The wearable companion across the entire journey

Just off a connecting flight, a traveler’s smart watch buzzes with updated gate information. Later, when he reaches the gate, a fitness tracker tells him he’s walked 500 steps, about a tenth of his daily goal. A built-in sensor records his heart rate, a little fast due to the stress of making his flight, and alerts him to the unusual strain.

Upon arrival, he’ll receive information about where to find his bags, his ground transportation, and his hotel for the night. He can even swipe into his room without a key, using his smart watch.

Wearable technology — including smart watches, fitness trackers, biometric sensors and even connected clothing — has already started to change the way we travel.

On-person devices give travelers information at a glance, without digging out their cellphones. It replaces cumbersome travel documents like tickets, boarding passes, baggage claims and hotel keys with easy-to-access electronic interfaces. Wearables allow travelers to continue to enjoy the music, entertainment, fitness applications and other technologies they use in their personal lives while on the road. And it gives corporations that depend on traveling executives new ways to manage the safety and well-being of their employees.

All signs point to continued rapid growth for wearables, too.

In 2016, the wearable technology market is projected to hit $14 billion, according to CCS Insights.

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The wearables market is projected to expand to over $34 billion by 2020. In 2014, Nielsen estimated that one in six consumers used at least one form of wearable technology — and that users tended to be young and relatively well-off. Their survey found that nearly half (48 percent) of wearable users were between 18 and 34, and 29 percent made more than $100,000 per year. And as the industry continues to rapidly grow and innovate, changes abound!

Key benefits to business travelers

Wearable technologies offer business travelers and the companies that employ them a number of advantages:

Glance-able information: Travelers loaded down with luggage can’t always get to mobile phones stashed in coat pockets, purses or briefcases, so they may miss important information. A wearable like a watch can be accessed more readily on the go. A buzz alerts the traveler to updates and allows them to retrieve messages with a single click.

Continuity: Frequent travelers become stressed when they can’t keep up with what’s happening at the office or can’t maintain routines that keep them fit on the road. Wearables like smart watches let them easily connect with the office, while fitness trackers help them continue to make sure they’re moving, standing, and exercising enough, just like at home.

Biometrics: Wearables can provide a steady stream of data on physical indicators like pulse rate, blood pressure and others. Travelers can use this information to monitor their own wellness on the road. With permission, corporate travel agencies can also analyze this information to make sure key people aren’t getting unhealthily burnt out by travel demands.

Security: When bad weather strikes or a terrorist event occurs, companies often scramble to account for personnel traveling in an affected area. Wearable technology can help locate missing travelers through features like an easy-to-use “I’m OK” button or GPS tracking.

Privacy and ergonomics concern many travelers

Although wearables can potentially benefit both travelers and their employers, there are a few drawbacks. Many travelers are wary of giving up personal information about where they go, what they do, and, particularly, the biometric data that tracks their health.

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The other main drawback is ergonomics. Some travel infrastructure, like boarding pass readers, was never designed for smartwatches. Today, travelers with smartwatch boarding passes must either twist their wrists all the way around to accommodate the readers or take their watches off.

Other applications like hotel key card readers may be almost as awkward. Yet as wearable technology becomes more common, travel providers will likely adapt their equipment to fit them.

Adding wearable messaging to your services

For travel providers — including airlines, hotel companies, and corporate and retail travel agencies — wearable technology offers a powerful new way to communicate with customers. It’s also a communications vehicle that travelers don’t seem to mind, as long as your messages are carefully targeted. Hoteliers also have many emerging options to message travelers directly.

To avoid turning travelers off, make sure that wearable messaging relates to the exact part of the trip that the recipient is experiencing.

For instance, if the traveler has just gotten off the plane, a text about which baggage carousel to check will be useful. At the baggage carousel, another about taxi and limo options would be applicable. You want to avoid sending transportation information later when the traveler checks into the hotel. More than a few irrelevant messages and the traveler will likely tune out.

Communicating benefits can also keep travelers tuned in. “Did you know you’re entitled to free Wi-Fi at this hotel chain?” “Were you aware that there’s an earlier flight you could take?” When wearable messages make your customers’ lives easier, you can be sure that they’ll check whenever the smart watch buzzes.

By engaging strategically on this new platform, travel suppliers can gain a leg up with a more streamlined — and personal — traveler experience.

For more on trends in travel technology, read about Big Data and personalization.