CHICAGO, IL (July 24, 2002) The state of wireless technology and its impact on consumers and business systems within the hospitality and travel industry were addressed at the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association Internationals (HSMAI) Executive THINK on Global Wireless Devices: Connecting the Consumer.
The full-day forum (fourth in a series of Executive THINKs), held on June 24 at the Swissotel Chicago immediately preceding HITEC, joined senior-level travel and hospitality executives with experts in the marketplace, who discussed the present and future state of wireless technology, as well as offered case studies and demonstrations.
Greatly impacted by globalization and technology innovation, wireless technology is growing at great speed, with an estimated 137 million Americans equipped with some type of wireless service. The influence and possibilities that presents for our industry are astounding.
While delivering targeted and personalized information to existing and potential customers, not everyone needs the same information, nor will they use it and receive it in the same way. So, the challenge is to customize it for the end user, always keeping in mind the need for delivering high-touch in a high-tech world.
Beyond the technical applications, buzzwords and wireless technology protocols in the marketplace such as PAN, LAN and WAN there are valuable applications and benefits that can enhance a business operation and customer relationships.
What follows is a summary of highlights and insights presented by experts and industry leaders.
To set the stage, Henry H. Harteveldt, senior analyst at Forrester Research, provided some stats to put usage into perspective:
· U.S. laptop and mobile phone owners are mainstream, but PDA owners are more elite;
· 15% of U.S. PDA owners receive them from their employers; as do 11% of mobile phone owners;
· 26% of business travelers are 24% more likely than leisure travelers to have a wireless device;
· Business bookers are 44% more likely than all business travelers to own a wireless device;
· Those who have it use it; mobile phones are used noticeably more to access the net;
· Smaller devices win wireless access on the go: laptops are used the least, both at airports and hotels; mobile phones win at airports and are #2 at hotels; and PDAs win at hotels yet are #2 at airports;
· On the leisure side, interest in researching leisure travel from wireless devices outweighs researching business travel; laptops are preferred 50% more for leisure travel research; 45% more for leisure bookings than PDAs; and PDAs are preferred 44% more than mobile phones for leisure travel research, and 38% more for bookings.
As for making the connection, beyond all the new great gadgets from sophisticated phones to PDAs, convergence devices and other state-of-the art wireless gear, Leonard Fischer, technology section editor of Gannett News and USA Today, presented some of the need-to-know emerging applications.
· Location Based Services (LBS) the ability to locate cell phones to send information;
· Voice command service basic voice recognition technology, which enables you to call your email, have it read to you and receive a response, as well as get headlines, make reservations, etc. A very sophisticated version is Pronto, voice recognition service with a human aspect, likened to a concierge;
· Multimedia viewing short videos, like trailers for movies, videos taken on vacation, etc.
· Speed faster wireless networking (802.11b an Ethernet connection at 11 megabytes per second, which will be at or close to broadband, doubling if not quadrupling the present speed);
· Interoperability improve talking to one another.
IBMs Five Business Strategies:
From the perspective of developing business systems, Kevin Wyne, senior consultant specializing in wireless technology at IBM Global Services, says if you want to do something in wireless, you need to consider the following business strategies and practical applications.
· Applications What task do you want to do?
· Integration What systems need to interact?
· Connectivity What networks should be used?
· Devices What will the players want to use?
· Management and Support How will you keep it going?
Wyne adds that this should be approached as a business model with an ROI (return on investment), otherwise dont attempt it.
Enterprises are now looking for increased productivity through wireless extensions of e-business, while mobile operators are moving from voice to data, mobile e-commerce and personalization, and equipment manufacturers are producing smaller, network-ready wireless devices, says Wyne.
He adds that new devices are emerging as point of access for: Information (news, sports, maps); Entertainment (music, graphics and games); Communications (short messaging service SMS, email, instant messaging); and Transactions (banking, shopping, reservations).
And, Wyne cites eCash being used effectively to support loyalty programs and increase the ka-ching factor. He provides examples such as:
· Gaylord Palms Hotel, whereby guests can use their room key to purchase items from vending machines, which are all integrated into the hotel POS and PMS systems for a single checkout feature.
· Starbucks is testing a dialing for coffee option, which allows the under-caffeinated to avoid queues for cups. Consumers need to establish a pre-paid account, and then order and pay by cell phone for a 25-cent transaction fee. Starbucks says it will remake an order if the customer gets stuck in traffic and arrives after the beverage has cooled.
Need for Standardization:
Rob Robless, chief technology officer of UAL Loyalty Services, says that travelers want the ability to stay connected with their itinerary, so we want to provide our customers with the information they need all along the way, focusing on the entire experience.
The challenge is dealing with so many vendors, all operating on different systems. So, how do you get them to talk to each other?
The idea is to set up standards to integrate and communicate with all vendors, which works only if all the different pieces of the itinerary allow you to work together. If a flight is cancelled you dont want to have to make all the changes yourself but do it automatically, says Robless.
