Websites target travelers with hand-held units

Websites target travelers with hand-held units

By Roger Yu, USA TODAY

Managing travel wirelessly on the road is becoming easier, thanks to a growing number of simple, stripped-down websites aimed at hand-held electronic devices.

Simple websites aid travelers by making information access easy
By Matt Mendelsohn, USA TODAY
 
The sites make access to information easier for anyone tapping into the
Internet with a cellphone or a smart phone, devices that lack the power
of a personal computer. In tech-speak, the text-only sites are known as
WAP sites for the programming standard they use — Wireless Application
Protocol.

Travel companies such as Delta Air
Lines, American Airlines and InterContinental Hotels have had text-only
wireless websites for several years.

Others, such as Marriott Hotels, have recently joined the ranks.

 

With business travelers increasingly turning to smart phones — personal
digital assistants, or PDAs, with phone capabilities — many travel companies
are upgrading their sites to add limited graphics to what have been text-only
sites.

Gadgets for those on the go

Expedia’s corporate travel unit this month launched its
site for PDAs that features some graphics. Neil Versen of AvantGo, a company
which designs wireless sites for clients, says the company’s been in talks
with United Airlines, Orbitz, Air France and Lufthansa for such PDA-friendly
sites.

"The (mobile Internet) is really in its infancy,"
Versen says.

At a time when companies are adding wireless sites,
many are adding new information services that appeal to those who spend much
of their time on the road. In many cases, companies are selling the
information.

For $2.99 a month and up, for example, cell phone and
PDA users can call up
Vindigo.com‘s
City Guide. It provides maps, driving directions, weather and traffic updates,
and makes note of nearby restaurants, hotels and museums.

For a $75 fee, WorldMate lets users look up rental car
and hotel information, obtain satellite maps and download airline schedules
and airport information.

Faster downloads

Because wireless sites have fewer functions and
stripped-down graphics, they download faster than normal websites designed for
a personal computer with broadband Internet access. Travel companies tend to
design their sites to provide the information that would be most useful to
someone in transit — flight schedules, departure gates, hotel addresses or
directions, for example.

Booking a room or flight would typically occur before a
trip, so that kind of function is rare on wireless sites.

A typical traveling day for Dean Athanassiades, of
Atlanta, a consultant for electronics company Philips, provides a glimpse of
how pervasive wireless services are for business travelers.

Since his BlackBerry has a cell phone and Web browser
built in, he’s able to check Delta and Federal Aviation Administration
wireless sites en route to the airport to get real-time flight information.
Delta created the separate wireless site in 2001 to let users check schedules,
flight status or itineraries.

The FAA created its wireless site last September.

His employer, Philips, books trips through Sabre
Virtually There, a reservation system. Athanassiades can view his itinerary
through Virtually There’s wireless site.

Once he lands, he also relies heavily on MapQuest
Mobile, a site the mapping company launched in late 2003 for wireless device
users. In February, mapping site MapQuest added a feature making it
unnecessary for Nextel customers to input their location. Using a
global-positioning system, Nextel phones locate the user, and MapQuest
provides a list of relevant information, including nearby hotels and airports.

Athanassiades has had various versions of BlackBerry —
a brand of PDAs made by Canada’s Research In Motion — for four years.

But he’s been surfing the wireless Web more frequently
since he bought the latest model a year ago. It’s faster, and his carrier
charges a flat fee of $30 a month to surf the Web.

Although the PDA lets him surf the Internet for
traditional websites, he generally avoids it because heavy graphics slow the
downloading time and are often too big for the PDA screen.

"I’m discovering more and more wireless (sites) every
day," Athanassiades says. "It’s only been recently that devices have been
affordable and the spectrum available."

Lyle Gary, a publisher in Florida, says his cellphone
and PDA are "indispensable for overcoming travel emergencies."

A month ago, a delayed Delta flight forced him to miss
a connection. While other passengers rushed ticket agents to have bookings
rescheduled, he browsed his PDA for the schedule, made a quick call to the
airline and arranged an alternate flight for a timely arrival in Hartford,
Conn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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