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Smartphone Power - How Can Hotels Harness and Manage It?

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March 01, 2010
Mobile | Technology
Ashok Kumar - akumar@ieee.org

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Smartphones have been on an explosive growth path and it is forecasted to continue over the next five years. The smartphone adoption in enterprises started with BlackBerry® devices from RIM and have seen recent spurt due to the popularity of Apple®’s iPhones in the consumer market. Now with Google’s Android™ and its variations, the choice of mobile devices and apps have grown exponentially. There are a plethora of applications available across all mobile devices. The iTunes® App Store had three billion downloads in January. No matter what one was looking for there seems to be an app for it. This article reviews the fundamental shift taking place with mobile devices, how hospitality organizations can harness the power of the smartphones and finally advise on how to manage them effectively. 

Smartphones Paradigm Shift
The current paradigm shift enables mobility for consumers and business users alike. This is analogous to the shift that the IT industry experienced from desktops to laptops in the 90s. Such a shift empowered users by enabling many applications that made physical presence at a location irrelevant a decade ago. We are seeing this with smartphones making laptops unnecessary in many situations. The smartphones have now become the preferred go-to device for the highly mobile workforce with voice, data (e-mail, Internet access) and video capabilities, all integrated in the device for simultaneous access.  

Market research firm In-Stat forecasts smartphones to grow from 161.4 million units in 2009 to 415.9 million units by 2014 worldwide at a compound annual growth rate of over 79 percent. Smartphones as percentage of all mobile phones grows from 13.4 percent in 2009 to 25.2 percent by 2014, as can be seen from the figure below. 

Smartphones Can Enhance Guest Service
With the increasing adoption of smartphones by guests, hotels can deliver services that are optimized for the mobile environment. The hotel services can include advanced guest check-in conveniences, mobile marketing and promotions that can be location-based, time-sensitive promotional deals that guests can view on the move, etc. Guests can opt-in for text prompts for advance check-in, confirm their arrival by texting the hotel and only have to show picture-ID at front desk to receive a room key. Further advancements in 2-D bar codes could make it cost-effective to enable pushing down the room key codes to mobile devices. Then all the guest would need to do is to show the bar code at the room door and enter, with all of this being seamlessly integrated with the electronic lock system. 

Location-based services are poised for greater use with the ease of integration with smartphones. Promotional applications of restaurants and coffee shop coupons, tourist attractions discounts, entertainment show tickets based on time-of-day, etc. are all facilitated and accessed much more easily with the mobile devices now. The hotel, resort and casino services that were being offered over the Web could be re-formatted and optimized for the mobile Web and include the benefits of social networking with it too.             
Back-office Productivity Gains
With a large mobile workforce in hospitality, the increased adoption of smartphones can be harnessed very well for productivity gains. Many hotels have already implemented back-office mobile apps that include: room status, housekeeping, trouble ticketing and quicker response to guest service needs. With appropriate integration over the mobile devices and the wireless networks, the hotel enterprise can be extended far beyond the walls of the property so that guests can access from airports, on their way in the shuttles, at a location nearby, etc.

There is a growing trend of employees bringing their own phones to work. This can be harnessed by the hotel administration by providing access to apps over a controlled environment and delivered through a cloud computing- based architecture to the employee-owned smartphones. Whether it is company-issued or employee-owned, smartphones are here to stay as enterprise tools. IT organizations need to formulate strategies with the complexities of mobile costs, security and management of these devices in mind.

Smartphones Are Here to Stay
The smartphones adoption will continue to grow over the next few years and the number of applications will increase. Hotels can harness the power of smartphones to deliver guest service enhancements, including timely promotions. Back-office applications using smartphones can result in productivity gains in hotel operations. Solutions with good analytics can assist hotel IT organizations in managing the smartphones to derive best benefits. Smartphones can become the preferred go-to device, replacing the laptop, for the highly mobile workers.  
Ashok Kumar is an independent technology advisor with extensive experience in the justifiable implementations of emerging technologies such as wireless, IP networks, voice and video communications. He can be reached at (404) 626-0227 or e-mail akumar@ieee.org.  

©2010 Hospitality Upgrade
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent.
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Advice for Hotel IT Organizations

Guests increasingly rely on smartphones for most of their communications needs. Hotel organizations can harness the power of the smartphones and provide enhanced guest services optimized for the mobile environment. 

The highly mobile workforce in a hotel can be leveraged with applications addressing hotel operational needs over multiple smartphone platforms.

Hotel operators should consider mobility management solutions to deploy and operate a robust and secure environment to gain the productivity and cost-containment benefits.   

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