A harried mom and dad are driving down the highway with a car full of kids on a summer road trip gone awry. They usually stay at a Holiday Inn, but with the hour growing late and the backseat natives growing restless, they’re faced with a dilemma: take a chance that a Holiday Inn will fortuitously appear at the upcoming exit, or pull off at the next available motel, brand name be damned. What if they could somehow discover that a Holiday Inn was a only a few exits away? This is a scenario envisioned by Air2Web, an Atlanta-based wireless platform provider that has made inroads into the hospitality sector with both its Mobile Internet Platform and 2CRM solutions.
For the past three years, the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG)—which owns seven properties, including Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express—has used Air2Web’s Mobile Internet Platform, which now allows customers to locate the nearest IHG hotel, research its amenities and create and manage reservations, all through any Internet-capable device, such as a cell phone or PDA. “[IHG] needed a way to let people be loyal to them,” says Air2Web CTO Dale Gonzalez. “You can find something near you, you can verify it has availability, you can book it and then just drive up, drive in and away you go.”
One of the benefits of Air2Web’s platform is that it works on any network and can operate on over 900 kinds of wireless devices currently in use, a big plus for IHG. “Creating a special wireless Web interface for thousands of devices would be pretty much impossible for us to support,” says Del Ross, director of global e-commerce for IHG. “What Air2Web allows us to do is provide a single interface—they take care of converting it, so that any wireless user using any flavor of device can access a functional version of the site.”
It’s this flexibility and the service’s growing popularity that make IHG optimistic about the wireless platform’s future. Ross notes that customers have already shown how they best like to use the service, which anyone can access for basic hotel information. (For security reasons, Priority Club membership is required to actually book a reservation via a wireless device.) For instance, potential guests can call 800-HOLIDAY to book a room at the nearest Holiday Inn as easily as they can book a room online with a cell phone. However, having hotel information—such as directions from the airport or a phone number—readily available on a cell phone screen, rather than on a piece of paper floating around the car, is proving to be even more popular.
“People still [make reservations online], but primarily they use the service for looking up information about where they’re already going to stay,” says Ross. “It’s kind of a neat thing when you deploy a new technology, and you think you know how your customers are going to benefit from it, but they basically end up finding their own uses that they like better.”
An Oasis Emerges
Hotel guests aren’t the only ones taking advantage of an Air2Web solution—MGM Mirage properties in Las Vegas recently launched a new Thick Client trouble ticket system using a solution called 2CRM. The application allows technicians from MGM’s IT department to receive their daily assignments using a smartphone. Before the new system was launched in March 2004, MGM technicians—who service operations such as PCs, printers and point-of-sale equipment—would print out calls in the morning, respond to the service requests and then return to the tech room to update the calls. Travel time meant calls were not updated as soon as they were completed, and emergency calls couldn’t always be assigned out immediately. “[The technicians] would complete a call, but because of the time it took to travel back and forth and get to the tech room to update the calls, they might not meet the deadline,” says MGM Mirage’s director of computer engineering, Mike Amie.
With the launch of the Air2Web system, MGM Mirage has 35 technicians using Nextel-Motorola i58 phones to receive calls. Only the Push-to-Talk portions of the devices are activated, and the technicians receive an image of the trouble ticket, just as they would on a PC. The difference is, now they can update a call immediately upon completion, in addition to responding to emergency calls with greater efficiency. “If they get something that is a higher priority, they can get a message on that smart device, saying, ‘Hey, forget this, drop that, go to XYZ,’” says Air2Web’s Gonzalez. “For companies like MGM that know to the penny what the cost of a downed system is, having the ability to more effectively schedule their repair people was critical.” In addition, the technicians can continue to interact with the application even when their phones are out of range.
MGM Mirage is studying the possibility of expanding the service to other departments within the hotel properties that might need the benefits of greater connectivity even more than the IT department. “For our department, the benefits are really hard to measure, because the guys can use the radio. But in most cases there’s a PC or a thin client available in the area they’re in that can do the same thing,” says Amie. “There are other areas within the hotels."