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Special report: Google Glass

October 5, 2013

(Published in Buying Business Travel – September 2013)

Google Glass is being tipped for release later this year – are we on the brink of a new computing movement, or is it just another fad? Matthew Parsons investigates

Last month, Mercedes Benz announced plans to integrate Google Glass into its in-car entertainment, and create a seamless GPS [global positioning system] experience – although, weeks later, the UK Department for Transport suggested Glass will be banned on UK roads.

Even rock groups are getting in on the act, with Bon Jovi’s keyboard player sporting a pair at a recent concert, streaming the gig to fans. Now, it’s the travel industry’s turn.

For the traditional tourist, Glass will prove a hit for those wanting to record and share their experiences. But can business travel also benefit?

Apart from the aforementioned GPS aspect (imagine arrows appearing before your eyes, navigating you to your hotel or airport gate), there’s more on offer. Paul Richer, senior partner at travel technology firm Genesys, sees Glass as a tool for discreet multi-screening – for example, watching the Twitter stream and incoming emails when in business meetings and conferences. Live translation could make meetings in foreign languages easier.

For Jason Nash, head of innovation at Travelport, the appeal is notifications. “Pushing alerts to people when travelling makes life more stress-free,” he says, adding that with Glass, TMCs can facilitate video-conferencing, track locations and provide customers with video support.

Meanwhile, Ian Carron, chief information officer at Capita Travel and Events, says business travel by its very nature involves customers frequently finding themselves in new locations and unfamiliar settings, so he is already investigating wearable technology.

“It’s a powerful and exciting prospect, allowing people to carry out genuinely new and useful activities, or existing ones more simply,” he says. “Imagine discreetly providing a conference delegate with the name and profile of the other attendees as they glance round the room.”

However, Glass’s future won’t be without its problems. “Information security managers are still paranoid about smartphones,” says Simon McLean, managing director of Click Travel. “The thought of allowing someone to wander around an office streaming images of what they see to their Facebook page is going to give them a nervous breakdown.”

Richer, meanwhile, cites concerns over Glass’s recording capability: “There will need to be some protocol of letting people know they are being recorded.”

Glass is also only at the beginning of its lifecycle. Many firms will be reluctant to commit spend to what is effectively another experiment from Google.

“We’d need to see a lot more excitement and adoption before we build something ourselves,” Nash adds, but at the same time is optimistic Travelport’s Universal API (application programming interface) will be adopted by Glass app developers.

Indeed, success may just lie with these third parties. Whether using the Travelport Developer Network, or Sabre Red App Centre, smaller companies are poised to lead the charge, bringing relevant data to life, according to two Google executives we talked to.

Mike Tangney, Google’s travel manager, says it’s the app makers who will have an impact, while Nate Bucholz, Google’s industry head for travel, says: “The potential for Glass as a business travel tool is almost limitless.”

Capita’s Carron adds: “TMCs should be starting to assess the emerging technologies now, and identify opportunities within their business model.”

Whether or not TMCs can convince staff to actually wear the glasses, however, could ultimately decide the fate of Glass’s role in the world of business travel.

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