Why hotels should adopt beacon technology before it’s too late

Like many digital innovations, beacons started as a little-known technology that’s picking up speed quickly. Because they’re connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), these devices can alert apps or websites when someone is near a certain location—so they’ve become a way for businesses to provide more targeted, location-based services and offers to customers.

Though Apple propelled beacon technology into public awareness in 2013 when it released iBeacon, these devices are manufactured and enabled by a number of different vendors. They’ve become so popular that in April 2016, Forbes declared this the “Year of the Beacon.”

How beacons work

If the point of beacons is to show location, why not just use GPS? It’s already in everybody’s mobile phones, right? But GPS requires an unobstructed path between a satellite and the tracked object, making it better suited for outside use. Beacons are more effective for indoor locations such as malls and airports, and they provide greater precision.

For instance, a mall restaurant could use a beacon to push an offer to a customer standing near the entrance. A difference of just 18 inches can determine whether she’s looking at the specials on the sandwich board or the cocktail menu in the window—and therefore which type of promotion would be more successful. Also, beacons use a low-energy Bluetooth connection and can run for up to two years on a watch-size battery, whereas GPS can drain a device’s power quickly.

The expectations of connected travelers

Many organizations have already embraced beacons, including retailers, airlines, schools, hospitals, banks, museums and libraries. Of all these industries, retail has been at the forefront of adopting beacon technology to increase location-based personalization. For better or worse, customers are beginning to expect the same level of one-to-one service just about everywhere. Airlines and travel companies that manage customer information like a retailer does are more appealing to connected travelers—and more likely to gain their loyalty. At Mindtree, we highlighted this changing expectation in our article “5 steps to win over the connected traveler.” Not surprisingly, one of our recommendations is that airlines take a page from the retail playbook, and beacons are an effective way to do that.

For example, Dutch airline KLM created an app using iBeacon technology to provide transfer assistance to passengers. At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the KLM app shows users the best route and estimated walking time to the next gate—giving peace of mind to travelers who may be unsure if they have enough time to catch a connecting flight.

The away-from-home, on-the-go nature of travel makes this industry especially well suited for beacons. How about the hotel and hospitality sector? As more digitally savvy travelers are exposed to enhanced customer experiences at hotels and resorts, nice-to-have features will become expectations. Hospitality service providers who fail to recognize and meet this new customer standard risk losing valuable business to their rivals who rise to the occasion.

Creating a more connected experience

How can hotels and resorts use beacon technology to provide outstanding service while benefiting the bottom line? There’s no one-size-fits all answer—this is their chance to get creative and imagine solutions that fit their customers. For example, beacons can be used for:

  • Indoor navigation: Help guests find their way to a room, spa or restaurant, or use beacons to build an interactive tour of the property and provide turn-by-turn directions. Many guests traveling internationally may not speak English or the local language. Hotels could create features or apps to help solve the language barrier, allowing these guests to self-serve and use hotel amenities more easily—thereby potentially increasing per-room revenue (RevPAR).
  • Analytics for service response time: Pinpoint the staff member closest to a guestroom where a service request has been raised for extra towels, toiletries, coffee or IT support, enabling a faster response. Help automate and speed up services such as guest booking for spa appointments, and increase staff productivity by eliminating paper-based management of housekeeping and maintenance workers.
  • Digital storytelling and gamification: Use a combination of beacons and augmented reality (AR) technology to create a stronger emotional connection by engaging guests in an immersive digital experience that tells stories about the property. Hotels could use AR to mimic a Pokémon GO–style experience where guests use their phones to see data overlaid on real-world objects and gain rich information about the artwork, architecture or food at the hotel.
  • Personalization: Sense when guests enter their rooms, then send automatic notifications to their phones to enable them to control the lighting, temperature and TV or place an order for room service. Beacons can also facilitate targeted offers, such as a coupon to a gym near a guest’s home if that person uses the hotel gym regularly.
  • Safety and emergencies: Help empower parents to keep track of their children on large properties. Parents can set a range and be notified if their child crosses the perimeter, so everyone in the family can enjoy different activities on vacation. Or use beacons to track guests during a high-risk situation such as a fire—and send a rescue team to their location sooner. The hotel could also confirm guests’ safety to family and friends after a local emergency or a natural disaster.
  • Automated check-in and checkout: Eliminate the hassle of waiting in line and fumbling for a reservation number—instead guests can just enter the lobby, then receive a push notification that they’ve been checked in. Same with departure: A notification points guests to an easy means of checking out or extending their stay digitally, followed by a receipt.

The vast majority of travelers carry smartphones. And now companies have the technology to identify their precise location using low-cost, low-energy devices that also let businesses deliver targeted services and offers. Given the level of personalization that consumers have come to expect from their experience with retail, the hospitality sector must follow suit to stay competitive.

When exploring potential beacon usage, hotels should put themselves in their customers’ shoes. What questions do guests typically ask at this location? What’s a novel and relevant way to give them the answers? Exploring the limitless possibilities of beacon technology will help hotels deliver outstanding service to business and leisure travelers alike.

Contact Mindtree to find out how beacons can help your hospitality or leisure company build memorable guest experiences.