Hotels Hanging on For NFC Technology... Will 2013 Be the Year?
By Vanessa Horwell Founder & Chief Visibility Officer, ThinkInk & TravelInk'd | June 09, 2013
It wasn't long ago that the NFC (near field communication) craze was at fever pitch and industry experts and market watchers declared the virtual wallet (and contactless payments) era had arrived. Do you remember? Smartphones would be equipped with the two-way low-frequency radio-based technology and everything from checking in and checking out to unlocking guest room doors and exchanging business cards in the lobby would change. Back in 2008 Juniper Research boldly predicted that 2013 would be the tipping point where one in five phones would be NFC-enabled, generating some $75 billion in global small-ticket item revenue. The physical leather-bound wallet, it seemed, was on the way out and already the NFC-enabled Nokia 6131, the first NFC flip phone, had been selling for a year.
Well guess what? We're nearly half way through 2013 and I'm starting to feel like the Chief Visibility Officer who cried wolf. I, too, have on occasion been swept up in the NFC hyperbole. Not that I would be alone, as much of the NFC (and mobile payments) hype has been just that – hype. Google Wallet proved swipe-less (fool's) gold and even Peter Hazelhurst, who heads the Google Wallet division, qualified consumer adoption challenges at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show: "This is an evolving process. It's not as if tomorrow everyone suddenly has it."
How very true. It's been more than 2,000 "tomorrows" since the technology was first unveiled. And its earliest roots go back to RFID (radio frequency identification) development in the early 1980s and before.
Apple's decision not to include NFC on the iPhone 5 was a strong signal to others in the smartphone and NFC landscape that, even after all this time, the technology still wasn't ready for primetime as of September 2012. Even if hotels – and guests – were ready to embrace it, smartphones hadn't exactly caught up. While at last count 62 mobile phone models across various makers featured NFC technology, sales were lackluster at best. Add to that nagging security concerns and expensive NFC reader upgrades and consumers and hotel executives were left with a nascent NFC industry essentially still in park.
The NFC Experience, the Spotlight Returns
Fast forward six months and the debate as to the technology's worth, especially as it relates to hotels, is heating up again. This year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona included an event that almost sounded like it belonged at Universal Studios – The NFC Experience. Designed to showcase all that NFC can do, this gathering attracted over 10,000 attendees who could use their NFC-enabled Windows 8, Blackberry 7.1 and Android 4 phones to interact with kiosks, open hotel doors and make payments. Organizers handed out 3,500 NFC-equipped phones to VIPs at the conference to help further promote NCF's value. Users were able to take advantage of NFC "badges" that did away with the need to show photo ID, quickening and streamlining the event entry process.