It wasn't too long ago that cell phones only served one major function: to make the all important phone call. However as technology progresses to include smartphone models from BlackBerry, Apple and others, cell phone users are becoming more adept at using their devices to access a multitude of applications. This evolution in cell phone use presents hospitality operators with a unique outlet to create efficiencies in multiple areas, such as speed of service, advertising and more. And as of late, operators and vendors alike are demonstrating that there is no end in sight to possible cell phone applications.
In Europe for example, researchers on the MOBVIS (www.mobvis.org) project are developing a new use for cell phones that allow users to "hyperlink reality." By simply taking a picture of a streetscape with their mobile phones, combined with the use of a specialized reader, relevant information about a restaurant or a tourist locale becomes instantly available to the cell phone user. A similar application will soon be in place at Walt Disney Land Resorts (www.disney.go.com) thanks to a recent deal with Verizon (www.verizonwireless.com). Using technology in the mobile phone that pinpoints the device's location, Disney will be able to recommend activities or restaurants to visitors based on their location in the parks.
"There's just an awful lot of experimentation right now. People understand these phones are very much a part of people's lives," said Gene Jeffers, executive director of the Themed Entertainment Assn., in a November 2008 LA Times article. "Disney has really been a leader in terms of the theme parks exploring these technologies and how they could be used."
Of course, these are areas that demonstrate the next step in the evolution of cell phone use. More tangible applications are gaining momentum in the hospitality front. Readyping (www.readyping.com) offers an SMS text messaging restaurant paging solution, and FoneKey (www.fonekey.net) makes an NFC-enabled locking solution that allows hotel guests to unlock guestrooms via their cell phones, in addition to remote check-in and out abilities and more.
The application of cell phones in the restaurant and lodging segment will only become more dominate in the years to come. Recent research released by In-Stat (www.instat.com) forecasts that more than 300 million WiFi-enabled cell phones will be sold in 2012, and that annual smartphone sales will double over the next five years. What do these numbers mean for the hospitality segment? Increased opportunity to reach guests.