The project: Equip concierges at InterContinental Hotels and Resorts with Apple iPads to provide guests with enhanced maps and directions, video recommendations, and instant booking confirmations for local restaurants, performances and attractions.
The Business Case: InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has experimented with several technologies for concierges, from interactive wall boards, which guests use to find local attractions or check on their flights, to mobile phone apps. "We've been working to establish the InterContinental brand as the in-the-know brand," says Bryson Koehler, IHG's senior vice president of global revenue and guest technology. "Our concierges are front and center. We make a lot of investments in the people themselves and the technology to support them."
So when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in January, Koehler saw a potentially effective tool for getting concierges at the 166-hotel chain out from behind their desks. His team had tried and failed at that before. Windows-based tablets were too clunky; smartphones were too small. He discussed the iPad with CIO Tom Conophy and CMO Tom Seddon, and they agreed that "this might be a neat way to try again," Koehler recalls.
For example, Koehler pictured London concierges using the device to deliver directions to sightseers more effectively than drawing on a paper map. "They can pull the map up, move around on the screen-you're here, go out the front door, take a right, walk down three blocks and look up-there's Big Ben," says Koehler. "I thought its interactive nature would make it a more conversational tool."
First Steps: Koehler's team hatched a plan to deliver 16 iPads to IHG's marquee properties in New York, Atlanta, London and Hong Kong. Then he rolled the dice and told his developers to use the iTouch software development kit. They took existing Web-based concierge applications and adapted them for hardware they had yet to see.
When the iPad went on sale April 3, Koehler and his team were first in line at the Atlanta's Apple Store on Peachtree Road. By the end of the day, the iPads were loaded with each hotel's customized app and ready to ship. Development to deployment took less than a month.
So far, concierges like the device, and guests, who IHG invited to tweet about their reactions, appreciate the enhanced experience, says Conophy. "Technology pilots are a great way to gauge guest appetite for product innovations quickly, easily and cost effectively."
In a few months, IHG will decide whether to expand the rollout. If some concierges like it but others don't, "we could do an opt-in program," Koehler says. He also wants to know whether location makes a difference-is it cooler in New York than in Hong Kong? Meanwhile, Koehler is thinking of more ways to deploy the devices, such as lending them to guests to access newspapers or watch movies by the pool.
What to Watch Out For: Maps are vital to a concierge. But Koehler says the iPad's native map application has a clunky interface, so concierges are currently using Web-based Google Maps instead. Koehler hopes to find a better way to use the map app.
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This story, "A Hotel Chain Checks Out the IPad" was originally published by CIO.