The Influence of Beacon Technologies in the Lodging Industry
By Mehmet Erdem Associate Professor of Hotel Operations & Technology, Hotel College, UNLV | January 25, 2015
Co-authored by Thomas Castleberry, Executive Vice President/COO, SkyWire
For the past three years, the technology vertical of the lodging industry has been dominated by four drivers: social, mobile, cloud and analytics. Hoteliers have increasingly realized the power of these drivers as we entered an era of consumer-driven technologies where innovations in the service and retail industries make customer-facing technologies more accessible and affordable for property-wide implementation. As far as hotel guests are considered, being connected is a utility and they have learned to expect almost all facets of their hotel experience be accessible to them through their personal mobile devices. Not surprisingly, a vast majority of solutions introduced in the recent years are mobile device focused. The latest buzz in this domain has been about beacon or iBeacon technologies; often used interchangeably. So what are beacons and what is all buzz about?
A light house, a bright light used to guide ships through the dark nights, a lone radio signal that guides ships and provides hope broadcasting in the silence when guidance is needed most. Beacons have been around for hundreds of years, and so it only makes sense that they evolve and continue to guide us when we need them most. Digital beacons in hospitality continue to guide travelers through an ever-increasing maze of travel challenges.
Parts of the hotel guest cycle process (pre-arrival, arrival, stay, and departure) have already embraced the use of beacons, especially during the Arrival and Stay stages. Digital beacons are now being deployed in hotels to assist with guest identification, check-in and way-point location based services for hotels. These are just a few of the ways beacons are helping travelers engage with properties. Engaging the hotel guests is key to yielding their behavior. These tiny little devices are helping properties learn purchasing habits while delivering tailored marketing messages to guests as they navigate properties in search of amenities and activities. Seasoned hoteliers still remember the days where one had to put on the gloves and literally dig through the trash-bin to find out about guests' purchasing behavior. Guests would leave evidence of their purchases during a stay via the trash bin. Nowadays, the hoteliers have the luxury to trace the digital foot-prints left by the guests; even before the guests arrive at a property. The advent of beacon technologies in the lodging industry is yet another example where technology is making it more convenient for hoteliers to effectively yield guest behavior. Though the days of digging through trash is behind, hoteliers still have challenges ahead. The guests would have to opt-in and engage with most of the mobile-app based services. It is imperative to offer an attractive value-proposition for the guests so that they are encouraged and motivated to engage with such technology-based services. Thus, the hoteliers must carefully study the profile of guests, especially the variances in behavior across generations of guests.
A recent study carried out by iHITA (the International Hospitality Information Technology Association) found out that the Digital Natives or Generation Z is not as keen on engaging with new technologies, such as iBeacon, as one would expect. When asked if their decision to book a hotel room would be influenced by the availability of state of the art technologies at that particular hotel, only 41% agreed with the statement. Furthermore, a mere 45% reported that having beacon-enabled service offers are important for them. So should hoteliers be concerned that the most-connected generation seems uninterested in such engaging technologies? No, absolutely not. In fact, we can argue that these numbers are encouraging. The findings offers decision makers the challenge and opportunity to discover creative ways to engage with not only the Generation Z but with all generations; those guests who are connected and will increasingly continue to be more connected in an ever expanding digital world. In terms of mobile technologies and services, there are encouraging numbers to report from the same study. When the respondents were asked to rate the importance of various technologies available through the guest cycle, 50% indicated that having a mobile device-ready website is very important. As for having the ability to early check-in through mobile apps, only 16% indicated that this was not important for them. Ability to express check-in as well check-out through a mobile app., being able to lock/unlock rooms with personal mobile device, were rated as being important by 48% of the respondents.
Hoteliers are still in the learning and discovery phase when it comes to the use of beacons technologies. This is especially true when we compare the hotel industry with other industries such as retail. If you've ever made a reservation at an Apple store with the genius bar, then you've probably already encountered the powerful capabilities of a beacon. Upon arrival your phone is alerted that a reservation has been detected in the Apple system identifying that you have a genius bar reservation, and prompting you to digitally check in and assuring you that a genius bar agent will be notified of your arrival. Across particular segments of the hospitality industry, the very same technology is now alerting restaurant hostesses and hotel front desk agents of your impending reservations, and communicating that you have been recognized as a guest in the properties reservations system(s). The long sought after ability to reduce long check-in lines is no longer a science fiction task, but a modern day marvel wrapped in a tiny little technology beacon.