How Hotels can use Beacons to Enhance Guest Experiences

Integration of context into apps is one of the key trends for 2014. How well contextual intelligence is integrated into the app experience, marks the difference between a good versus a great application. For an application, location is one of the most powerful triggers of action. Until now, the technologies available have suffered from three significant limitations: accuracy, granularity and power consumption. This is where beacons come into picture.

The ibeacon, one of the most ‘disruptive’ technologies of 2014, is already making waves across various industry verticals for all the revenue opportunities and enhanced customer experience it offers businesses. Though the first few beacon applications are largely related to retail, public spaces such as stadiums, theme parks, museums etc, are already tapping into beacon’s micro-location capabilities to deliver specifically targeted personalized messages, alerts and more on mobile devices.

Just like retailers imagine they can reinvigorate retail through beacons, so do hotels. iBeacons implements a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) profile for micro-location, which opens up new possibilities for hotels and resorts using geo-fencing. Hotel apps in combination with beacons can take away many of the hotel formalities and make aspects such as room service, contact with staff, and in-room entertainment more interactive. The app is thus, more than just a tool, it is a personal concierge in itself.

If you are just starting out, our Beacon 101 ebook is a good place to start reading about this technology. In this post, we will discuss in detail about how beacons can revolutionize guests’ experience at hotels.

Why iBeacon technology is the ‘next big thing’ for retail

According to a recent Business Insider report, beacons are expected to directly influence over $4 billion worth of US retail sales this year at top retailers. The same report also says that half of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. are testing beacons this year.  With stores like Macy’s, House of Fraser, Lord and Taylor etc., deploying beacons at scale, it’s evident that retailers are convinced about the potential of beacons in retail.

Let’s look at why retailers should be investing in beacons this year

a) Gather deep insights on consumer behavior: Beacons provide endless opportunities to collect massive amounts of untapped data on what products customers buy more often, which store locations are the most crowded, what are the most common traversal paths taken across the store. This can help improve store layouts, product placement and allocation of staff accordingly.

b) Personalize shoppers’ experience: Taking customers’ preferences, tastes, past purchases into account, you can deliver highly targeted offers and discounts to them. The easiest way to do it is to sync customers’ shopping lists, wishlists and favourites with your app.

How to make the most of beacons

a) Limit the number of messages sent per store visit: Don’t send a plethora of offer and discount messages to customers. Offers should be based on certain ‘rules’ and criteria. Say, a regular customer who buys oats often can be sent a discount offer on milk; the same offer should not be sent to everyone inside your store.

b) Inform and educate customers about how the data collected will be used: Make sure you ask customers for permission to access bluetooth and location services as customers have a tendency to shy away from location-based services. It is, thus important to provide clear opt-in instructions.

c) Test your campaign on a limited audience before going mainstream: The best way to start a beacon campaign is to conduct a trial on a small scale with a limited set of people. Based on the experience and learnings from the trial, you can go mainstream.

How hotels can put beacons to use

1. Check-in: Waiting in long queues in order to check into your hotel is the last thing any guest wants to do. Imagine a guest walks into your hotel lobby, and receives a ‘check-in’ push notification on the hotel app. The push notification shows the reservation, asks for confirmation and the guest has digitally checked in!

The guest neither has to wait in a queue, nor search for the reservation number, and the app has already retrieved their personal details from the time of booking the room. As soon as he walks into the lobby, within the range of the beacon placed there, he is recognized, and a message is  triggered to the app on his phone. If your hotel app has a Passbook integration, the reservation details would pop up on the phone screen when the guest crosses the geo-fence threshold of a defined iBeacon location. This gives the guest a great, hassle-free experience as soon as he enters the hotel.

2. Finding the room and indoor navigation:  We all know that GPS is not very effective in an ‘indoor setting’, for example, inside a shopping mall, museum, hotel or a casino. Aggravating the problem of weak or unavailable signal is the indoor navigation – the exact location of the room, the spa inside a hotel, or the restaurant or the roulette table in a casino. One can enable a mobile user to navigate and interact with specific regions geo-fenced using beacons. These devices can be used to determine the position of a guest in a large hotel, and direct him to his room.

These can also be used to build an interactive tour of a hotel or a resort, where users’ attention is directed to specific exhibits as they walk freely within the building. This feature enables indoor navigation similar to GPS, in settings where GPS signals aren’t available. Using beacons you can provide guests with virtual maps and turn-by-turn directions to their favorite destinations inside the premises of your hotel.

3. Keyless entry into rooms: When a guest has digitally checked in, a digital key is sent to their smartphone via your app, allowing them to bypass the front desk and proceed directly to their room. An iBeacon picks up the guest’s phone when in close proximity and unlocks the room door, giving the guest a keyless entry to his room. This is such an engaging and efficient experience for a guest.

4. In-room controls: Most hotels require users to swipe a key-card simply to turn on the lights, which generates great energy savings. What if the room could just sense that the guest is in his room and enable a new set of services on his mobile device to control lighting, temperature, the TV, and even directly access room service to place orders? Beacons make this possible. By signaling the user’s proximity to devices listening for it via BLE, the beacon could trigger a message to the app and enable the user to control these settings via his smartphone.

5. Room service: The beacon inside the room is aware that the guest is in the room. The app in the guest’s device is aware of his/her choice of cuisine and other preferences. Through your app, you can trigger a message asking them to “Check out the menu for tonight”. The guest can have a look at the menu, watch a video of where the ingredients come from and how the dish is prepared. Once he has made his decision, he can place the order in the app.

