Exciting Advances in Mobile Technology: How Hoteliers Can Benefit
By Bob Rauch, President of RAR Hospitality and Sarah Andersen, Business Development Manager at RAR Hospitality
The exponential boom in mobile technology over the past decade has brought the world closer together, kept the masses informed, and opened up new opportunities that we never could have imagined would exist. We are well into the digital age where mobile is indispensable to our day-to-day lives and it is now the preferred method for accessing the internet. Some facts about mobile:
- Continued strong growth is expected by everyone we have talked to
- Only a few travel apps will dominate each traveler's mobile phone
- There will be significant growth in beacon technology
- The complete journey needs to be experienced with mobile technology
- Entertainment and room control must be compatible with content on user's phones
We predict the next ten years will have changes far beyond the last ten years. Remember 10-15 years ago, Facebook, LinkedIn, iPhone, Android, Twitter and many technology companies did not have nearly the product scope that they do now. Think about Amazon-they came out of nowhere and now have over 100 million prime subscribers. Hoteliers used to preach mobile site optimization as a means to stay ahead of competition, but now it's the baseline. If your hotel is not mobile-optimized, you're out of business. Complimentary guest wifi and high-speed internet follow the same standard.
From a marketing perspective, technology allows hoteliers to target and understand their prospects and guests better, which keeps us in business. The newest tech hotel trends are artificial intelligence-driven campaigns and virtual reality experiences, but that doesn't mean we should forget about push notifications and text messages.
Guests want to interact with their hotel before, during and after their stay. So, hotels have developed multi-faceted mobile apps with the ability to book and edit reservations, order room service, and accrue rewards points. Hotels are taking advantage of push notifications or in-app messaging to remind guests about their booking and provide them valuable information about their stay. Additionally, hotels are giving guests the option to check-in early, access special offers, room service and check-out, when they log-in with their reservation code. Hilton already offers guests the ability to check in and out, select their room, check maps and make extra requests or purchases, from their mobile smartphones.
There is, however, a very fine line with using these push notifications and messaging to stay in close contact with guests. Hotels aim to make their guests feel satisfied that all their travel questions and needs are met, rather than annoy them. Inundating your guest with multiple messages at inconvenient times isn't helpful. Let's look at two types of guest experiences - the baby boomer who might be using digital check-in on his or her mobile phone for the first time and a seasoned Gen Y or Gen Z traveler who was born with a mobile phone in his or her hand.
Sending a message to a boomer might be disruptive if it is not intuitive and clear and not too often. On the other hand, the younger traveler might not need any hand-holding and might already be checked-in online without having struggled. The youngster most likely knows that digi-key is only effective for a single traveler and that a trip to the front desk is necessary when more than one person needs to check-in. A boomer will figure that out naturally, but might require some explanation. Further, when a text message is sent to a younger traveler, they know how to easily access the information.
We tried an app as a pilot test and it provided "eat, shop or play" information. It was loved by the tech-savvy traveler because it required very little understanding. One would receive the notification that discounts were available by downloading the app. It was user friendly and simple. However, it was not as user friendly and simple to someone who receives three text messages or less per day. Downloading the app became more difficult for this person, with questions ranging from, "Can I use this app somewhere else?" "How do I delete it if I don't like it?" and many more. Boomers are tech-savvy - compared to their parents. But they were not born with a phone in their hand.
The integral use of mobile today has travelers looking to communicate and search, as well as book and ultimately pay with their phones. Hoteliers must continue to adapt their pricing model and delivery of customer service, with the "always on" generation - ensuring guest information and products are available online and that wifi is both free and fast on their mobile phone. Artificial intelligence (AI) is driving the information that is available (revenue management software today uses AI) and guests expect hotels to make it easy to use their mobile phone for all transactions and communication.
