The Summer Road Trip Went Digital. What's Your Strategy?

Memorial Day Kicks Off the Season of the Truly Mobile Consumer

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Growing up in my family Memorial Day meant one thing: hitting the road – with a whole lot of stuff. I still love a good road trip but they've changed a lot since I was a kid. And I thank digital technology.

Even before we packed a single bag, Dad called AAA for the critical TripTik, the grail of all knowledge to unfamiliar cities, highways, hotels and roadside "attractions". Pretty soon the family truckster was buried in dog-eared travel books, local guides and poorly folded maps on every available surface. Today, all you need is your phone.

There's nothing a road trip requires today that your smart phone can't deliver. Maps, hotels, gas stations, restaurants and historical markers. Need a welcome center, an urgent bathroom break for a little kid, a giant ball of twine or a diversion of any kind? It's all there at the tap of a finger. And if you're convoying with friends you're going to need two devices just to keep up with car-to-car texts and Words with Friends or Draw Something.

One thing is for sure: this summer is going to be the most technology driven road trip season in history. With more than 60% of Americans now owning a smart phone, we're all geared up to be tracking, mapping and sharing our journey and experiences across the country. The bigger question as marketers – and travelers – is this: will the businesses that depend on our vacation travel be ready for this emerging breed of always-on, always-informed and always sharing traveler?

Encouraging customers to check-in, comment and rate their experience at your store, restaurant or roadside stop will take on unbelievable importance. The views of one carload can drive more travelers to stop in en route or race on by . Finally, we won't be driving blind to random stops. We'll be able to compare, rate and rank in detail one highway exit from the next – where the views of every vehicle before us will help price shop options and shape the rest of our journey.

We can use sites like My Next Trip to give us hour-by -hour itineraries based on our Foursquare check-in habits and the past check-ins of our friends.

Ok, so you are on your way this summer and get off the highway for an unscheduled pit stop. The dreaded question arises: "where do you want to go?" "I don't know, what's around here?" Irritation, impatience, argument ensue. But with augmented reality apps like Yelp, just hold up the Monocle, look around, see the ratings and make an informed choice. It's just the beginning of what's to come. Municipalities would be well advised to create mobile friendly sites now to give travelers a peak into their communities tomorrow. Why should I pull over and stop in Plainville when I can stop in Exciting Town?

Our vehicles are getting smarter too as mobile device and dashboard become one. Newer car models now incorporate iPad and tablet slot-ins giving touchscreen access to all kinds of navigational and entertainment apps and options. In fact, the only time we will ever get lost is when we loose our signal. It's no wonder car brands are scrambling to try and guarantee coverage in no coverage zones.

Everyone wants in on the entertainment boom that new digital is bringing to the humble road trip. Cracker Barrel, a brand synonymous with road trips, has its own long running books on "tape" rental program. Red Box is the updated version.

Even the family car games have changed. Check out some of the classics at Edmunds.com. I hated these when I was a kid. And I can only imagine what my own kids would say if we tried to play car bingo and the like. It's near impossible to get them to glance out of the window if they're wired to the phone, iPad or game console.

So as we hit the road this summer, we're traveling light: a change of clothes and phone in hand. Throw in a MiFi, and there's absolutely nothing that can stop the phone becoming the best road trip companion ever.

Oh wait, battery life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcus Fischer is CEO space150, the digital agency with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. He can be reached at marcus.fischer@space150.com.
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