Mr. Ronson

Mobile Technology

Mobile Technology: The Relentless Pace of Change Continues

By Terence Ronson, Managing Director, Pertlink Ltd.

There's only one way to view this - we live in a mobile world. Almost any consumer product or service developed today, is most likely created with a mind-set that one day it will somehow be used in a mobile manner. Consigned to oblivion are the days when we need to return to a desk to do email, go to a fixed line to make a phone call, plug into a network port for internet connectivity, have a hard-wired antenna to watch TV, or wear a wired headset to listen to music.

However, one of the remaining requirements of "being connected" is the need to plug in our devices for charging - but that is slowly eroding. To understand the power of charging, just look around you and see how many people have their mobile devices tethered to some form of mobile power pack - I call this BYOP - Bring Your Own Power. Low-batt as it's often termed, is a modern-day curse, and as we constantly glance at the screens of our mobile devices, or set alerts, when we observe a reading of <40%, we break into a cold sweat, as we quickly triangulate and find a place of solace to get a power fix.

Joking aside, mobility has an abundance of advantages, many of which we are only now coming to terms with - quite likely because the devices have technically matured, prices have fallen sufficiently, and the applications become useful. In fact, for a while now, the computing power contained inside that smartphone in your pocket or purse, contains way more computational capabilities than the vehicle that took the first Apollo Mission to the Moon.

When we hear the term "there's an app for that" - there either is, or quite likely there are a group of hooded programmers or system architects huddled together in a basement, garage, dorm or around a kitchen table busy collaborating on how to bring that code to market with the potential of being the next Facebook, Instagram, or Tinder.

The market for mobility is huge. Correction. it's Ginormous! Let me give you a simple example. The 2016 edition of the World Fact Book (published by The CIA - and yes, there's an app) shows that for example, Hong Kong, with a population of 7.2m people, has a staggering 16.74m mobile phones in operation. That's over two mobile phones per man, woman and child. South Korea has a population of 51m and 59m mobile users, while the USA has a 324m population and a measly 382m mobile users. Those three countries total half a billion mobile phones in use.

The last 35+ years has seen the single greatest explosion in the use of any tech known to mankind, the mobile phone. And the one single event that led to this, happened on June 29th 1997 when Apple changed the world forever, as the Tech God known as Steve Jobs proudly launched the iPhone. Shortly after that date, there was probably no single place on Planet Earth (and maybe even parts of the Solar system) that had not heard of the iPhone. So significant was this moment that it once and for all made mobiles useful, and like the Calculator, Mouse and Windows that preceded it, the Mobile Generation was born. Now well over half the population has been ushered into the Mobile era.

How times have changed! WE must grasp, accept, and live with these so-called aides to our daily lives. Sure, they make it easy for us to communicate with each other, but we are now doing this in ways we never imagined… or maybe not? Back in the days of the cave dwellers when language did not exist, they used symbols to express themselves. Now thousands of years later, what do we do when we communicate with each other? We do the same thing using emoji's, or the modern equivalent of the caveman's pictograms. Odd isn't it… 

But we're not here for a history lesson, or to understand how man (aka humans) communicate. We're here to see how the Hospitality industry is leveraging off this platform either to make money, or enhance the guest experience. Some may say there is a correlation between the two.

The most prominent use of mobility by Hotels are APPS - and this is relevant to the real estate where those app reside - on the Guest's own device. Hotels have embraced this as another feeder - usually to promote their goods and services, and with the hope that the Guest will opt for this to make a direct booking to the property rather than via an OTA, and save the Hotel, and Guest that booking fee. They've had a modicum of success with this, in exchange for sweeteners to entice the looker to morph into a booker. But, unless the business is regularly patronized by the user, or the incentives are beneficial, the user will most definitely delete it almost as fast as they installed it. With so much competition, price sensitivity, and eroding loyalty, maintaining the stickiness of an APP is a constant challenge to the business.

Chains, rather than independents, have more success with APPS simply because they can deliver so much more functionality and offer across multiple brands and geographies. For example, The Marriott app now includes access to Starwood properties, facilitates a pre-arrival mobile check-in, and where enabled, act as your mobile room key. Additional functionality could include pre-select amenities (pillow menu, newspaper, or a newspaper etc.). At their Chicago property, Virgin Hotels have introduced an app called Lucy, and she helps you control the room (lights and A/C). CitizenM and a few others have similar offerings, and further research can be done on Tapendium and Iris (Compendium replacements), Myini and Priscilla for other app like offerings.

