Technology on holiday: Getting away from it all

Last week my family and I enjoyed a winter holiday down South, something we'd been promising ourselves for some time.

A bit of time skiing at Wanaka, some quail shooting in Central and catching up with some mates and their kids at Pleasant Point.

This interweb thing is all very well, but family does need to come first, and the scale of devices and data can be a little invasive sometimes. And as I had promised my wife, it'd be good to get away from it for a while.

At least that was the plan. A quick add up in the car by my 7-year-old before we drove off the ferry at Picton revealed five different computers in the cab (two smartphones, one tablet, one lappie and an iPod touch). This didn't count the two under the bonnet that run the drivetrain in our Toyota FJ.

We headed south, pushing all the way through to Tekapo for the hot springs, then heading up to Astro Cafe atop Mt John for breakfast. Plonked amongst a clutch of huge astronomy domes and looking like a Frank Lloyd Wright creation, Astro is an astonishing place and home to Midnight, the jet black cat.

Cafe manager Emma had posted photographs of my daughters and Midnight on Facebook from an earlier visit, guaranteeing their repeat custom.

As a result they had bought food treats all the way from Wellington for the express purpose of feeding the Mackenzie Country moggie.

Further south, we booked a table at the world-famous Amigos Mexican Restaurant in Wanaka, via their cool iPhone application and got regular updates on snow conditions from Cardrona via Twitter.

Heading back up country a few days later we decided to treat ourselves to some premium digs and googled for family accommodation in the Mt Hutt area. Both the paid and organic results suggested Terrace Downs was the place to stay, and it didn't disappoint.

Add to that list our use of Maps+ to navigate the back roads of Bannockburn, LinkedIn to connect with the old friends in Pleasant Point, ASB Mobile banking to track spending, Travelbug to book rooms, Flickr to upload our snaps to, Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja to keep the kids quiet in the back seat and Pulse to stay in touch with the rest of the world. Plus a bucket or two of webmail (too much, according to my more restrained wife).

The takeout isn't hard to see: the web follows us around like a bad smell, constantly ready to pull on our jacket about something.

Even when you try to leave it behind, it's just so bloody useful you can't. And that's even factoring in New Zealand's diabolically bad regional mobile coverage, what Stephen Fry called "pathetic" download speeds, and the horrendous amount we pay Telcos for aircard and regular web access.

However, dig a little deeper and more things become apparent.

First, the ability to reach people instantly on the move and offer them choice, means people are increasingly less locked into travel plans, and more inclined to make accommodation and dining decisions as they go. Witness here the evaporation of High Street travel shops, the rise of online cross-selling between accommodation and activities, and the way free wi-fi is now a key distinguisher for the hotel or cafe you will choose.

Second, if your products or service aren't either available online and promoted online (socially or commercially), then you will be out of the sphere of consumer consideration as they navigate the current world of travel. A recent Nielsen survey found 78 per cent of people rank consumer recommendations as the most credible form of advertising. So what people are saying about you is critical, whether it be Facebook, Yelp or online message boards.

Almost as important, is the need to be promoting yourself online in the places where travellers are trawling. The Terrace Downs advertising was in the right place at the right time with the right message.

At every place I stayed I asked the same question: "What segment of your bookings are you doing off the web?" The answer was always between 20 per cent and 25 per cent, not a huge amount, but twice what they reckoned they were doing online two years ago.

In an economic environment where 2012 growth is predicted to be less than 2 per cent, and the average business profitability level is less than 9 per cent, it's a segment few can afford to ignore.

- Mike "MOD" O'Donnell is a professional director, author and head of operations for Trade Me. He's a pretty crap skier though.

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