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Paper Trail: To Austria and Back Again

April 19, 2010

Original Post found on Printing Impressions: CLICK HERE

My family and I recently enjoyed a trip to Austria for a week of skiing. At the onset of the trip, I decided I would track all the areas that print interacted with my trip and how if at all print was different in Europe than the USA. Please note we have iPhone 3Gs and while we did not activate them to have Internet access in Europe we could have.

The results of my observations have pluses and minuses for printing. The important lessons will come from understanding where print has value and where it is the past communications tool.

Each line item will have commentary with my thoughts on its continuing value or not. As always, I encourage your comments and counterpoints to any and all of my observations. Please note that these are my opinions and view of the changing landscape and how we are using Internet-based communications in place of printing options. There are also powerful ways print will stay dominant.

The morning of the flight (Boston to Munich, Germany):

Itinerary — Instead of a printed itinerary we used saved emails and a travel website. The website we purchased our tickets from also sent us flight status updates via text. This option completely replaced our printed option. It worked well.

Long Term Parking ticket stub — I think this printed piece can be replaced with technology. My cell phone can be used to track it using a parking application made by the airport. Then payment happens when that cell phone drives out of the parking lot.

Boarding passes — Another printed piece that technology can replace. Again, my cell phone can act as the boarding pass.

Passport — While I think technology can eventually replace it with biometrics of some sort, we are not there yet. I trust a printed passport over an electronic replacement.

Magazines and story books for flight (kids and adult versions) — (We used iPhones for movies and the plane had video entertainment per seat.) For us, the printed versions of the books where the best resource, especially for the kids. It was not just the sheer convenience of the paper version, but we needed a break from the amount of digital media we had available.

Napkins, cups, food containers, individual food packages and drink containers — No digital replacement on the horizon.

Various signage around Airports — Likely digital replacement eventually.

Arrival in Munich, Germany:

Withdrew money from ATM — Paper money. I think we will start to rely more and more on electronic money transfers and the need for cash in your wallet will greatly reduce. I am sure there are examples of why the need for paper money will exist, but it will be secondary at that point.

More food related printed items: menu and placemats — Menu’s could become digital. I certainly can see walking into a restaurant and having your iPad or Smart Phone type device auto connect to the menu. I suppose you could even order the food and check its status. However, the experience would be lost. I like to interact with the waiter.

Rental car contracts, contract holder and a map — We secured a GPS unit so the map was not needed, or so we thought; contracts can go digital and my phone could be used to handle approvals to drive the car out of secure parking lot.

A large volume of printed signage — This option will likely be replaced at some point, but not until they use some sort of renewable energy source.

Germany to Hotel in Austria:

More food packaging.

Road and Autobahn signage — Digital options are easier to change, but durability is an issue. Like we see today, both will be needed.

Arrival at Hotel/spa and skiing:

Hotel Room key — It acted as your lift ticket if you desired. This is another place your cell phone will replace this product.

Trail maps for downhill and cross country skiing — I am split here, I think GPS-enabled cell phones are going to be more convenient and can act as a locator should you get buried under and avalanche, but I personally like huddling over the map with a few people to plan out your next few moves.

Trail signs and other mountain signage — Can’t see these being replaced with technology at this point. The conditions do not bode well for digital displays. Printed signs are needed for a long time to come.

Our 4 year old daughter won the gold metal at the end of a week-long ski school course and received a printed certificate. In no way would a digital version be a good replacement. Something printed is treasured much more. It is very similar to a collectable, which is another up coming Blog post.

The ski’s themselves where printed on — I think this will stay with printing. Last thing I need is something distracting me as I ski.

The children’s daycare area (Kinderhaus) had a large amount of printed books (along with flat screen for movies) — As a parent I feel it important that I expose my children to how the world works and technology is their future. However, the physical world is not learned via the Internet or videos, but by touch and feel. Having both as part of their lives is critical. I do not see children’s books being completely replaced by digital alternatives. Although, I do see a blended experience as a reality.

Beautifully printed hotel information packet — Could be transmitted digitally to phone or computer, but it would have diminished the experience greatly. A printed piece is something tangible, to be treasured as a thing of value. At a nice hotel I would expect to see a nicely printed product instead of a digital version. It would cheapen the experience greatly.

Daily Hotel newspaper and activities packets — I am mixed on this one, too. On the one hand, it’s nice to read the material and review options will sipping your morning coffee. On the other, it would be nice to have it on my cell phone for continued reference. I think both options given to guests is essential.

Newspapers — Could be done digitally, but again, not a valid option when people are there to get away from the connected world. Print wins here from the standpoint of only receiving data and not interacting with it. Keepign abreast of things while on vacation is nice, but doing something about it defeats the down time the vacation should be giving one.

A beautifully printed hotel book — At the end of our stay, the owner of the hotel personally handed us a coffee table book about the hotel and the region. This was perhaps the best piece of marketing I saw the entire trip. It is something we have on display in our house to share with others and keep the hotel and the great experience fresh in our minds. It was so tastefully done that our impression of the hotel grew from the already high perspective we had for it. If they had asked to send a PDF to us in place of the book we would have said no. The printed book could not be matched in this situation.

Salzburg, Austria:

Hotel packet from the Hotel in Salzburg — We spent one night in Salzberg and selected a decent, but inexpensive hotel option. We did not expect much and did not receive much. They presented one sheet of paper with basic information. It was not very well put together. I guess you get what you pay for. Would I return to that hotel? Maybe, but certainly would have no fond memories of it.

Tourist map — This was a big frustration for me, even with a map I was confused and took a wrong turn. Why not have it all digital with the hotel person having a sheet of local destinations as QR codes and you explain what you want and then they plug them all into your phone. Then as you are walking along you can track yourself as you move and know exactly where you are. The printed map had some value, but an interactive option through your smart phone with live GPS options would be better.

Newsstands — Amazing amount of print, I was shocked at the number of printed options. My impression was that printed news and magazines enjoy a more robust life in Europe. I think in the U.S. we have moved further away from them, but they have a strong presence in Europe or at least Austria and Germany.

Advertising lines the walls and streets, all printed — We will see digital replacements for these; I am positive of this.

More food packaging exposure.

In conclusion, print has a very strong value in a number of ways. Digital options also have their place and will replace printed options. Print will remain a strong option and while its use will be reduced in areas like quick and immediate data and access to data, it will have value in the form or durable signs, reading material, high end marketing and specialty marketing.

Your comments welcome.

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