In many ways, the hotel industry is leading the charge in the adoption of smart business technology. HotSpot 2.0 (HS2), for example, is now available and has been deployed in some hotels. We expect this will become a mainstream "thing" as mobile and 5G come together. We know that most guests use their mobile phone to communicate when they travel and they expect hotels to have a support system that works for them. HS2 is designed to make roaming on Wi-Fi networks as simple as on mobile networks, and "to enable Wi-Fi networks to act as seamless extensions of mobile networks.
Mobile carriers are investing heavily in HS2 because they need more capacity, especially in busy metro areas where they can't build enough new cell towers to meet growing bandwidth demand," according to Doug Rice of Hosptech. The move to 5G mobile also creates urgency, because 5G technology is more challenged than earlier generations to penetrate inside large buildings, especially on higher floors.
In addition, Rice says, "A hotel brand can make a deal with…a mobile phone company to enable that carrier's phones to recognize and use the hotel's Wi-Fi networks when its subscribers show up at one of their properties, whether as a guest or a visitor." So, HS2 can completely handle seamless data roaming between mobile and Wi-Fi networks, just like the cellular networks support seamless data roaming. Rice adds that, "HS2 also supports seamless handoff of voice calls between the mobile network and Voice-over-Wi-Fi, similar to mobile voice roaming.
Voice-call handoff is the "last mile" of the technology: once it is ubiquitous, it can eliminate the (often very costly) need for hotels to boost mobile phone signals within the property."
The future with HS2 could mean that this can be a huge cost savings though one disadvantage could be the elimination of a landing page for the wi-fi. While we don't really think that landing page generates that many room nights, it does typically push users into the hotel restaurant, bar or reservations page and many brands believe that is a critical marketing need. Rice believes that the use of HS2 will eliminate the need for captive portals and the associated royalties which add to the cost of high-speed Internet and that big data fans, push-marketers and loyalty program executives will find much to love about HS2.
Since every connected device can be identified uniquely, every connection to every access point is available for analytics. This allows hoteliers to observe every connected device through the building or across an entire brand. The future will consist of hoteliers forming roaming agreements with these mobile carriers. This will then result in a greater percentage of mobile devices being tracked over both time and space on property. These permanent, brand wide guest records will enable hoteliers in their push-marketing offers. Privacy laws and policies, such as the CCPA, will only allow these offers to users that have "opted-in."In addition, brand loyalty programs are constantly trying to convince guests to download their apps. These apps, backed by this HS2 wifi access, will allow guests to get quick, hassle-free wi-fi connections at every hotel in that brand, forever.
Travelers, for the most part, are now all tech-savvy, so hotels who have not embraced the latest technology to deliver innovative services to their guests stand out to lose big time. The hot buzzwords in tech right now are artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), but that doesn't mean we should forget about push-notification text messages and app development. The key to success here is remembering the differences in how each generation (Gen Y and Z vs. Baby Boomer) will perceive this potentially intrusive marketing, so we can hone our efforts to meet guest needs. Meanwhile, as mobile and 5G come together with HS2, hoteliers can expect better consumer analytics so we can ultimately deliver a better experience to each and every guest.
The bottom line is that mobile rules, change is happening even faster than the last 10 years and there is no stopping progress. Advancement in hotel technology offers a variety of cost savings and revenue opportunities, which is enabling hotel owners to reach new levels of profitability. However, the brands are dictating this progress at costs all borne by the franchisee. Expensive? Yes. Alternatives? Probably not. To a great 2020 and beyond!
This article was co-authored by Sarah Andersen, Business Development Director, RAR Hospitality
Bob serves as CEO and President of RAR Hospitality. He is an internationally recognized hotelier with over 40 years of hospitality-related management experience. Recognized by his “hotel guru,” moniker, Bob shares insights and industry trends at www.hotelguru.com. He has held nearly every position in the hotel business including General Manager of full-service four Diamond hotels for Hilton and Embassy Suites.More from Bob Rauch
I'm a Master of Management in Hospitality graduate from Boston University with a concentration in Real Estate Development and Marketing. As a former student athlete on the D1 women's lacrosse team at Boston University, I have had the opportunity to develop leadership and time management skills, along with hard work and dedication.More from Sarah Andersen