When Kansans hit the road, they increasingly rely upon technology and count on connectivity to help keep them on their way.
AAA is banking on it, bolstering its business plan with goals for boosting roadside assistance, tapping into advanced communications and steering toward advancements for handling electric cars or anything else that scientists or engineers can come up with in moving people from Point A to Point B.
“There will be a ‘Next Big Thing,’ and it will be exciting,” said Jim Hanni, executive vice president for AAA, and the top administrator for its Kansas region. “You’ll continue to see a growing presence with AAA in providing automotive service. That’s where our members expect us to be and that’s the way they think of us, and that will be very, very important.”
The club’s focus comes as Kansans continue to search for relatively short, economical trips to get away from home in search of culture, recreation and other enjoyment in the midst of a rough economy. As travel officials are projecting a slight increase in industry numbers this year, state leaders are planning to launch an in-state marketing campaign May 12 — one to encourage close-to-home travelers to invite their friends and family to join them for the rides.
“People still have a need and a desire to travel, even through these tough economic times,” said Becky Blake, director of travel and tourism for the Kansas Department of Commerce. “It’s one of those last things people want to give up.”
More people traveling means more people signing up as members of AAA, which saw its statewide tally bump up by 2 percent during the past year, Hanni said. The club has about 15,000 members in Douglas County alone.
Members get discounts on products and services from travel companies, hotels and other operations outside the traditional travel industry. AAA also offers insurance, and is perhaps best known for its traditional “TripTik” trip-planning services and 24-hour roadside assistance.
Such traditional services are advancing with the times. AAA offers GPS-enabled mapping services, with directions to attractions, restaurants and gasoline stations along the way. New iPhone “apps” can steer customers toward discounts, or to summon roadside assistance.
And the AAA truck that shows up to help is offering more assistance than ever before. Sure, the driver still can pour gasoline into a tank or change a flat tire, but now there’s the option of getting a replacement battery installed right there on the side of the road.
Next up: even more repairs, without ever having to get a tow.
“We’ll try to do more and more at the roadside,” Hanni said. “If you’ve got a busted hose or a belt or something that can be done right there, why not do it? It’s called on-the-go service. That’s what we’re working on.”