By Alan E. Young, President, Puzzle Partner
Imagine a traveler considering a stay at your hotel. Your potential guest “virtually” walks through one of your luxury suites, exploring all the amenities and even taking in the sweeping view from the window. Or a guest staying in your hotel aims their smartphone in any direction to discover information about nearby attractions and to find their way to the pool. Welcome to the world of augmented reality (AR).
AR essentially takes virtual reality (VR) to the next level. Instead of immersing users in a different world, AR superimposes digital content over the real world. AR captured the world’s attention with the success of Pokémon Go in the summer of 2016. Pokémon Go is a game where players hunt and capture Pokémon, tiny virtual creatures, that are hiding in real-world locations and visible only in a smartphone camera view.
According to a recent Phocuswright analysis, “Tech’s Fourth Wave Meets Travel,” travel companies and hotels can learn a lot about future opportunities associated with AR from the Pokémon Go phenomenon, including the ability to engage guests, generate demand, and how the virtual world inspires real-world action that can translate into real revenue. And with investors pouring $2.3 billion into VR/AR startups, this immersive tech is set for rapid growth.
Hotels from big brands to budget boutiques are slowly entering the AR arena. While big brands may use expensive connected glasses or mounted headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, many hotels rely on proprietary apps and AR-enabled smartphone browsers to do the heavy lifting. Users can aim their phone camera at a point of interest to receive images along with added information. Implementing an AR strategy using smartphones is an effective plan for hoteliers considering that 43 percent of tech-loving Millennials are on their phones every five minutes, 83 percent sleep with them, and now at 83.1 million strong, Millennials are poised to become the biggest customer segment for hotels worldwide.
Hotels must step up their “technological game” if they hope to differentiate themselves and engage with this lucrative market. Let’s look at some key ways AR technology will impact the hotel industry.
Booking Rooms. AR technology will allow potential guests to explore rooms before they book. Travelers will be right there inside the room to see exactly what different sizes and floor plans are available. Potential guests may be persuaded to upgrade to a suite by seeing the additional amenities, incredible views and how spacious it is.
Exploring the property. Instead of relying on website images and ordinary paper brochures, potential visitors will learn what a hotel stay “feels” like. Through interactive experiences, travelers can virtually visit a hotel’s restaurant, spa or fitness center. An eco-friendly hotel might take users on a virtual tour of its rooftop herb garden or show off green building materials, helping to build customer loyalty. The Mansion at Casa Madrona uses an augmented, printed brochure that can be scanned to immerse the user in the luxurious property.
Restaurant experiences. Hoteliers can embed AR content on their restaurant menu, enabling non-native guests to read it in their own language. Taking this a step further, imagine a guest sitting in a hotel restaurant and being able to get suggested drink pairings, read customer reviews and watch how the chef prepares the dish they’re considering ordering. At the Inamo restaurant in London, AR images are projected onto the tables letting guests choose their own table theme.
Local attractions. Guests often choose their hotel based on its proximity to area attractions. AR tech will not only allow users to view a hotel location but can also recreate significant historical events or cultural experiences of nearby destinations. Hoteliers could add an AR feature to their existing proprietary apps similar to “Paris, Then and Now” which shows users what different sites in Paris looked like in the past, based on where they’re standing. Or guests can virtually try a local activity, such as a hang-gliding adventure, before choosing to go. In addition, opportunities for the hotel to advertise other services grows the longer a guest spends interacting with their app.
Marketing. Hotels can leverage AR tech on their website or billboards placed in airports and high-traffic areas. Scanning through a smartphone camera will trigger images and information about the hotel. A beachside resort may entice potential visitors by immersing them in a video from the viewpoint of a guest lounging in the sun while sipping a cocktail, a promotion for their happy hour drinks hovering in the foreground. AR will increase guest satisfaction as well because they’ll know what to expect before they book.
Hotel Management. AR will also impact business and back-of-house operations. The advanced tech can bring blueprints and artist renderings to life, letting potential investors clearly envision the end result. And in the realm of staff training, hotels can create real-life scenarios that teach skills and help employees more effectively interact with guests.
Although the AR trend for hotels is still in its early stages, it may not be long before cutting-edge virtual environments that include the feel of ocean breezes or the scent of cooking food become mainstream. The rapid adoption of Pokémon Go demonstrates how ready people are to embrace this innovative new tech trend, and hotels that ignore it will find themselves left behind. It’s clear that AR has a profound role to play in the future of the hotel industry.