Beacon technology has been called the next big advance in hospitality, and it’s easy to see why.
Beacons, which use low-energy Bluetooth connections, are small devices that are placed on physical objects or in physical locations in order to communicate with smartphones or tablets. Companies place beacons in strategic spots on their property to connect content to a specific location. A beacon could ping promotional offers or supplementary information to smart mobile devices in the vicinity. In addition, beacons can even be used as point-of-sale systems and, in return, to collect information about consumers.
The technology has the ability to change how guests interact with hotels. Beacon technology, however, is still in its infancy, leading to questions about how it can be practically implemented by hotels.
Several companies manufacture beacons, including Estimote, Swirl, and GPShopper, but the best-known implementation is Apple’s iBeacon. While Apple has yet to produce a physical beacon, the company has built the tech into its devices and iOS7 mobile operating system. Because of this, there are an estimated 200 million iOS devices that can serve as transmitters and receivers.
Large companies like Macy’s and McDonald’s have rolled out beacon integration. Below are three hotel groups that have followed these companies’ leads and are using beacons to their benefit.
The James Hotels
Last year, The James Hotels, with locations in Chicago, Miami, and New York City, released the James Pocket Assistant, a smartphone app designed to give guests a concierge experience.
In many ways, the James Pocket Assistant mirrors similar hotel apps that have grown in popularity in the past couple of years: It gives guests access to special offers, lets them request services, view maps, contact the hotel, and connect with the hotel’s social media channels. What makes it different is its integration of beacon technology. This component of the app allows guests to take a self-guided tour of the hotel’s art collection, and sends users offers and perks based on their location.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts
In January 2014, Starwood Hotels & Resorts tested beacon technology in two of its hotels. After installing the Starwood Preferred Guest App, guests received a virtual key on their smartphone that allowed them to unlock their room’s door by tapping a button.
Starwood is now testing beacon technology in 30 of its hotels and resorts. One of the goals of the technology is to help concierges greet arriving guests by name, accelerate the check-in process for frequent guests, and let housekeeping know when guests are still in a room. In addition, the company is experimenting with letting guests skip the check-in process altogether.
Last summer, Marriott International debuted LocalPerks—a hotel loyalty program that incorporates beacon technology—at three of its hotels. Like other hotels that have incorporated this technology, guests must download the hotel chain’s app and opt-in to the experience.
LocalPerks presents guests with tailored localized offers, ranging from food and beverage to spa and golf deals. At the time of the launch, there were plans to include offers from local businesses surrounding the hotels. Recently, Marriott extended the program to another dozen hotels, bringing the trial program up to 15 hotels.
While the current program is standardized for all guests using the app within a specific property, the goal is to eventually offer customized offers based on a guest’s Marriott Rewards profile. The program is slated to run for the first half of 2015.
As smartphone adoption rates continue to climb, beacons will allow hotels to create rich personalized experiences for their guests that drive digital engagement and customer satisfaction.
Still, beacons aren’t perfect for every hotel. The devices can be relatively inexpensive to purchase on an individual basis ($50 or less), but more than one beacon is required for an optimal experience. They also require the creation of content to accompany them—and likely a smartphone app.
About the Author
Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and chief executive officer of YouVisit, a technology company that develops virtual tours and virtual reality tours for a variety of industries, including education, hospitality, real estate, travel and leisure, and many others.
Photo credit: Smartphone via Bigstock