E-Z

You don't need to know much about RFID tags to know that they have a growing number of uses.

These are the ID chips that serve as the brains of the E-ZPass and similar devices that enable millions of vehicles to bypass congested toll booths on turnpikes and bridges throughout the U.S.

Embedded in passports and credit cards, they can also speed consumers across borders and through checkout lines.

Wal-Mart uses them to track shipments; ranchers use them to keep track of cattle. Geeks get them implanted under their skin (we are not making this up!) so that they can open doors and activate their laptops with a wave of the hand.

Travel-related businesses are already making use of them for passenger identification or in door locks, and as the chips get smaller, better and cheaper, their uses will multiply.

We believe that's a good thing -- maybe even a great thing -- because from the user's perspective, coming or going or paying with a device like an E-ZPass is not merely a welcome convenience, it's often a world apart from the alternative.

Think of it as an upgrade.

We have long believed that some of the biggest challenges facing travel have less to do with the nature of the travel product or the travel experience and more to do with external sources of friction that can gum up the works and deter tourists.

We're talking about congestion, security bottlenecks, red tape, laborious check-in procedures, language barriers, currency conversions, waiting in line. These are the enemy, and travel must fight them with every available technology.

Smartphones have already had an impact, and RFID tags can also play a role, which is why we are particularly happy that Disney is adopting this technology at Walt Disney World.

As we reported in the news pages, Disney guests will soon be able to use a "MagicBand" bracelet for park admittance or access to particular rides and attractions. 

The RFID-equipped bracelet can also serve as a hotel room key and stored-value payment system for buying food or merchandise.

From a technology standpoint, none of these applications is new, but what is remarkable for travel is that they are being adopted by a major brand such as Disney to enhance efficiency, reduce costs and improve the guest experience -- in other words, to reduce friction.

An enduring and valuable aspect of the Disney brand is trust. Parents trust Disney, and that trust is so great that we all know that Disney would never jeopardize it.

When paragons of efficiency like UPS and FedEx began using GPS technology, we knew that GPS was here to stay. Similarly, the arrival of the MagicBand bracelet means that RFID technology has clearly "arrived" in the mainstream of hospitality.

No discussion of this technology is complete without some reference to "privacy concerns," but we expect those concerns, whatever they are, to dissipate as the technology spreads and improves.

Clearly, not every travel experience is going to be improved by smartphones, GPS maps, RFID chips and Whatever Comes Next. We don't think these tools can do much, yet, to enhance the experience of a balloon ride over the Serengeti or a stroll by the Seine, but their inestimable value lies in their potential to break down the barriers between Here and There.
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