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Meliá Hotels has begun offering guests electronic bracelets that serve as a payment method while on its properties in Magaluf, a popular Spanish resort.
While other travel companies have introduced wearable tech for payments, Meliá’s effort stands out for also being able to work at nearby participating merchants, such as a Starbucks coffee shop, a Mango fashion store, and a shop at the Katmandu theme park.
In June, Meliá, Spain’s largest hotel chain, began handing out the wristbands to guests when they check in at Sol Katmandu Park Hotel and Calviá Beach The Plaza. Between mid-August and early autumn, it will make the bracelets operational at nine hotels.
Guests can walk up to the door of their guest room and use the bracelet to unlock it automatically. They can also pay for spa treatments, restaurant meals, and rides at the Meliá-owned Wave House theme park in Magaluf. Purchases are charged to the room.
“The bracelet is waterproof for wearing in a pool, ocean, or shower,” said Sara Ranghi, brand leader for corporate brands and customer experience at Meliá.
The bracelet syncs wirelessly by Bluetooth antennas to the hotel chain’s mobile app. Parents can use the Meliá app on their phone to control the settings for each bracelet used by a family member, such as setting a maximum spending limit for a child.
Wearable Tech Trend
The trend in wearable tech was heralded by the success of Disney’s MagicBand — widely used in the company’s Florida theme parks — as an all-purpose payment method, admittance ticket, and, in the case of guests staying at its resort hotels, keyless entry for the doors to guest rooms.
Wearable tech drew a bigger spotlight when Carnival announced its Ocean Medallion technology in January 2017. A wireless gadget worn on the wrist or neck of passengers to enable them to embark a ship, enter their stateroom without needing a key, shop, or make reservations.
“Disney and Carnival were the pioneers,” said Ranghi of Meliá. “We learned from them and used the tech concept for our own needs.”
What’s notable is that the complexity of implementing similar solutions may be decreasing. Meliá’s effort is “a several hundred thousand euro project,” Ranghi said, speaking of the project for a handful of points of sale.
If successful, Meliá will roll it out to its other resorts. It runs more than 370 hotels in 43 countries under various brands, but its urban properties probably aren’t a good fit for the technology.
Unlike with Disney’s and Carnival’s efforts, Meliá’s wearable tech program was built from the start to be usable by merchants outside the property who are willing to participate.
Here’s the backstory. Meliá was seeking ways to innovate in the resort town of Magaluf, whose rejuvenation has been heavily supported by the hotel chain. For example, it spent millions on creating a shopping mall there called Momentum Plaza.
Technology giant Oracle runs a digital innovation team for enterprise clients, led by Neil Sholay, vice president of digital. This is separate from Oracle’s hospitality division that runs a widely-used hotel property management system.
At no cost, the team spent three months with Meliá’s digital team brainstorming and building a live prototype. André Gerondeau, Meliá’s chief operating officer, then approved the system’s purchase and rollout.
A third-party startup makes the physical bracelet that uses radio frequency identification, or RFID, tracking system.
Oracle’s system links to Meliá’s property management, reservation, and marketing systems.
External merchants, like the Starbucks and Mango shops in Magaluf, also accept the bracelets for payment by downloading a free Oracle app to mobile devices equipped with RFID readers, which many stores worldwide already have. No custom hardware installation at the point of sale needs to be bought and added.
The retailer’s systems then communicate the transaction information to Meliá’s via Oracle’s cloud-based solution, according to Jose Ignacio Alvarez, a digital director in a European applications business unit at Oracle.
When a customer shops with the bracelet, his or her name will be confirmed, for security reasons. There is no personal data within the bracelets, which are integrated with a system developed using Oracle Cloud technology.
Until now, complexity threatened to hold back the widespread adoption of wearable tech.
As Skift reported in October 2017, the slow rollout of Carnival Corp.’s trackable gadgets for passengers has gotten slower. The staged phase-in on one ship, the Regal Princess, was supposed to begin in November but was postponed — suggesting that the complexity of rolling out systems like this requires patience.
The latest word from Carnival is that the company received positive feedback from guests and crew during the phased 2018 implementation.
“While Regal Princess is being re-positioned to Europe for the second half of the cruise season, installation and implementation of Ocean Medallion will begin next on Caribbean Princess in the U.S.,” a spokesperson said.
Other companies have also experimented with variations on wearable tech.
Ski resorts for years have offered electronic passes that they scan to access mountain lifts.
A case in point: Vail Resorts has an Epic Pass that operates on a radio frequency, which means that any holder can keep the pass in their pocket and still be scanned rather than other passes that must be worn on the outside of clothing to be scanned. The pass also can be loaded with money and used as a payment method at resort restaurants and shops.
In 2014 at the Spanish resort of Ibiza, The Palladium Hotel Group’s Ushuaïa Ibiza experimented with distributing a bracelet that enabled guests to make payments through PayPal for services around the property.
The speed at which Meliá was able to create and install its solution suggests that the process could become less daunting depending on business objectives.
In most of these wearable tech experiments, travel companies hope to use the data collected from the bracelets to track their guests’ preferences. After more work, the companies ought to be able to use this data to personalize marketing and guests’ travel experiences — perhaps someday in real-time.
For instance, Meliá’s bracelets will generate data on guest behaviors and preferences, such as their restaurant choices and spa activities. Oracle’s Sholay says that it could use that data, cross-referenced with consumer data the tech giant has collected, to help Meliá’s make its marketing more relevant.
“Work on that will be in phase two next year when we will take the data and find a better use to personalize the experience,” Meliá’s Ranghi said.