App Got Your Gold?

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June 12, 2015
Guest Experience
James Lingle

I don’t like waiting in lines. I seem to end up in them at times when I am tired, annoyed, in a hurry or when I have my kids with me. Recently, as I checked in to a select service hotel, the gentleman in front of me told the agent, “I used mobile check in.”  I thought to myself – why didn’t I do that?  The guest provided identification to the agent and was handed a key. His experience took less than 30 seconds. Considering I was waiting my turn to check in, I was pretty happy it went so quickly.

Mobile check-in is the rage. It’s like someone took the idea of the check-in kiosk and actually made it work. I started thinking – what else was a good idea that failed miserably that other people are trying to make work in a more innovative way? The first thing that came to mind was the attempt to get room service bookable from your TV. There were some runs at this, but nothing that was ever quicker or easier than picking up the phone to order. 

What makes the idea of mobile check-in such a success and can these successes offer our industry new tools to reach our customers?  Yes, the first answer to this question is apps and the second is real integration, and it takes both to bring about the best results. It might be good to start with the end in mind. To be a good business decision, there needs to be a return on the investment, proving at least one of three things to get funding for an initiative – brand standard, financial return on investment or guest impact. If IT could prove more than one, then all the better. Apps and integration can do just that.

We’ve already touched on the guest impact and those are hugely important. If we do it right, a happy guest is a return guest, not to mention the opportunity for free marketing via social networking.

Sometimes the hardest thing to prove is a financial ROI. Too often we take the amount of money the project will cost, calculate the expected additional revenue or cost savings and leave it at that. What is missing is where the real value might be – all the data we can get when our solutions have real integration. 

My brother-in-law works for a large verb (search engine). If you want to find something on the Internet, you use that large verb to find it. He said, “You either buy the product or you are the product.” When you use that search engine (verb), you are the product. What you do, what you see and what you buy is tracked. That is what apps and real integration are for us. We don’t charge our customers to use our apps, so if we are going to give this away for free, we are looking for something in return. This is the hidden component of ROI that we often miss. There is value in all of that information flowing through our apps.

Technology tends to be a trickle-down phenomenon. Most of the neat, cool stuff starts with either the luxury segment or the major brands. It eventually trickles down to everyone else after the bugs get worked out and the cost comes down. If you want to use mobile check-in for a major brand, you must belong to their rewards programs and use their app. The data necessary to be part of their program and the data on your activities flows through them, not (in the case of small operators and management companies) through your own business intelligence environments.

Major hotel brands tend to lead the way in the deployment of these types of new technology because of resources and data.  They can afford to do it themselves. More importantly than that, every brand is collecting as much data as they can to make smart marketing and customer decisions. Make no mistake, I am not criticizing, rather, I am applauding. The brands are opening doors and showing new tools of business that are available. 

What if you are an independent hotel and are without the resources to develop these tools? Consider the third party vendors.

There are really two types of third-party vendors. The first are best-of-breed vendors. Maybe they can provide a top of the line mobile app. Maybe they can help you with an effective check-in app or room service app. Maybe some of them can even help you mine that marketing gold (like InGuest or Digital Alchemy). They have a variety of strengths, such as exceptional design, local presence, exceptional development resources, but they tend to be most effective for organizations that are looking for a tool to accomplish a specific purpose.

The second type of vendor is one that can do it all for you. The biggest challenge here is that this vendor is in much shorter supply. Let’s say you wanted a platform that would allow for a mobile check-in (including pre-stay messaging); that would then follow that guest to his room via the guest mobile device; that allowed a guest to order services, and browse content (along with very targeted marketing and advertising); then followed him home with post stay messaging and offers to return, all while doing a great job tracking that information and sending it along to you in a manner that allowed you to communicate, upsell and anticipate needs in real time and to market to him in an effective fashion.  You start thinking about vendors like iRiS and Intelity, but the list narrows pretty quickly after that.   

Ultimately, I believe that the data is at the heart of it all.  The data allows you to target guest desires and break down barriers to sales, it makes you more knowledgeable about your guest and if used well can help you make more money – and after all, we are all in business to make a little bit of money.

James Lingle is the president of James Lingle Consulting. For over 20 years, he has been a part of technology in the hospitality space. He can be reached at


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