STAYING CONNECTED WITH THE CONNECTED GUEST: THE INTERNET OF THINGS FOR HOSPITALITY
In the last issue of Gaming & Leisure, I explored the concept of the connected guest, and how the amount of connected device data is growing every day. I reviewed the data management approaches necessary for integrating and managing connected guest data and the types of analytics that are suitable for this data. In this article, I will explore some examples of how we can leverage Internet of Things approaches and apply them to a hospitality environment.
What is the Internet of Things? The Internet of Things is the concept of everyday objects – from industrial machines to wearable devices – using built-in sensors to gather data and take action on that data across a network. The term “Internet of Things” was coined in the late 1990s by entrepreneur Kevin Ashton. Ashton, who is one of the founders of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, was part of a team that discovered how to link objects to the Internet through an RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tag. He said he first used the phrase “Internet of Things” in a presentation he made in 1999 – and the term has
stuck around ever since.
When it comes to hospitality, there are three main benefits to be gained from the connected data and
analytics possible from the Internet of Things:
- Operational Efficiency
- Service Improvements
- Marketing Opportunity
Let’s explore each of these benefits in turn.
Whether the data comes from a connected device, like a smart phone, or from a sensor such as an iBeacon, machine-to machine communication can improve efficiencies in multiple industries. Smart transport solutions speed up traffic flows, and reduce fuel consumption. Data-driven systems are being built into the infrastructure of “smart cities,” making it easier for municipalities to run waste management, law enforcement and other programs more efficiently. Similar efficiencies can be achieved in the hospitality environment as the following examples can illustrate.
The multiple complex mechanical devices, control systems and features of modern buildings improve the safety and comfort of the occupants. A building becomes “smart,” or “connected,” when all of these systems and devices are linked together and able to communicate machine-to-machine. The result is a hotel where lighting, air conditioning, security and other systems are able to pass data freely back and forth – leading to higher efficiency, improved safety and comfort, and lower costs of operations.
Collecting room service trays when the guest has finished their dining experience has always been challenging for hotels from an operations perspective. We often rely on our guests to notify us when
a tray is ready for pick-up, which can be an intrusion on their time and personal comfort. In addition, a hotel corridor full of discarded trays can give the guest walking by the perception that our service
levels are poor. Could we use a RFID tag on the tray, so that we can detect when a tray is placed outside of the room door and organize to collect the tray without relying on the guest to call us? It’s a win for the guest in the room, and a win for the guest walking down that corridor.
Whether the guest is using a card key or even their mobile app to open their room, most guests carry their room access device with them while they are on property. Using sensors, we can use the data
from these devices to help us understand how our guests flow through the hotel or casino. How many guests walked up to an outlet or the gym when it was closed? Should we amend our operating times? How many guests waited to be seated in a restaurant?
Should we increase staffing in this outlet during these times?
In service industries like hospitality and gaming, our focus is on the guest experience. With the explosion of connected devices, and sensors that can collect that data, we have multiple opportunities to personalize and improve a guest’s experience while they are staying with us. While entering a building that has used external weather data to help adjust its cooling temperature (and reduce costs) is appreciated, it is the intersection of the connected guest and smart building that can really improve the guest’s experience.
Let’s think about how keyless entry works with cars. When you are close to one of your car doors with your key, the door nearest to you can be unlocked. When you enter the car, the seat and mirrors
adjust back to your personal settings. How can we apply this technology in a hotel to improve the guest experience? When the guest enters the lobby (passing by an iBeacon), can we return the room temperature, lights and entertainment to the guest’s personal preferences? Could we consider allowing a guest to control these items remotely using their smart phone? Could a guest set preferences as part of their loyalty profile that can be executed when the guest enters any hotel with the same chain?
There is a lot of competition for the hotel consumer. New markets and new properties are opening around the world. Consumers have a wide range of leisure options to consider. New channels and distribution players are entering the market, while existing players increase their reach and penetration. Every one of these players is competing for your guests.
Knowing your guests well and making the best decisions with your marketing dollars is critical; with loyal customers increasingly being targeted by competitors and intermediaries, capturing and understanding the guest at the same time that they interact with you is essential. This is where an Internet of Things approach that leverages machine-to-machine communication can deliver the speed and accuracy that you need.
You can use a guest’s pre-stay or on-property behavior to help refine messaging and offers. For example, a guest that has been reviewing the room types from your mobile app prior to their stay can be offered an option to upgrade their room when they check-in. As guests walk around your property, digital signage
can be used to upsell them on additional services. When a guest initiates an action, whether it is entering the gym, or sitting down at a slot machine, you can react with an appropriate offer that is designed to build on the guests actions.
Whether you start your journey with the Internet of Things for any of the goals mentioned above – to impact your operational efficiency, drive improvements in your guest experience or to increase your opportunities in marketing – analytics will be essential part of this passage. Now that your interactions with your guests have exploded into a multitude of potential touchpoints, you need data and analytics
to deliver on the core promise of our industry – great hospitality. Without analytics, you will be drowned in data without the ability to demonstrate that you know your guest well and are serving his preferences.
Natalie Osborne is senior industry consultant for SAS Institute’s Hospitality and Travel practice, and
an 18+ year veteran of hospitality and hospitality technology solutions development, specializing in
analytics and revenue management. Prior to joining SAS, Natalie was the director, product marketing
for Minneapolis-based IDeaS Revenue Solutions, where she worked from 2000 to 2011. She is a frequent contributor to industry publications, speaker at industry conferences and is co-author of the SAS and Cornell Center for Hospitality Research blog, “The Analytic Hospitality Executive.”