mHotels – Part 1: RFID

It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to explore what’s happening in the world of mHotels. That’s a term I pretty much made up to describe the intersection of mobile technology and the hotel industry.

Not to be confused with mobile hotels.

Those who know me well, know that I am fascinated (*ahem* obsessed) with the world of hotels. During my university years, I would tell my roommate that I was off to the gym (which was kind of true), except that I was actually going to go sit in the sauna at the Delta Hotel located 5 minutes away from the McGill Ghetto and read J Willard Marriott’s biography.

Since there are so many technological trends to cover and different phases of the hotel experience life cycle to explore, I’m breaking up the topic into series of X parts. I’m not going to spend too much time on how far we’ve come in finding and booking a hotel on a mobile phone because that is pretty much “old news”.

Did you know you can download an app to find and book a hotel? AMAZING. Not really. Ok, next:


Radio Frequency IDentification is a data collection technology that uses electronic tags for storing data. Traditionally, the RFID reader is a fixed machine and the tags are the moving parts. Mobile RFID is the other way around: the reader is installed on a mobile device (such as a phone) and the tags are usually fixed.

Aloft Hotels, which is part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc, has rolled out its Smart Check-In initiative (Checkinitative?). Starwood guests receive a branded RFID keycard which they keep. On the day of their stay, they receive a text message with their room number and the key will automatically unlock their designated room’s door. This completely eliminates the need to wait in the check-in line and interact with a human being. Score. Rumor has it that the keycard will eventually serve other purposes during the stay such as purchasing food and drinks from the hotel (not unlike what you find on cruise ships).

Cue cheesy video.

Nordic Choice Hotels in Scandinavia also launched a similar program with their OpenWays mobile key front-desk solutions, and the Hilton and InterContinental are testing OpenWays’ technology in select cities which allows doors to be unlocked by the mobile phone themselves (as opposed to a separate keycard as in Aloft’s case).

I’m fairly certain that using your cell phone as your all access pass to hotel stays (room key, quick payments, etc) will become the norm in the not so distant future.

How about when RFID becomes social?

Ibiza’s Ushuaia Beach Hotel recently launched a campaign to let their guests share their resort experiences on Facebook in a unique way. Guests receive a special wrist band when they check in which is linked to their Facebook profile. By swiping their wrist bands at assigned RFID points around the resort, they can tag photos, check in on Facebook Places, “like” and share their vacation activities.

Cue cheesy video #2.

RFID-equipped wristbands are a great idea for resorts as people do not really carry their cell phones around with them, or if they do, data access is limited. It’s also extremely fun for vacation resorts where locations and activities are “fixed” (in a time/location sense) but varied in type (different pools, beaches, sports activities, parties, bars, shows, etc). It’s data that people want to naturally share with their close friends, but couldn’t really before. Although you’d want to make sure those privacy settings are set correctly if you plan on swiping that wrist band on eight piña coladas and that hot German tourist.

RFID social sharing campaigns are starting to get picked up, another recent example being the waterpark at Great Wold Resorts which is genius because there is absolutely no way to carry a mobile phone around a waterpark. Other places this would work well: amusement parks, the zoo, ski resorts, Disney World, absolutely anywhere actually.

What would make hotel RFID data tracking even more fun is turning it into a game where users can unlock real rewards when they reach certain objectives and milestones.

To conclude, mobile RFID in the hotel industry has not only the potential to make existing processes more convenient (unlock door, checking out, ordering food, paying at the bar) but can enhance the experience by making it more interactive, incorporating things like social sharing (read: free marketing) and gaming elements.

To be continued…


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