Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Have an airport question? Ask an avatar

Avatars will soon be arriving at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports.
Not the blue beings made famous in James Cameron’s 2009 film, but holographic, computer-generated “people” that will look, talk and even dress just like the airports’ live customer service agents.
Beginning in July, “AVA” — an airport virtual assistant projected onto a person-shaped piece of glass — will greet visitors with basic welcome information at LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building, Newark Liberty’s Terminal B and at JFK’s Terminal 5.
“The script will be customized for each airport, but the avatars will be wearing the same red coats that our customer service agents wear and will provide general information that customers typically ask for, such as the location of the bathrooms, the buses and the car rentals,” said Steve Coleman, spokesman for The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that operates the three airports.
Already on duty at London’s Luton Airport (where the holographic male and female avatars are dubbed "Holly" and "Graham") and at the airport in Dubai, the avatars in the New York airports join those being used for slightly different purposes at Dulles and soon in Boston Logan airport.
“People pay attention to them. They’re so lifelike and you can’t help but look at them,” Patrick Bienvenu, a principal with avatar-creator AirportOne, told
Bienvenu also said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has expressed “a very strong interest” in using the avatars at airports, as has XpressSpa, which currently has 42 full-service spas operating in US airports.

“Right now, when our licensed technicians aren’t busy, they may stand out in front of the spa talking to passengers and explaining the services on the menu,” said Moreton Binn, XpressSpa CEO. “If the AVA avatar was out there drawing attention and offering information, those technicians could be inside providing the services.”
Binn said XpressSpa will soon test the avatars at JFK and Dallas airports, and possibly at the San Francisco and Minneapolis airports as well.
“AVA won’t be able to describe everything,” said Binn. “But more about the mysteries of what we do can be explained inside.”
Coleman said the Port Authority aviation staff first saw the avatars at a trade show and decided it would be worth trying as a pilot program to supplement customer service at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, which together serve more than 106 million passengers a year.
“We purchased three avatars for $60,000 each. If the pilot program is successful, we’ll expand the avatars to other terminals at each airport,” said Coleman.
The avatars are part of a wide range of customer service improvements the Port Authority announced Monday for the three New York area airports in response to a customer survey conducted of more than 10,000 air passengers.
Improvements to be rolled out in the next 90 days include an increase in the number of (live) customer service agents on duty during peak travel times, an expanded effort to crack down on taxi hustling, the installation of additional power poles for charging electronic devices and cleaner restroom facilities.
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

American Express Survey Finds Increase in Summer Travel Plans

By Kate Rice
May 09, 2012 11:18 PM are planning to take an average of 2.8 one-week trips this summer, with 43 percent planning to travel over long weekends and holidays, such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July. That’s up from 36 percent in 2011, according to the latest American ExpressSpending & Saving Tracker.
Eighty-four percent of travelers are planning on vacationing in U.S. cities this summer. Forty-four percent are headed south, 27 percent are headed west. Seventy-three percent plan to save money by driving or taking a train or bus. Only 39 percent intend to fly, about the same as last summer. However, 48 percent say that rising gas prices will affect their driving plans.
Summer may be family travel season because the kids are out of school, but 19 percent of families plan to send their children to an overnight camp during the summer months, and 65 percent plan on traveling without their children during the summer. Forty percent say they have a credit card rewards or frequent flier point’s card membership, with 58 percent saying that they successfully redeem points for such travel.
Although travelers want to get away, 83 percent say that they will stay connected while on vacation and 64 percent plan to check their work email daily over their vacations. Fewer travelers are also less concerned with the price they pay for Internet service while traveling (65 percent versus 72 percent in 2011).
In addition, they’re looking for more meaningful vacations. Forty-eight percent seek more meaningful experiences and say they will immerse themselves in the culture and heritage of their destination. The survey also indicated that this year’s travelers are more likely to go abroad and take advantage of holiday weekend getaways.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Look at Norwegian Breakaway's Top Deck

Norwegian Breakaway will arrive in its year round home port of New York in May 2013. Atop the huge ship will be one of the most extensive sports and aqua park complexes at sea. Many of the features have been seen before, but Norwegian Cruise Line seems to be upping the ante on many of the elements.

The thee-story high water slides are part of the Aqua Park complex. There will be five slides of three types. One, called the Free Fall, will have passengers standing up and falling straight down when the floor drops from beneath them. The Free Fall will be the first of its type at sea

The Aqua Park will also feature two pools and four hot tubs.

The Nickelodeon-themed Kids' section of the Aqua Park will have a kid-sized pool and slide, and all sorts of things to squirt and spray them.

The three-story-high sports complex on Norwegian Breakaway's top deck will feature a 24-foot climbing cage, a rock climbing wall, and a 40-element ropes course. The ropes course includes a feature that takes those who dare 8 feet over the side of the ship.

Another element of the sports complex is the line's first 9-hole miniature golf course.