smartphone, many planners have found it easiest to keep their apps on their own phone, so they can use them for personal travel as well.
While apps today do many things that seemed impossible years ago — calling for free while traveling in a foreign country or instantly finding new flight options for you when your flight is cancelled — new ones appear every day to further hone and enhance the business travel experience. You never know what you’ll find. As Campana says, “I download every app I hear about and try it at least once.” C&IT