6. Offers, Loyalty programs: Hotels can use ibeacons to present guests with a broadcast of ‘location-specific offers’. Using beacons, you can define targeted ‘micro-locations’ to trigger an alert, an offer or a special discount for a beverage to a guest who is already at the bar. Using iBeacons, you will be able to customize promotions to specific locations in the hotel premises and send them right to a user’s smartphone. Rather than blindly sending coupons when a guest walks into a hotel, he would only receive context-specific coupons and offers when approaching specific areas of a hotel where he would have interest. Consumers’ choice of categories is given utmost importance in this case or only the right offers are presented to them via predictive analytics i.e based on the information the hotel has (via the app) about the number of times a particular guest has stayed there, their interests, their past orders etc.

Location-based mobile marketing, as we know, can yield sky-high conversion rates with surgical precision in ad targeting by providing the right offer at the right place at the right time.

7. Check-out: On the last day of their stay, guests can be sent a push notification – giving them an option to either extend their stay, or to check out digitally. Send them a receipt, and after they have confirmed the amount on it, they can easily check out. This can be done without the need for the guest to stand in a queue or wait for a front-desk assistant to complete the checkout formalities. The whole process is seamless and hassle-free.

8. Upgrade and upsell: iBeacons can be used to offer guests options for room upgradation. You can send welcome notifications, and offer discounted upgrade to better rooms when they enter the hotel premises.  Leveraging beacons allows hotels to catch guests at the exact time and place that they’re most likely to want to pay for an upgrade and a better experience.

You can also use iBeacons to upsell artefacts or food to customers. If a guest spends a considerable amount of time near an exhibit (known as dwell time), you could recommend similar items that can be purchased at the hotel shop. You could also remind guests to buy some local memento before checking out. Similarly, when a guest is in the restaurant area, you could suggest the most popular dishes or combination of food items that they could order. This is a win-win situation for both the guest and the hotel, the guest gets personalized messages that he finds engaging and the hotel can generate more revenue.

9. Analytics: Hotels can use beacons for gathering data and use it to meet various goals. Dividing broadly, it can be used for the following two purposes:

a) Gain customer insights: Beacons can be used for gathering data to gain insights on customer behaviour and use it to improve the overall guest experience. They can be used to measure dwell times, measuring how much time visitors spend at different locations of the hotel, or which areas are most popular, when guests walk around the property. By outfitting your property with beacons at the pool, bar, restaurant, lobbies, and other areas, you can identify the profit centers and time spent by guests at these centers. You can also measure the concentration of guests at particular times of the day and plan offers and rewards accordingly.

b) Staff Productivity:  The presence of housekeepers and maintenance crews could also be logged by beacons, removing the need for paper-based records. Alerts can also be sent if specific areas have not been serviced per schedule. You can also use dwell time to generate analytics on how long different activities take and use them as a way to measure productivity or adjust schedules to maximize the productivity of your workforce.

Another purpose this can be used for is cleaning of rooms. Using information from beacons, you can find which rooms are ready for cleaning. The rooms of the guests which have checked out, or are not in their room. Make this information available to the cleaners and they never have to knock on a door and disturb a guest again.

Future Implementations

Going beyond these, beacons placed in a room one has booked could instantly connect the guest to a secure local social network or provide an added sense of security. For the host, a beacon can report back that the guest has arrived or trigger call-backs or follow-ups by the beacon when the customer wakes up in the morning or checks out at the end of the stay.

Because the travel experience doesn’t just take place in a hotel, you can imagine beacons for every leg of the trip. Hotels could provide guests with wearable beacons that they can wear on their wrist or an app that acts as a beacon when they are moving around the new town and alert them to any ‘travel friendly’ hot spots – a local pub, a restaurant or a community center.

Thus, connecting the hotel app on a guest’s smartphone with iBeacons is the equivalent of giving each of your guests a dedicated ‘personal concierge’ experience.

1. The James Hotels implements iBeacon technology

The James Hotels, with locations in New York, Chicago, and Miami, has just released a new app, the James Pocket Assistant, featuring iBeacon integration. The app uses beacons to give hotel guests a concierge like experience, providing location-based suggestions for dinner, shopping, and activities. The app also offers basic features such as the ability to check-in, check-out, extend one’s stay, a map, order room service, book a spa appointment, and of course one-button communication with the front desk.

The app can give guests a ‘self-guided art tour’ through the hotel’s art collection. iBeacon is also used to send users offers and perks based on their location.

2. Starwood Hotels and Resorts pilot keyless entry into rooms using beacons

Starwood Hotels & Resorts is implementing a new pilot program that will see two key hotel locations in Manhattan and Silicon Valley allowing guests to enter their rooms with their smartphones. After installing the Starwood Preferred Guest (SGP) App, guests will receive a virtual key on their iPhone, which can then be used to unlock a door with a tap using Bluetooth 4.0. The Bluetooth Low Energy specification, first introduced with the iPhone 4s, has been used in a similar way for many home locking products like the Lockitron and the August Smart Lock, but this is the first time it’s being used on a larger scale.


How Hotels can use Beacons to Enhance Guest Experiences

BY NEHA Mallik. www.beaconstac.com


First published: JUL 8, 2014