Travelers used to pay steep prices for personalized concierge service.
Now, at some properties, all it takes is a smart phone. Download an app (technology lingo for an application that lets smart-phone users perform specific functions) and presto — instant personalized service. Imagine being able to use your smart phone to check in to your hotel before your plane landed in Hilo. What would your next trip to the Big Island be like if you could order room service and extra pillows before you got out of your rental car?
Wait, it gets better. The next day, over breakfast with an ocean view, you’ll use your smart phone to plot out safe routes for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Later that day your phone will pinpoint your trail location as you explore the park. After you stop to view the lava flow, at the first twinge of muscle soreness, you can press a few buttons on your phone and you’ve booked a next-day spa appointment. And, later that night, if you’ve had one mai tai too many, you can order a later wake-up call with your last round.
This technology-supported dream has not become a widespread reality in Hawaii, but it’s rapidly advancing. Hawaii properties and attractions have been experimenting for several years with airport kiosk check-ins and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to provide more convenient service to their on-the-go guests. Now some of them like Hilton Hawaii and Aston Hotels & Resorts are using apps to bring travel technology from the desktop to mobile phones.
HOW IT WORKS
For a short demo on MacroView Labs apps:
To download the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park app:
Hilton launched its smart-phone program late last year, said Jerry Gibson, general manager of Hilton Hawaiian Village and area vice president and managing director of Hilton Hawaii.
The company’s "Request Upon Arrival" app enables a traveler to place an order for room service and have a meal in the room upon arrival at the Hilton, Doubletree and Embassy Suites brands. The new applications also offer "e-check in," a feature that provides remote check-in up to 48 hours in advance.
"Our new iPhone and iTouch applications are like having a hotel concierge in your pocket 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Paul Brown, president of global brands and commercial services, Hilton Worldwide. "We are constantly working to anticipate our guests’ needs, and this is a great way for us to make the entire hotel experience more convenient."
Hilton, the forerunner among hotels with apps, developed the program to respond to increased demand for smart-phone travel applications, Gibson said. As a result, Hilton reported that its bookings from smart phones increased every quarter of 2009.
"People are really, really starting to pick up on it," Gibson said, adding that demand among users is so high for hospitality apps that they are quickly becoming necessary for resorts to compete.
Aston Hotels & Resorts launched a booking app last year and is working on developing pre-arrival services, said Shari Chang, senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management for Aston Hotels & Resorts.
"It’s a great way to bond with our guests," Chang said. "It’s a very important channel that will be very big."
Some Hawaii travelers might already be aware of the potential for smart-phone travel apps if they have visited Vegas or other parts of the West Coast, where they are proliferating. Guests of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which sports a smart-phone app developed by San Francisco-based MacroView Labs, can order room service, request wake-up calls and book spa treats from their phone. Attendees of corporate meetings can enter a passkey to see guest lists, play private games, download presentations, contact other attendees or get up-to-the-minute event information.
MacroView Labs recently built an app for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at the request of Big Island tour providers and is currently in negotiations with a few Hawaii resorts to bring more of this technology to the islands.
"The newest mobile apps aren’t coming from third-party social media companies like Yelp, but from the brands themselves, which is big news for consumers," said Aron Ezra, chief executive officer of MacroView Labs.
While third-party apps allow guests to talk to each other, the new wave of property-owned apps allows guests to interact both with each other and directly with the property itself, Ezra said.
"Folks in Hawaii are excited about using them as a way to interact with guests," he said. "Apps are a way of giving guests services the moment that they think about them."
The smart-phone app at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park highlights the practicality of mobile travel services, Ezra said.
Smart-phone users who have downloaded the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park app can view trails, make reservations, check the weather, watch for safety alerts and see the local news. They can get full satellite views of the park and can put a pin down to remember a trail or where they parked. While they are walking, they can find information about nearby places to eat and stay. And, if the kids get bored, they can hand the phone over and let them play educational games about the park.
MacroView has gotten great feedback on the park app since putting it up in February, Ezra said.
"Apps are so much more dynamic than anything that a website can do. It creates a much richer experience for people," he said. "When you look at the overall trend numbers, it’s clear that this is a trend that is here to stay."
Though there are more than 225,000 apps in the Apple Store and more than 5 billion apps have been downloaded, 15,000 new ones are submitted each week across 30 different languages, Ezra said.
"The growth is unbelievable," he said, adding that Android is now up to 70,000 apps.
But not all members of Hawaii’s hospitality industry are convinced that the technology makes sense for their market. Some properties prefer to have hotel workers handle guest services or are unprepared to offer guests the rapid response necessary with these apps. Others are concerned about protecting guest security.
Outrigger Enterprises Group remains unconvinced that using apps for remote check-in benefits their guests, said Barry Wallace, the company’s executive vice president of hospitality services. Outrigger has tested the remote check-in process but is not certain that the process is secure, so it does not use it, Wallace said.