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Wait Loss

Smart Cards Help Speed Up The Travel Process.

Despite sluggish acceptance in the United States, microprocessor-based cards, commonly called smart cards, finally seem to be easing the mundane tasks of the masses. That's good news for business travelers, who will soon rely on smart cards to hasten basic travel processes, such as renting cars and boarding airlines.

Hilton Hotels Corp., for one, is testing the smart card in conjunction with American Express and IBM at its top 10 business travel destinations nationwide. Thousands of Hilton guests and American Express cardholders were selected to participate; evaluations begin in January.

Here's how the Hilton system works: The card is inserted into a lobby-based kiosk; it reviews the information stored in memory, including the customer's name and address, billing information, room preferences, and frequent-flier program, and makes any requested alterations. Then a key drops out with directions to the room--all this and you get to avoid the line at the front desk, too.

"If all goes well, we'll expand [use of] the smart card to all our commercial hotels," says Hilton's Bob Dirks. "And depending on how that goes, we hope to take the technology international."

According to research firm Dataquest Inc., smart card use should continue to rise: Year-end worldwide smart card sales are expected to total 1.2 billion units. By 2001, that figure should reach 3.4 billion.

"The smart card can provide convenience," says Marlee Laks, vice president of American Express' Smart Card Center of Excellence. "So whether you're boarding an airline, checking into hotels or renting a car, the card will speed the process and make it more traveler-friendly."

Perhaps not surprisingly, American Express has also teamed up with IBM and American Airlines to test the technology at boarding gates; although limited to passenger identification and seat matching, eventually the cards could be used to expedite the boarding process. Says Tim Smith of American Airlines, "We believe it's a technology that'll spread through the marketplace in the years ahead."

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Wait Loss.

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