How Travel Brands Are Using the Smartwatch

From Scanning Your Boarding Pass to Unlocking Your Hotel Room.

Apple Watch Uber

Now that the Apple Watch is out in the wild and the smartwatch concept is a bit less foreign, plenty of brands are working to make apps for the wearable. One industry, in particular, is paying very close attention: travel. Read on to learn how airlines such as easyJet— as well as hospitality brands such as Starwood Hotels — are working with the Apple Watch and other wearables.

Starwood Hotels: Unlocking Your Hotel Room Door

Among the first batch of high-profile apps for the Apple Watch was Starwood Hotels’ SPG app. Once you’ve downloaded it on your iPhone and logged into your account, you can view details for upcoming reservations and view your Starpoints balance. The coolest part, though, is that you can use the watch to unlock your hotel room door at select Starwood properties. This is thanks to SPG Keyless, a Bluetooth-based technology. 

Incidentally, one of my friends recently tried out this functionality at a W Hotel and discovered a few quirks. First, he learned the hard way that you need to book your reservation directly through Starwood to use the door-unlocking feature on the Apple Watch. (He booked through a third-party site, and the SPG Keyless feature didn’t work when he tried.) After sorting things out with Starwood, though, he was able to open the door from the watch — a feat that is admittedly pretty cool to see in action.

Airlines and the Apple Watch 

Given that smartwatches can display glanceable information that doesn’t require you to pull your phone out, it’s no surprise that airlines are developing apps for the wearables. easyJet and several other airlines have announced apps for the Apple Watch, and thanks to Apple’s Passbook feature, passengers are able to scan boarding passes directly from their wrists.

Providing Context Every Step of the Way

Beyond the nifty boarding pass scanning feature, smartwatches can provide travelers at the airport with trip updates, such as gate changes and specialized offers such as a discounted entry fee for an airline lounge. Thanks to beacons, Bluetooth-based devices that can detect the precise location of a user's smartphone, brands have the potential to target travelers with personalized offers. Hotels can take advantage of this technology too; when you walk by the on-site spa, for example, you could receive a push notification with an offer for a spa service. 

While the appeal for airlines and hotels is obvious — they'll have more opportunities to up-sell you — such applications could make travel easier for consumers, too. My favorite example of this is having your boarding pass on your smartwatch to display when you go through security. We already have so many things to carry when traveling, so moving information away from the physical world and onto your wrist definitely helps simplify things.

Clearly, the Apple Watch and other wrist-bound wearables represent opportunities to generate additional revenue from customers, but travel brands are also using them to drive customer loyalty by providing helpful services. For example, InterContinental Hotel Group offers a translation app for the Apple Watch, letting users receive real-time spoken translations in 12 languages to help them during their travels. And then there are brands such as Uber, with clear applications for travelers using the smartwatch.

Beyond the Apple Watch

It's not like the Apple Watch is the only wearable travel brands are working with — though it is by far the most popular. The airline Virgin Atlantic, for example, ran a pilot program with Google Glass, having its associates assist customers at London Heathrow by pulling up information on the smart eyeglasses. Virgin Atlantic is also exploring the benefits of Sony's SmartWatch 3, as well as the Japanese brand's SmartEyeglass, as a productivity tool for its engineering staff.