INTERNATIONAL REPORT—More than a week after its release, the techno-pundits and early adopters are mixed in their reactions to the iPad, Apple’s slick touch-screen tablet computer. Within the hotel sector, consultants and operators believe the gadget will serve a practical purpose.
Ask Charles Yap, and he will tell you it’s the buzz and the utility that makes the iPad interesting.
As director of global brand communications for InterContinental Hotels Group, Yap is aware of both the buzz surrounding Apple’s newest gizmo as well as the capabilities of its intuitive interface.
“It’s something that’s fun. It’s something that the world has been waiting for,” he said. “It’s making the concierge more personable.”
That’s according to initial results he’s seen at four IHG properties throughout the world, at which the concierge teams are test-driving the iPad for a possible broad-scale rollout.
It’s certainly going well so far, Yap said. The use of the device has sparked interest among guests, who are approaching the concierge in greater droves to see the iPad in action as they ask for dinner recommendations, view maps and turn-by-turn directions, or watch proprietary videos highlighting hotel amenities and area attractions.
The concierges, in turn, aren’t chained behind their desks. The iPad’s portable nature (it measures 9.56 inches high, 7.47 inches wide and 0.5 inches deep and weighs 1.5 pounds) allows them to easily walk around the lobby floor while still being able to access the information they need with the touch and swipe of a finger.
And unlike the implementation of other technologies, which can take weeks or months of staff training, the iPad was in the hands of the concierges as soon as Yap returned from an Atlanta Apple store on the day of its release.
“It’s so easy to use that there is really almost no need for training,” he said.
Executives at IHG aren’t the only hoteliers who think the iPad can serve a practical application within the hotel industry. Tech specialists and consultants shared a similar optimism.
“(The iPad’s potential) is only limited by one’s imagination,” said Terence Ronson, managing director of Pertlink Limited. “Imagine a check-in counter only using iPads—very possible. Imagine interactive wine lists with tasting notes—very possible. Imagine engineers with online documentation on how-to-fix something—very possible. Imagine roaming hotel management with online access to hotel systems to include arrival lists, VIP lists, CRM systems, etc.—very possible.”
“I see a whole lot of uses for them,” said Frank Wolfe, CEO of Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals.
The use at the concierge desk—where guests can view maps and videos without having to strain their necks across the table—is one example; as is use in the guestroom itself. The device is so intuitive that it could bridge the gap between older technophobes and the high-tech capabilities of the modern hotel suite, Wolfe said.
“You look at the picture, you touch it, and golly, you get what you want,” he said.
The iPad’s functionality in that space is so rife with possibilities that Wolfe said it might even pop up in HFTP’s Guestroom 20X, a traveling full-scale display that features the leading-edge and near-future technologies of tomorrow’s hotel rooms.
The iPad could just as easily make its way to the back of house as well, said Joe Buhler, a contract analyst for PhoCusWright who specializes in destination and social media marketing. “As it evolves, and new apps are developed, it definitely can become a useful tool.
“I could imagine that some tools could be developed for the industry which could then be used for housekeeping or for people who are working behind the scenes,” he said. “Something like a tablet with an interface where you don’t need to carry around a laptop.”
Working out the kinks
As with any new device, the iPad has its fair share of kinks. Critics have bemoaned the device’s lack of Flash, a camera, HDMI port and multitasking capabilities. The keyboard also is very sensitive, making for tedious typing, according to Buhler, who has owned an iPad since they were released on 3 April.
These shortcomings presumably will be reworked in future iterations and software patches. But thus far, the gadget’s potential capabilities for hotel application far outweigh its negatives, the sources agreed.
“The iPad is the first true hand-held device that is of practical use apart from say taking inventory or doing a few basic tasks,” Ronson said. “The form factor, the battery life, the price and ease of programming make it very practical and feasible.”
Whether or not it will begin appearing in hotels throughout the world has yet to be seen, but Yap is optimistic.
“We do think it’s going to be quite successful,” he said.