Travel Technology

An (Almost) Existential Question Before You Leave On Vacation or a Business Trip

“To Out of Office or Not to Out of Office, that is the question.”

For some people the answer is an easy “Yes,” or “No.” Either way, they know where they stand. But for more of us than you probably realize, the use/non-use of out-of-the-office messages (OOOs) borders on being an existential question.

The best OOO message I have ever seen features the perpetually handsome Sean Connery in the picture on this blog. Under the two pictures of the seemingly ageless actor dated 1989 and 2009 the email OOO message reads: “I am on vacation in an attempt to slow the speed of my aging process to that of Sean Connery. I will return in two weeks and I hope to look exactly the same.”

out of office photo 2

There actually is, however, a somewhat serious ongoing debate about whether using an “out-of-the-office” notice when you leave the office is a good idea.

One school of thought argues that OOOs should be turned on any time you are out of reach for more than a few hours. You do it as a courtesy to those trying to reach you and/or as a defense against losing business while you’re away. That equals good will won or maintained. And if you’re paid on commission, your customers may be more likely to wait patiently for your return rather than place a quick call to your competitor.

But the other school of thought says that using OOOs is a sign of executive weakness, neediness or, worse, lack of commitment. C-suite executives, after all, almost never use OOOs. They have assistants who handle their calls and screen their emails when they’re away. Thus, your use of an OOO calls attention to the fact that you aren’t all that important within your organization, or you’d have a live person handling your calls and email while you’re away.

Too Honest OOO Message

As for me, if I really need to be out-of-pocket for a deep refresh, then I’ll put an out-of-the-office message on my phone and email. But normally I don’t because I am not a big OOOs person. I use them only when I know that I’m going to be really out of touch for more than one day in a row, or 12 business hours. If I think I’ll have e-mail access every 6 to 8 hours, even while on vacation, then I don’t use one.

Of course, having now said that, I think I’d like to see more people use OOOs. It could help foster more corporate cultures that understand, accept and support the need of workers to unplug, get out of today’s 24/7 business mindset, and escape into the amazingly beautiful and stimulating world that too often we overlook because of our preoccupation with work.

Now I’d like to know what you think. Do you use OOOs? Why or why not? And I’d love to see some examples of good – and some maybe not-so-good or just plain funny – OOOs you’ve used or encountered. What are your guidelines for when to use/not use OOOs? Does your company have a policy on the use of OOOs? And what tips can you share that could make the OOOs more effective, more engaging, funnier, or maybe just more acceptable as a way to protect our time when unavailable?



Vacation Unplugged: Leave the Phone at Home


Mobile technology has come so far, so fast that hundreds of millions now actually miss the proverbial forest for the trees – or, more specifically, they miss the grandeur of the Taj Mahal for a silly selfie, or the immense beauty of the Grand Canyon for a mere video game.

It’s a thoroughly modern quandary: do you take the picture/shoot the video, or do you experience the moment? Perhaps the most famous illustration of how big an issue this has become today is pair of famous photos tweeted out last year by NBC News.

The first showed a crowd gathered in a part of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City as Pope John Paul II’s body was carried across the square into the Basilica for public viewing on April 4, 2005. In the second, a very similar crowd is shown in almost the exact same location as they watched Pope Francis speak for the first time after his election on March 13, 2013. The most striking difference: thousands of people in the 2013 shot are holding their cell phone cameras aloft to capture the moment on silicone memory chips; in the 2005 photo nearly all of the faithful are trusting their own eyes – and their ears and noses and other senses – to capture the event in their own, remarkably vivid memories.

We at Carnival Corporation see this growing phenomenon all the time. As you can imagine, many of our customers increasingly want to access their technology while at sea. So we are investing millions of dollars to bring technologies like the Internet, wifi and video streaming to our more than 100 ships sailing under 9 different brand names. Yet more and more we’re seeing our guests seemingly miss the fact that they’re aboard fabulous, state-of-the-art ships that feature all sorts of fantastic restaurants and entertainment, and that visit some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Instead they are choosing – probably without really thinking much about it – to see those things primarily through a very limited lens or a tiny video monitor rather than to experience them in all their fullness and splendor via their five senses?

I understand the desire to share photos with others back home. And I get it that in this age of social media lots of people can show the world how creative or funny they can be by filming their own little movie shorts. But by over-using technology we are diminishing our own experiences. So here are some suggestions from someone who spends pretty much all of his time thinking about ways we can create better life experiences for our guests:

  1. Put the technology away during family dinners on vacation. Maybe one photo together at the table is appropriate for remembering the event later on. But your actual memory of the dinner will be more vivid and visceral if you spend time talking, sharing and laughing together rather than texting or checking email and social media. Leave the phones in the room or cabin.
  2. Record beautiful sights in your mind’s eye rather than on silicone memory chips. How did it feel? What did you smell at that moment? Was it sunny and warm, or cold and foggy? Despite the technical advances in photography, no photo or video can completely capture the visual – and visceral – details that your eyes and other senses can take in.
  3. Go old school: use a map instead of GPS, especially when traveling with children. Use the map to plan your trip in advance, focusing on the sights you want to see along the way. Discuss the history or the geography or other important subjects related to what you’ll be seeing trip. Appoint a human navigator to provide driving directions based on landmarks rather than digital data.
  4. Use your time waiting in line well. Waiting in line is almost unavoidable on vacation. Instead of checking email, or letting your kids play video games, converse, play games, tell silly jokes, look around, people watch.
  5. Resist the temptation to turn on the video player for long car rides. Play car games. Talk. Sing. Read books. Encourage the kids to draw and color pictures of things they’re seeing along the road. Count license plates. Just don’t let the kids put on headphones and check-out while “checking in.”

My point is that while today’s digital communications and camera technology are really amazing, they can cause you to miss out on fully experiencing many beautiful and amazing things in the world around us, including the friends and family with whom we travel. Merely going somewhere isn’t the real point of traveling, of vacationing or of being at big events. The point is to experience those things, and you can do that best with you own five senses.