In Hong Kong, an early adopter of mobile tech was Hotel ICON, a pioneer in the deployment of the HANDY phone as a room amenity. The name of this device is applicable for the benefit it delivers - free International calls, free Hot spot internet access, and a wide range of special offers. But ICON did not stop there, they added portable power packs into their rooms which guests can use while roaming the sites and shopping malls, and a small KEF sound-bar, which again can be used in, or out of the Hotel.

Tablets have been used for quite a while now for check-in and check-out. Right from the start, Andaz Hotels took advantage of this new form factor for check-in, as did the Upper House in Hong Kong and I'm sure by now, has evolved into an industry requirement. Late 2015, the 665 room South Beach in Singapore (now re-named The Griffin as a Marriott property) utilized the Surface PRO 3 as Reception tools, where the Guest would sign in for room access, and upon check out, validate their folio the same way.

The Burj Al Arab (Dubai) was the first Hotel to install iPads into their Guest Rooms, and I believe at one time, they were all gold plated. The Peninsula Hong Kong also has multi-function tablets, but sadly not gold plated, at least last time I looked.

One great way to use mobility, is with the disruptive Hotelier - Airbnb. Imagine being a guest member of this behemoth. Once you've made your booking, your smartphone gets programmed with a mobile key relevant to your upcoming stay, you turn up at the property, flash your mobile on the wall reader, and hey presto, you are in. No fuss, no muss. And, there's no way you can steal and copy the key or go back when you are not supposed to. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

But as we explore other uses of Hotel TECH, let's consider wearables for Staff. First alerts for Housekeepers (remember the famous case in NYC where a Maid was allegedly raped), job dispatching for handymen, clean the next room for Housekeeping, and discreet alerts for security. Let's also not forget F&B where Tablets have been used in certain types of Restaurant operations for Tableside Order Taking, where they have replaced the 3-part carbonized Waiter's Order Pads. Some operators have even built these into the furniture so a diner can order their own items, rather than need to interact with a warm body. I've personally experienced this in a few Sushi type places as well as an Indian restaurant in Singapore.

I like the concept of a Tablet being used as a Second Screen for the in-room TV. If there are two people in the room, both wanting to watch different channels, a downloadable app onto that device allows one to watch a TV station while the other is using the big screen. Hey, one could also take that Tablet into the WC or into the bath. Now that's pretty cool.

The use of this tech is limited by your imagination - It's a solution looking for a problem.

Terence Ronson, Managing DirectorPertlink Ltd., began his hospitality career as a Chef. He has held various management positions with prominent hotels, both in England and Asia. Between 1996 and 2000 Terence was the Asia Operations Director for Hotel Information System (HIS) a leading technology supplier to the hospitality industry. Mr. Ronson has had exposure to Asia since 1975 when he worked as an Assistant Manager at the Hong Kong Hilton. In 2010, Mr. Ronson started Pertlink in Hong Kong – a Hospitality Consulting firm specializing in IT. Since then, he has authored numerous industry related articles that regularly appear on hospitality related web sites. Mr. Ronson can be contacted at +852 9468 0848 or terence@pertlink.net Extended Bio...

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Hotel Law: Issues & Events
There is not a single area of a hotel’s operation that isn’t touched by some aspect of the law. Hotels and management companies employ an army of lawyers to advise and, if necessary, litigate issues which arise in the course of conducting their business. These lawyers typically specialize in specific areas of the law – real estate, construction, development, leasing, liability, franchising, food & beverage, human resources, environmental, insurance, taxes and more. In addition, issues and events can occur within the industry that have a major impact on the whole, and can spur further legal activity. One event which is certain to cause repercussions is Marriott International’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. This newly combined company is now the largest hotel company in the world, encompassing 30 hotel brands, 5,500 hotels under management, and 1.1 million hotel rooms worldwide. In the hospitality industry, scale is particularly important – the most profitable companies are those with the most rooms in the most locations. As a result, this mega- transaction is likely to provoke an increase in Mergers & Acquisitions industry-wide. Many experts believe other larger hotel companies will now join forces with smaller operators to avoid being outpaced in the market. Companies that had not previously considered consolidation are now more likely to do so. Another legal issue facing the industry is the regulation of alternative lodging companies such as Airbnb and other firms that offer private, short-term rentals. Cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Monica are at the forefront of efforts to legalize and control short-term rentals. However, those cities are finding it’s much easier to adopt regulations on short-term rentals than it is to actually enforce them. The December issue of Hotel Business Review will examine these and other critical issues pertaining to hotel law and how some companies are adapting to them.