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Mobility and Its Importance to Hotels

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March 01, 2015
Ted Horner - ted@hornertech.com.au

We live in a world with the Internet of Things (IoT); a digital universe where the Web, mobile and the physical world meet, and people access information about everything from anywhere at any time on a variety of personal mobile devices. As hoteliers busily begin budgeting for 2015, many are working hard to grasp how to take advantage of this new mobile world centered on sharing, convenience, a sense of control and individuality.

Leveraging Guests’ Use of Smartphones
The hospitality industry has actively been searching for and investing in various methods to modernize the guest experience as guests have increasingly begun to place value on more personalized stays. The check-in process has been of particular interest for innovation because of its significance as one of the first interactions between the hotel and the guest.

In fact, the hotel check-in and checkout processes were found to be significant contributors to overall guest satisfaction levels in eight different global markets. Longer front desk wait times were shown to be able to impact guest satisfaction by up to 50 points within only a few minutes. North American guests were shown to reach this 50-point decline in the shortest amount of time, at an average of 5 minutes.*
The concept of keyless room entry itself is not exceptionally complex. Hotels can enable a guest to use his or her mobile device in place of a traditional keycard to unlock the guestroom door through several communications technologies such as Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) or near-field communications (NFC).

Third-party enhancements to the physical door lock are required before the technology can be used. Wireless receivers are installed into each lock and are activated by the guest’s mobile phone. These receivers have the capability of running on battery, so that they are impervious to power outages or other hotel crises. Hotels can enable a guest to use his or her own mobile device in place of a traditional keycard.

A mobile keycard is transmitted to the guest’s device by the hotel once the booking process is complete and can allow him to skip the need to stop at the front desk to receive a key, reducing the overall check-in process time.

Several of the world's major hotel brands are rolling out mobile check-in platforms via guests’ own smartphones in 2015, having trialed them in a few hotels this year. One of the main reasons why hotel chains are rolling out keyless room entry is because it can lead to a potential increase in guest satisfaction. A recent survey reported that 74 percent of travelers responded that they would like to use mobile technology to automate the check-in process and bypass the reception desk. More importantly, 64 percent of those guests responded that they want to use their smartphone as a room key.
Additional Ways to Monetize Guests' Use of Smartphones
Based on the premise that a two-way, real-time, PMS/POS-integrated mobile hotel app did exist, what are the possibilities?

Well, a hotel could offer automated room upgrade promotions with pictures of the upgrades to increase conversion.(Pictures are one of the most powerful selling tools.) Or on days where the next night’s occupancy is soft, the hotel could promote late checkouts until 4 p.m. for $20, $30 or even $100. For those who accept with a touch of the smartphone, the guest record would be updated in the property management system and the fee automatically applied to the folio.

Let's not forget that room service could be promoted and guests could order right from their smartphones. These orders would automatically go into the POS system.

Hotels can provide guests with direct communication with staff, better connecting the guest to the hotel and available services. Additionally, guests could check out from their smartphones, review their bills, request folios to be emailed, and the PMS would be automatically updated. Hotels could incent guests with loyalty points to mobile check out to help improve housekeeping operations.

A company that is generating a great deal of interest is Flip.to, with the launch of its Photo Advocacy program. Photo Advocacy is designed for interaction with guests, encouraging and incentivizing guests to post and share photos with friends and family.

RoamingAround's suite of mobile technology solutions allows hotels to create unique mobile marketing strategies including geolocation to locate the guest, targeted offers to generate new revenue channels and a mobile preference manager to build customer loyalty and improve the overall customer experience.

While the adoption of keyless room entry is the latest foray by hotel chains to harness the power of mobile technology and enhance the guest arrival experience, mobile will continue to evolve the landscape. Drawing on what the airlines have mastered with travelers selecting their airline seats on their smartphones, it is still early in this process and many questions remain regarding wireless protocols and hardware standards. However, there is no doubt that it has the potential to become an industry standard in the coming years.

Innovations in this area will continue and will create new challenges for hoteliers as they strive to keep pace with each generation of smartphones. Guests' needs are constantly evolving and those hotel chains that solve pain points for guests, and when possible, create revenue-generating apps that are simple and easy to use, will enjoy a competitive advantage. But it will not be easy.

Ted Horner is the managing director of E Horner & Associates Pty Ltd of Sydney, Australia. He can be reached at ted@hornertech.com.au.  

*Cornell Hospitality Industry Perspectives Vol. 3 No. 2 “Lost in Translation: Cross Country Differences in Hotel Guest Satisfaction”

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