Technology has the ability to amaze and inspire, but only once it makes a tangible difference in our lives does it have real impact. The more we can connect what’s happening in the digital world to the physical world, the more relevant that technology becomes. Location-based technology does just this, by enabling us to communicate with people when and where it’s relevant, with content that’s relevant to the location.
Global Positioning System (GPS), is an in-built feature of all smartphones that provides contextual information about the activity of a mobile device. While GPS works well in pinpointing horizontal location (latitude and longitude) with 95% accuracy within 7.8 meters, vertical accuracy is worse. This means that GPS can fall short in determining a guest’s micro-location, such as where they are within your hotel.
To find out where guests are spending their time within your property, you need to use technology that can focus on short distances. The following are some of the technologies that are used in everyday situations to enable transactions and determine micro-location:
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth technology is a wireless personal area network technology and is used to transmit data over a short range, usually under 100m. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is like a lighter version of Bluetooth, requiring less energy. BLE remains in sleep mode except for when a connection is initiated.
- Beacons: As in Apple’s iBeacon, beacons are battery-powered physical devices that trigger when within close proximity of another device, such as a guest’s mobile phone. The underlying technology used to transmit is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Beacons are often used to monitor flow of traffic or send location-based push notifications, such as in retail stores.
- Virtual Beacons: Virtual beacons don’t require you to have Bluetooth enabled devices mounted to a wall – they run off a wifi network, allowing you to set many locations with a single beacon point hardware device.
- NFC: Near Field Communication is a short-range wireless connectivity standard used to communicate between devices that are within centimetres of each other. It requires an NFC chip in each device in order to transmit. NFC chips are in most smartphones and some bank cards. Keyless entry is another example of how NFC chips are used.
While the idea of monitoring guest location can feel a bit ‘big brother’, it’s not about surveillance per se. When beacons are used in conjunction with a hotel’s mobile app, a host of services and useful information can be made available to a guest after they have registered their mobile phone. Consider how the following applications might benefit the guests staying with you.
- Keyless entry: Guests who have downloaded your hotel app could potentially walk through the front door of the hotel and straight into their room. With the Hilton HHonors app, once an online check-in process is complete and the guest has registered their mobile phone, an encrypted file is sent to their phone with the room number.
- Mobile phone as remote control: In-room controls, such as the TV, lighting and thermostat, all have the potential to be controlled from a guest’s smartphone. The guest’s proximity is picked up by devices listening for other connected devices via BLE, and can trigger a message to the app that would enable the guest to control settings via a smartphone.
- Direction finder: Not knowing how to get where you want to go is frustrating and alienating, even if it’s just within a hotel. International guests may feel hesitant to ask for directions if they don’t speak the local language. Using beacons, your guests can easily receive directions to their room, the gym, restaurant or bar from their phone. You may even help them ‘discover’ areas around your hotel that are not commonly stumbled upon, such as a reading nook or an art installation.
- Contextual notifications: When a guest is in their room, a notification could be made to housekeeping (by way of a beacon or sensor that detects people in rooms) so that they would know not to disturb the guest. Guests lingering in their rooms before dinner could be sent suggestions for dinner via a hotel app notification or SMS, and then have the option of ordering through the app. Guests who are hanging out in the bar late in the evening might be happy to receive notifications about concerts and other night events happening around the hotel.
While these applications can improve guest experience on an individual scale, there is a significant opportunity for hotels to observe and learn from guest behaviour patterns more broadly. The unique knowledge to be gained from how guests interact with your hotel is of unequivocal value.