Blue Skies: If These Walls Could Listen

“Welcome back, Mr. Smith,” the concierge says the moment you set foot in the hotel. “Here’s your copy of the Wall Street Journal, just how you like it.” Later, the bartender at the hotel bar remembers how you take your martini. The shoeshine kid knows what kind of polish you like.

In movies these scenes are shorthand for a certain station in life reached. In real life, I’d bet a martini none of that ever happens to you. Among us non-mega-yacht owners, travel occurs on a plane of polite anonymity.

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good? In coming years, the concierge – and the flight attendant and the rental car clerk – very well might start to know your tastes and preferences before you even arrive. The bad? It’s because the travel industry is spying on us big time.

Data mining is the way of the future for airlines, hotels, car rental companies and more, according to a recent article in Executive Travel. We all leave vast quantities of digital information in our wakes – favorite destinations, favorite foods, favorite pastimes – and travel providers have started to see the value in parsing the heck out of it. Depending on your point of view, this makes for either added comfort or a freaky Big Brother-ish situation:

At Destination Hotels, a management company based in Colorado, repeat guests are tracked not just in the company’s own database but also in publicly-available information streams such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Now what if the hotel spots a tweet by an incoming guest: “Flight delayed. I’m starving. What I’d give for a pastrami sandwich and a cold beer!” And what if shortly after the guest arrives at the property, there’s a knock at the door and room service is there with the sandwich and the beer? “We can make that happen,” says Maureen Callahan, vice president of marketing at Destination.

As the article makes clear, much of this will probably feel like nothing more than thoughtfulness. Who doesn’t want a sandwich and a beer? But it’s hard not to feel a little uneasy, too, with companies we know little about knowing a great deal about us.

Chris Colin is the award-winning author of “Blindsight,” published by the Atavist and named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011. See his work at

Chris Colin
Chris Colin is the author most recently of What to Talk About, as well as What Really Happened to the Class of '93 and Blindsight, named one of Amazon's Best Books of 2011. He’s written about chimp filmmakers, ethnic cleansing, George Bush’s pool boy, blind visual artists, solitary confinement, the Yelpification of the universe and more for the, the New York Times Magazine, Outside, Pop-Up Magazine, Wired, Smithsonian, Mother Jones and Afar, where he's a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]
Chris Colin
Chris Colin
Tags: Downtime,Tech Culture
  • Midou

    i think the theory goes that if you move the pesnrsoicg close to the electricity you only need to transmit low power data over fibre instead of raw electricity over big cables. Do the pesnrsoicg close to source and move processed materials same theory as the Bluff aluminium smelter no?@maetl yep I saw that awhile ago nice idea indeed