He explains that whats keeping us from doing this is that there are so many different devices and proprietary systems, so there are no standards for which we can all communicate. Thats the idea behind the Open Travel Alliance, whereby at the application level, you can have your own system, but if you standardize messages, then you can at least integrate at the application level. The technology is there; the challenge is integration, he notes.
Robless advice is to attack mobile/wireless in moderation, keep the needs of the mobile user in mind, and stabilize your investments with standards and infrastructure.
Given the significant investment to do so, he suggests you find the cheapest platform and provide that same platform to as many devices as possible develop once, deploy across platforms (Web, PDA, WAP, etc.).
He further adds the need for a consumer centric approach: identify the audience and opportunity, define what is appropriate and take a strategic technical approach. Consumers are loyal to brands, not channels. They will shop in the channel that is most convenient at any given time.
The Hotel Perspective:
According to Six Continents Hotels Eric Pearson, vice president, E-Commerce, Our objectives are to provide our guests with new ways for locating hotels and making reservations, as well as develop new ways of communicating travel and destination information with guests.
He says: Our strategy is to establish a leadership position to help improve consumer confidence in wireless services and deliver cost-effective solutions not dependent on a specific device or technology.
Last March, Six Continents Hotels made available new wireless services. The three components are:
A one-time web-based enrollment feature, which allows the guest to be identified, the device to be used, and the hotel brands and amenities to refine hotel searches.
Hotel Locator and Information:
Allows a guest to search for hotels in a specified area, using either city, zip code, area code, or even hotels nearby as a search criteria. Once found, hotel information is available such as address, phone number, amenities and directions.
Hotel Availability and Reservations:
– Allows web-enabled phones and Palm VII users to book the hotel using their stored preferences in Priority Club®.
– Members enter the arrival date and number of nights. Only hotels with availability are presented with room types that match the guests stored preferences. (e.g. king bed, non-smoking room).
– Upon selection of a room, guests book the reservation which pre-populates their information and uses the credit card stored on file with Priority Club®.
– This reduces the security issues and the amount of information required to be sent back and forth.
Pearson summarizes: Demand is there and growing quickly, especially internationally, and opportunities do exist for wireless services, especially those that enhance the overall guest experience. He advises that Consumers want services not platforms, so simplify the process wherever possible, and recognize that high-touch is more important than high-tech.
Lee Hancock, president and CEO of go2 Systems, a system that aids ground navigation with real-time, wireless location-based directory and information applications and services, enables businesses to reach consumers in a given area when they are deciding where to go and what to buy.
When consumers are looking for you and cant find you, in their world, you dont exist, says Hancock. Bridging mobile consumers to retailers is the premise for go2 Systems, noting that the wireless data market will take off as devices get better. In fact, by 2004, Hancock says that 40% of consumer e-commerce will be initiated from wireless devices.
Mobile Services Management:
One example of optimizing wireless systems on-property, as it ultimately relates to efficiency and customer service, is via a mobile services management system from Nextel and Corrigo, Inc.
According to Laurie Hoyt, business development director for Nextel, this generic application for work orders enables tasks to be assigned, tracked and reported using a wireless device. With minimum data entry, a knowledge base for procedure instructions and immediate tracking and response, the guest request and maintenance cycle is realized with greater speed, ease and efficiency.
As we look ahead, Dr. Lalia Rach, Ed.D, associate dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration at New York University, foresees that No matter what you provide your customer with in wireless, they will most likely ask for something more.
She adds: The advances of technology have created a customer base short on patience, but with the advance of wireless throughout society, hospitality companies will find that customers will have no patience. So, if we are looking at the tourism industry, lines will have to go away and you will have to find different ways of delivering service as expectations change. Consumers will not want to wait in real time when they dont have to wait virtually. Seconds will matter as tiny pieces of time will really mean something to your guests. While a blanket response will not work company to company instead a unique and consistent outcome will be necessary at all levels.
But, regardless of the pitfalls, such as concern over privacy, high cost, security and obsolescence, America is the land of mobility and convenience, therefore, wireless is the future. All in all, the overriding concern and determination in all of this begins and ends with the consumer. You have to know what to deliver based on what the user wants.
HSMAI is an organization of sales and marketing professionals representing all segments of the hospitality industry. With a strong focus on education, HSMAI has become the industry champion in identifying and communicating trends in the hospitality industry, while operating as a leading voice for both hospitality and sales and marketing management disciplines. Founded in 1927, HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising nearly 7,000 members from 35 countries and 60 chapters worldwide.
For more information on HSMAI, contact the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International, 8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 300, McLean, VA 22102, phone (703) 610-9024; fax (703) 610-9005. You can also visit the web site at www.hsmai.org.
The next Executive THINK will be on Rebuilding Profits: The New Definition of Value, to be held on Sept. 19 in Houston, TX with featured speaker Gordon Bethune, chairman of Continental Airlines.