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Minority Report meets hotels. It was inevitable. It’ll be interesting to see how this tech evolves, and how hotels walk the fine line between being serviceable and just pushing ads into guests’ phones.

Hilton Worldwide is testing out a new mobile app feature that brings Minority Report to life.

Relying on Wi-Fi, beacon technology, and GPS, this new feature on the Hilton HHonors app, called Fun Finder, was designed to act like a guest’s personal travel guide. It provides guests with detailed maps and wayfinding capabilities, information about on-property events, and notifies them of special offers and hotel features suited to their specific preferences, not unlike the customized advertisements seen in the 2002 film Minority Report.

“The whole idea was to build a personalized experience for the guest that was based on three different key elements — guest preference, place of the guest, and time,” said Rich DiStefano, senior director of mobile products for Hilton Worldwide. “We can make the experience different for you based on where you are and the time of day; it’s about giving guests the right information at the right time.”

Here’s how it works: To be able to access this feature, a guest has to be a Hilton HHonors loyalty member, book direct, and have downloaded the Hilton HHonors mobile app. Once a guest books a stay at one of the two pilot hotels (Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu or the Hilton Anatole in Dallas), she can opt in to the Fun Finder feature and fill out a pre-arrival survey on the app to fill in her preferences. Information collected from the survey is then used to customize the Fun Finder feature during her stay at the hotel.

For example, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a guest might receive an invite for an island walking tour or a drink special at the bar for attending the hotel’s Waikiki Starlight Luau. Or at the Hilton Anatole, which often hosts large meeting, a Hilton HHonors member might get notices for upcoming happy hours at the new JadeWaters swim-up bar, or learn more about the various art pieces on display in the hotel’s museum.

The Future Is Now

This concept — using beacon technology and GPS to deliver targeted messaging and information to guests — is one that’s been brewing for a while now.

Facebook, however, tested out a similar technology last year, using Facebook Bluetooth.

For now, the notifications from Hilton’s Fun Finder are a one-way dialogue from the hotel to guests, although Hilton is planning to add two-way, live messaging chat function on its app next year — which is something its peers are also investing in heavily.

“This is what they want to be able to do by developing these apps,” Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting firm, said. “They don’t want to just react to guests’ needs but actually anticipate those needs based on past behaviors or preferences. I think that’s where a lot of the messaging features are headed.”

In August, Marriott International senior vice president of digital, George Corbin, told Skift that Marriott is currently working on a similar proximity-based app service to Fun Finder. “Our ability to do that well represents an inflection point of how we view service versus marketing,” Corbin said. “None of us wants to be a victim or perpetrator of spamming on your device, but I think marketing can become a service if it’s personalized and in the right moment.”

In 2014, Marriott also tested out a beacon technology-based LocalPerks push-messaging program through its Marriott Guest Services App.

When asked if he was concerned the notifications may be negatively perceived more as marketing than service-oriented, Hilton’s DiStefano said, “We’re very mindful to make sure we don’t turn this into a marketing channel. We try to deliver high-value things to guests that are really about their stay.”

Cole said having this type of mobile app feature does open up additional revenue streams for hotels and that it’s “not just about creating more robust guest profiles but mining those profiles or behaviors of guests to introduce opportunities for simple things like drink specials, on-site fitness classes, spa treatments, and more.” He added, “When it comes to marketing if they can stat cross selling or upselling different products or services that will deliver the ROI the hotel brands and owners are looking for.”

DiStefano said Hilton hasn’t yet determined exactly what kind of costs are involved for hotel owners to implement the Fun Finder technology at their respective properties but he said the technology was “very scalable” and can “be deployed fairly easily.” He anticipates the feature becoming available at other hotels, especially resorts, in the future as well.

He also said the guest feedback on the feature, so far, has been overwhelmingly positive and that information collected via Fun Finder will also be used by the hotels to better see and understand how traffic is moving on property. “It’ll help the hotels deliver service better, too,” he said.

Fun Finder is just one feature included in the Hilton HHonors app. Others include digital check-in with room selection 24 hours pre-arrival, Digital Key, and the ability to hail an Uber. By including all these different features in Hilton’s own native app, DiStefano said he believes it incentivizes guests to download the app and avoid app fatigue.

“We’re trying to make the app more than just a booking tool and more about the overall stay,” DiStefano said. “If you can deliver value beyond the Web, guests will really enjoy it. Digital Key and Fun Finder are things you can do on the Web. They are unlocking doors for you and knowing your location.”

But he was also quick to point out that as much as Hilton is investing in its digital and mobile products, it still wants to give guests a choice of just how much technology they want to use. “We’re building things like Digital Key and Fun Finder to make things easier for them but they have the complete choice and control over how much of the technology they want to engage with.”

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Tags: hilton, marriott, mobile apps, mobile technology, travel apps

Photo credit: Hilton's newest mobile app feature uses Wi-Fi, beacon technology, and GPS to inform guests of on-property events, features, and special offers, as well as wayfinding. Hilton Worldwide

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