Wireless is a term used to describe telecommunications in which electromagnetic waves (as opposed to wire) carry a signal. Early wireless transmitters used radiotelegraphy to transmit Morse code and later voice. Information Communication Technology (ICT) developments have proliferated the use of wireless applications and devices, including: cellular phones and pagers, global positioning system, cordless computer peripherals and telephones, home remote control and monitor systems.
Wireless technology has been evolving rapidly. The development of mobile telephony over the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) allowed the communication of voice and data over mobile phones. General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) as well as I Mode in Japan gradually introduce the 3rd Generation (3G) mobile phones and services empowering the communication of multimedia information on interactive mobile devices. In addition, Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) allow users to connect their laptop computer through a wireless radio connection, whilst Bluetooth connects PDAs, cell phones, computer mice, and other peripherals over short distances. A number of wireless technologies and standards have been developed (Table 1). Figure 1 demonstrates that increasingly these technologies will be converging, enabling the mobile user to utilize a variety of systems and network applications to access a range of multimedia data. Location, distance range, speed required, cost, purpose of access, easiness to use and even style determine which combination will be used at the time.
Wireless in hotels
Hotels take advantage of the wireless revolution to improve their own operations and strategies and to enhance customer service. GPRS is expanding allowing users to pay only for that packs received and allowing both faster connectivity to WAP and to Internet Browsers. Wi Fi networks also become widely available, through the installation of wireless hotspots for hotel guests and employees. These hotspots allow individual users to access the network via wireless cards in their laptops or wireless enabled Internet Protocol (IP) telephone handsets or other mobile devices such as a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
From the hotel customer’s point of view, wireless services can facilitate the reservation process, especially for last minute bookings, when a traveler has arrived at a destination with no reservation. Consumers can communicate with the hotel, alter their reservations or make special requests. Whilst at the hotel, wireless access to the Internet is becoming a critical feature not only for accessing work information, but also for communicating with family and friends or organizing leisure activities. This is the case for people attending meetings, conferences and exhibitions, whereas wireless access supports easy connectivity and the ability to move around within the area. Wi Fi or Bluetooth enabled high speed Internet access is becoming a significant benefit that can augment the hospitality product. This may work as complementary to GPRS or UMTS access over mobile networks, especially for visitors from a different country who would have had to pay expensive roaming charges. In the short to medium term, offering this service can differentiate the hotel products, improve the value for money and time for guests and lead to competitive advantage. In the longer term, access will be widely available and will be treated as a normal utility function.
From the hotel operations point of view, wireless technologies play an increasingly vital role for hotels, linking together everything, from point of sale terminals to housekeeping and security management systems. Wireless allows mobility and freedom to work more productively, for both hotel employees and guests by allowing users to access the Internet, e mail, instant messages, and the corporate intranet from any location. Faster communication with the work force enables better access to information and operations. Better and up to date communications between departments can minimize waiting times, reduce errors and increase overall productivity. In addition, hotels can use wireless portals to expand their distribution network. Also wireless services allow additional opportunities for providing added value and location based services. For example a hotel hotspot may incorporate access to a pizza delivery service to complement or outsource in its entirety the room service function. Table 2 demonstrates some best practice of wireless applications in hotels.
Wireless in hotel operational and strategic management
Hotels involve network enabled business solutions, to improve their business functions. These include marketing and reservations, customer relationships, front and back office, training and communications. Wireless technologies are expected to have a major impact throughout the hospitality value chain by integrating and making accessible data and processes, whilst enhancing guest experiences. Wireless Internet can also facilitate internal operations, improve effectiveness and efficiency as well as enhance guest experiences.
The Wireless Internet can facilitate the innovation, adoption and integration with existing systems. This allows further technology development, which can improve communications with employees, partners and customers. Hotels can improve their firm infrastructure by enabling the exchange of real time information through integrating centralized data warehouses on a comprehensive Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP). Authorized members of staff access data whist on the move, making better informed decisions, faster. Real time communication can instigate paperless administration for planning and allocation of resources, whilst it can assist hotel mangers to share knowledge faster and to make proactive and reactive decisions. Human Resources Management also benefits as hotels can communicate more effectively with employees in the property and outside. Employees can access rota schedules, make changes to program as well as receive information on their remuneration, commissions, access training courses and other potential benefits. Internal marketing can also be facilitated, by providing employees with information about the current status of the hotel and also special benefits for them. Wireless communications can assist a more flexible deployment of the workforce, improving productivity. Procurement also benefits as hotel buyers attending local markets access remotely real time data, including requirements, stock levels, alternative sources, pricing and historical data on suppliers. Wireless systems facilitate purchasing, order acceptance process, store keeping and control functions whilst they support real time inventory and financial tracking for suppliers, supporting inbound logistics.
Wireless solutions bring mobility, flexibility and productivity for hotels as they can facilitate communications using real time data. The hotel guest is at the center and is surrounded by various applications. Integration of wireless Points of Sales systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) give hotels opportunities for real time sales statistics, tracking of frequent guests/diners and personalized information. This can assist operational management and enable a wide range of proactive and reactive procedures to deal with seasonality, demand fluctuations or unexpected events. They empower hotel front line employees, such as receptionists, waiters and chambermaids and enhance their operational efficiencies. For example, receptionists may collaborate with group leaders and check in guests during the transfer to the hotel. Frequent customers can check in wirelessly as soon as they arrive by using a Bluetooth enabled device. A waiter can have access to all information related to availability of dishes, food orders, time required, kitchen delays and bill payments at the customers’ table. Housekeeping can monitor room status, cleaning process and maintenance in real time. As this information is updated constantly, it can be followed by all relevant employees who can then adapt their schedule. Staff can reduce the time spent going forwards and backwards to their control center and dedicate more time to do their job and serving guests.
Wireless technologies have unprecedented implications for Marketing and Sales. Consumers can make and change reservations anytime, anywhere from any Internet enabled device. Hotels will need multi channel distribution strategies to support real time availability with dynamic pricing to maximize their yield. Wireless enabled devices will also provide hotel marketers with another distribution channel empowered with location based services and customer profiling. Finally, wireless solutions can assist after sales services such as instant feedback, update of guest history and CRM based marketing. Wire less technologies can also allow hotels to expand their value chains through partnerships with complementary suppliers constantly updating and differentiating their products.
Strategic developments and Challenges
Wireless technologies revolutionize the entire hotel value chain. Innovative hotels need to reengineer their processes and re examine how to profit from emerging technologies. For example purchases on mobile devices can add value to hotel guests through ‘location/destination based services’; whilst providing self services through wireless technologies can mean operational and productivity gains. Hotels need to focus on the abilities of wireless technologies to enhance their competitiveness by improving their customer service and differentiation advantage, whilst reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
A number of challenges remain open. Hotels will need to readjust their business model to account for revenue lost through wired telephony/Internet and also to provide for investments required. A number of new stakeholders/ partners also emerge and they also need to be addressed in the new business models. Wireless solutions will increase price transparency further. That will have implications for hotel pricing and yield management. Security of data and transactions also remains a major challenge. Finally, consumers would expect that hospitality organizations to be always on and ready to interact, putting additional pressure on small and medium sized enterprises that already lack expertise and capital to invest in those technologies.
Sheldon (1997) suggests that ‘‘high tech and high touch’’ can bring efficiency, reduced costs and the potential for higher levels of personal services. Wireless applications will propel customer centric approaches, placing knowledge and information at the core of the competitive profile of tomorrow’s hospitality enterprise (Olsen and Connolly 2000).
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