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As we examine and develop new strategies for the changes that we can expect to see in the hospitality industry post-crisis, we are also starting to envision the world beyond the pandemic and to the new normal of radically shifted travel consumer expectations and preferences. The probability of guest technology expectations worldwide significantly changing becomes high as guests prefer a more touchless and fully mobile-enabled hospitality experience post-COVID-19. The future of hospitality has always been mobile–but COVID-19 will accelerate this trend from a nice-to-have to a must-have for hoteliers.

When it comes to leadership today, how do you stay ahead of the competition? How do you innovate in your niche? How can your team think differently when most people hold on tightly to what they know? To have a competitive advantage, it’s all about keeping your eye on the future and looking for opportunities.

Much is unknown as to when, how fast, and how the hotel industry will recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Never has there been more uncertainty around what capabilities and processes hotels will need, when they will need them, or how technology should support them.

The introduction of Instagram Stories and their real-time, ephemeral content has significantly altered the course of our social media experience, especially for the hospitality industry. Since its launch, Instagram Stories have become an integral tool for content discovery, a sense of welcome and comfort, platform engagement and deeper storytelling. With more than 500 million daily active users, Instagram Stories continue to draw in more brands, hungry consumers, and content creators.

Having been brought up in the world of hotelling, and with family and close friends who remain in the space, the last few months have served as the disruption that none of us asked for, but one that nonetheless forced us to pause for perhaps the first time in many years.

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Epic Technology for Iconic Slopes

by Jennifer Jones

It's that time of year when powder hounds and snow bunnies alike head out to the mountains, rip some turns or cruise down a groomer. And no matter if you’re a solo adventurer or a group enthusiast, there's some impressive technologies that the ski industry has launched that have gamified the entire experience and feed the hungry social media fanatics. For decades many have stated this industry has been behind on the technology curve, however some of these applications could definitely be transferred into the hotel industry with some creative alterations.

There are two competing ski pass products in the United States that provide access to a collection of over 100 resorts and ski areas across the world.  Vail Resorts has partnered with several independent resorts to provide the Epic Pass and Alterra Mountain Company has partnered with 26 independent destinations to offer the Ikon Pass. Both are lucratively priced under $1,000, but a smoking deal for the number of days of skiing you can receive compared to a daily lift ticket which at some resorts is priced as high as $199. Both passes utilize RFID technology where at most resorts you receive direct access to the lifts and no longer have to stand in line to make a lift ticket transaction, make skiers happier as they enter the gondola queue.  Area resorts usually place staff at entry lifts with scan guns to validate the pass.  While passes can be worn on a lanyard around your neck (save those conference badges!) and easily scanned through your coat, many skiers and riders will place them in their jacket left chest pocket which is in a convenient location for the RFID readers to validate who you are and open the access gates to the lift. Veteran skiers know the rule to not place your pass near your cell phone or it will cause confusion for the readers and you'll hold up the line.  This technology isn't new, as many ski areas have adopted RFID years ago.

Enter EpicMix and the Ikon Pass Mobile App.  These apps have enabled guests on the hill the ability to not only track the vertical feet but to keep up with your friends on the mountain. Both the EpicMix and Ikon Pass App track vertical feet, but in two different ways.

Epic Mix has installed RF readers at all lift locations which records what lift you entered, and then calculate how many feet up that lift takes you. Go up and down and all around the mountain passing through these readers every time and you'll see on the app the feet you've skied. Skiers optionally opt in to compete against other registered passholders on the app collecting virtual pins such as "Big Lungs" for covering 125,000 vertical feet in one season. Pins are worth points and while the points won't win you a car or anything at the end of the season, it provides bragging rights on an Epic-wide Leaderboard as well as amongst your buddies. Gamifying your days on the hill creates competitiveness and fun at the same time.  In addition to tracking your mountain activity, "The Academy" functionality will track the kids Ski School experience which be recorded in the app so parents will know what they learned and where they skied. This definitely helps digest the value of an $800 daily lesson.

Ikon Pass offers a similar tracking experience but opts to forego the hardware-heavy installation of RF readers at lift locations and instead uses your phone's GPS to monitor your activity on the mountain as well as track your max speed going down the hill using an algorithm between GPS pings when the Location Services are enabled on your phone.  But remember, speed and greed do not mix well!

From a social standpoint, both apps offer ways to easily share and communicate to the world that you're currently swooshing down the slopes on vacation. At most of the EpicMix resorts, photographers are placed around the mountain in brightly colored outfits to snap that jump or your perfect S-turn.  They will scan your pass and those digital images will be uploaded to the EpicMix portal and connected to your account for you to access later and share out on the social media platform of your choice. The Ikon Pass mobile app offers Live Maps and Geo-Tracking in which you can create a group on the app of your friends (pass holders and non-pass holders).  Everyone in your group must turn on "Tracking" on the app and at any time during the day you can see on the mobile app map where anyone in your group is located on the mountain!  This is helpful when you've split up your experts and your beginner riders and decide to meet back up for lunch at the lodge.  Utilizing GPS technology, you will see where your friends are in real-time noted by a little circular picture of them, even showing them going up the lift.  No more trying to use walkie-talkies to locate your family or kids or worrying that cell phone won’t have service.

If you are trying to familiarize yourself with the mountain, the interactive lift and trail status on the app will give you up to date information about lift wait times and what trails are groomed in case you don't want to accidentally head down a bump-ridden mogul run!

Don't forget that lithium-Ion batteries tend to suffer extreme battery loss in the cold temperatures that are familiar on the mountain.  Unfortunately, these apps are constantly communicating and collecting data which make them battery-hungry beasts. You can try several techniques to keep your phone warm, but it's always a good idea to pack an external charger with you so you can plug in at your next hot cocoa break. Enjoy the slopes!

About The Author
Jennifer Jones
J2 Hospitality Solutions

Jennifer Jones is president at J2 Hospitality Solutions, a technology consulting firm. She is an active member in the HFTP Rocky Mountain chapter, and she has spent her entire career in the hospitality technology space on both vendor and property sides of the spectrum. Jones is a 1997 graduate of Penn State University's School of Hospitality Management.

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