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.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.