Geographic location technologies are increasingly present in everyday life: mobile phones, tactile tablets, and other connected objects. The hotel sector is already rushing to benefit from their different uses to transform and improve the customer experience.
NFC, or Near Field Communication, makes it possible to send information over short distances wirelessly. Its origins are related to radio frequency identification, a technology that took off in the 2000s. Able to exchange information between two devices, NFC has seen its uses multiply exponentially with the advent of smartphones and other mobile devices.
In the hotel industry, NFC technology has already found many uses in terms of security; it facilitates arrivals and departures of guests and staff by substituting room keys through a mobile device. It is already possible to open doors using a smartphone at some properties such as the Aria Las Vegas by the group MGM Resorts International and several Hilton Worldwide hotels. The device may thus interact with the hotel's reception terminals, thereby simplifying the check-in and checkout procedure: this practice is now widespread in transportation, particularly for picking up train tickets. Using NFC as a key is not limited to room access: it also allows access to shared areas within the hotel such as the gym, or equipment storage such as lockers.
The benefit of near field communication also lies in the diversity of devices and tools that it may equip: a bracelet or other portable object is of particular interest to the sector. By providing compatibility with the property's global system. Guests may be given a bracelet able to facilitate check-in, act as the key to the room and equipments in the hotel, and in order to communicate with the guest if necessary. This option is particularly appropriate for use with guests who do not have smartphones, or do not wish / are unable to use it during their stay when a property is equipped with NFC locks.
The technology may also have other uses: for example possibility of paying directly and without complications at the bar or hotel restaurant. And why not add another dimension to the use of NFC, by having it have an impact on the points accumulated through loyalty programs? For example, a system for compensating those who use athletic facilities by giving them access to freebies after a certain number of hours spent in the fitness room.
The promises of iBeacon technology
The data transmission protocol for iBeacon was presented by the American technology company Apple in 2013. Through a bluetooth type of system this transmission tool is designed for interaction between iOS depending on their positioning. By sending signals it offers many uses for the fields of geo-positioning and wireless communications.
In the hotel sector, iBeacon technologies could allow the property to stay in touch with its clients in order to improve their stay, by proposing services and information according to geo-position. iBeacon markers may be positioned strategically in the hotel, such as in the lobby, near the bar, near vending machines. The guest may receive notifications regarding his stay depending on where he is and depending on where he is located in the property.
One of the major advantages of iBeacon markers is their adaptability: they may be located in dining areas, near a spa, or on golf courses. It is also possible to create a partnership with local businesses for users of a program, that gos hand in hand with iBeacon technology. this is what the Marriott group did with "Local Perks", a function that allows members of the Marriott Rewards program to receive personalized mobile offers for businesses and restaurants in the geographic vicinity.
iBeacon is being used increasingly in field transportation: Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Clubhouse and London's Heathrow provides its users with notifications about services available in the area, promotional offers they may benefit from, updated alerts about their flight.
NFC or iBeacon: which technology will win over hotels?
Between iBeacon marker and NFC technologies, which one will find its way into the hotel sector? Each of them has its distinct advantages. The iBeacon device uses the Bluetooth technology already available with all brands of smartphone, whereas NFC was only offered by Apple devices with the recent iPhone 6, leading to a lack of penetration. But it is this system that acts as a basis for all contact-free payment technologies, which are expected to develop significantly in the years to come, and that all the other giants such as Samsung and Google appear to be focusing.
While iBeacon markers have a reach up to 50 meters, the use of NFC is limited to less than half a foot. in terms of applications centering on the guest's geoposition, iBeacon thus appear to be the better adapted, provided the guest explicitly consents to its use. The latter point clearly sets some major limits, considering the growing sensitivity of consumers regarding protecting their private data. The intrusive aspect of iBeacon technology could thus lead to rejection by hotel clientèle who are concerned about their privacy.
The great advantage of NFC technology is its secured, non-invasive aspect that does not require validation by its user, meaning that it may be offered without restriction. In fact, for each action the user must validate interaction with an external device in order to obtain information or facilitate its a service. Its use is already widespread through access cards and transportation passes (Navigo in Paris), as well a events (ticketing). A CPP/NFC tag requires no battery and costs an average of less than 1€ - a good deal compared to 20. 35€ for an iBeacon marker, whose battery needs changing time and again.
It is nonetheless possible to imagine the advantages of an iBeacon marker in the public spaces of a hotel, where it could facilitate the work of its employees by taking over certain operations. It is more difficult, however to bring it into rooms, where the guest might feel invaded by external, not necessarily desirable, solicitors. from this point of view, NFC technology sits well with the imperatives of discretion related to the hotel world. Used as a room key by the guest, or to track the activities of staff, or by facilitating check-in or payment procedures, the applications of these technologies offer a glimpse of the premises of a small revolution for the hotel industry of tomorrow.
It is thus possible to imagine different uses for these two technologies, they appear to be more complementary than in competition.
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