I find it entertaining to predict the future of the hospitality business because it is usually a first adapter and changes rapidly. With such a broad goal at hand, I narrowed it down to a single technology in three scenarios.
The biggest innovation opportunity in the hotel guest experience is sure to build excitement but more importantly, loyalty, and it focuses on the mobile phone.
The hotel room key has long been the center of frustration and innovation alike. There is nothing more fuming than watching that red light appear time after time as you swipe your room card every way possible. There are several alternatives but the question is, which one will prevail?
Biometrics is too invasive; RFID (radio-frequency identification) is too expensive. However, a mobile phone could unlock your room with a simple waive of the phone. For business travelers, this would revolutionize the way they stay. Taking a page from Hertz, Delta and many others, the “skip the counter” approach could soon be “skip the front desk.”
NFC (near field communication) allows two-way radio communication between devices. This technology builds on the RFID platform, and is currently being used to replace credit cards by waiving the phone in close proximity to the reader.
Of course with this new technology comes new challenges. This privilege would only be provided to a hotel’s most frequent guests who register online and accept the terms and conditions that come along with this freedom.
The hotel app becomes the control center for the hotel and the room. Guests are able to check-in, select their particular room, pay on-premise charges and review their statement. Inside the room, their mobile phone would set privacy, order room service, turn off the lights and change the channel. The technology already exists for each of these features separately – it’s about melding them together seamlessly in an app.
Waiting for a table is synonymous with the most popular restaurants and will not likely be changing anytime soon. For the past decade or so, hosts and hostesses have been handing out pagers in an effort to help manage this process. Just about the only innovation since the pager’s creation has been the ability to rotate the paper advertising.
A deeper understanding of the guest interaction probably explains why innovation has been so slow. The pager is really a returnable gift from the restaurant. It’s the guarantee the guest will stay close to the bar and be back to the hostess stand either for their table or to return the pager. This behavior has been dictated by the restaurant industry for so long that it has become standard. It is only a matter of time before the consumer decides they want more freedom.
Checking in at the hostess stand will soon be as easy as scanning your reservation code at the hostess stand. Your mobile phone becomes a real-time ticker with custom advertisements that can change on the day or even time of day. Consumers will have the freedom to roam, but can cancel their wait at any time. Providing the guest access to the mobile menu could offer a distraction and even improve turn times.
Have you ever asked the host or hostess to seat you in a specific section or at a particular table? Maybe you are looking for a booth, but are willing to take a bar table if it becomes available first. With a scheduling and wait time app, this process becomes more transparent and less subjective. Guests will be able to wait longer for certain tables or shorter for concessions on their first choice – ultimately providing the guests what they really want.
The experience of a live game at the stadium can never be replicated, but don’t tell this to the cable networks who continue to provide more camera angles and better commentary, or the electronics manufacturers who provide higher definition televisions at astonishing sizes. The at-home experience of watching a game has taken enormous leaps in sensory innovation, not to mention the beer is usually 20 paces away. The stadium experience has got to improve, and it will be mobile technology that provides the lift.
Before any of this can happen though, cellular and data providers will need to expand and improve their networks. In fact, their most loyal consumers are caught between the action on the field and the fantasy team in their phone. It’s a decision no true fan wants to make.
With five bars on their phone and unlimited data access, guests will be able to entertain themselves during the game. They will soon be able to check stats and watch replays as they happen in real time. However, this will pale in comparison to the data traffic that will be dedicated to social media – the real reason stadiums need to upgrade their infrastructure. Fans want nothing more than to share this amazing experience with their friends and family, and the stadium should consider this as free advertising. This isn’t about predicting the future as much as realizing the current trends of our time.
MLB, in partnership with ARAMARK, has further developed an app called At the Ballpark® to include in-seat food and beverage ordering, aptly named “Ballpark Express.” Currently only provided to premium sections in select parks, guests are encouraged to place their order and provide payment on their mobile devices. Orders are sent to the closest kitchen and delivered directly to the guest’s seat. This is the future of premium concessions in stadiums.
Next time you visit a hotel, restaurant or stadium, consider how your mobile phone might change your experience five or ten years down the road. Then drop me an email.