Imagine landing in Narita Airport after a fourteen hour flight from New York, shuffling through long lines at immigration, and scanning for your suitcase through each seemingly identical piece of luggage that falls off the baggage carousel. Imagine if during that time, it was possible to simultaneously contact your hotel, research restaurants, and make dinner reservations without having to make a single phone call. While this may have once been a Jetsons-esque fantasy, it might soon become reality as premier Japanese hotels pioneer new ways to innovate the hospitality industry by using Apple’s iPad.
Since its launch in May 2010, when 1,200 frenzied fans camped out in front of the Apple Store in Ginza, the iPad has taken Japan by storm. In fact, the iPad’s popularity has not only seen rival tech companies scramble to release a competitive product, but it has also forced Japanese publishers to pick up their heels to delve into the world of e-publishing with renewed vigor. So it should come as little surprise that Japanese hotels are turning to iPads as a way to enhance their services as well.
For example, according to the Nikkei, Hilton Worldwide began a program in January that will use iPads to promote its wedding services to couples in all eight Hilton hotels in Japan. The service will allow prospective clients to view images of the hotel’s banquet halls and other venues from multiple angles to take a glimpse of their future wedding day. Considering that hotels serve as popular wedding venues, the service has potential to give Hilton a competitive edge. The company has also announced that it will enable guests unable to attend to view the ceremonies using the iPad via a live stream, even if they are located outside of Japan.
The iPad’s portability, interactive touch screen, and Internet capabilities also make it an ideal device for concierges looking to help tourists enjoy their time in Tokyo. Gone are the days where guests had to crane their necks to get a better view of whatever information the hotel staff was pointing to on their computer screen. At Tokyo’s Shangri-La Hotel, concierges now have the ability to look up restaurants, tourist destinations and other pertinent information and effortlessly share that data with guests by simply passing them the iPad.
While these iPad-based services will undoubtedly do much to add a “cool” factor and hopefully attract more guests, they also make a lot of sense on a business level. Provided that there are no disastrous technological glitches and the services remain user-friendly, the iPad can do much to increase efficiency as it will be able to take over some of the work traditionally done by regular hotel staff. As such, installing iPads in hotels may in fact help to reduce overall costs.
Hotels currently employing iPad-based services may also benefit from Apple’s technological savvy and reputation for constant innovation of its products. Just as the iPhone evolved from the iPhone 3G, to the iPhone 3GS to its current incarnation as the iPhone 4, so too will the iPad evolve into the “iPad 2.0.” Kevin Rose, founder of popular social news website Digg, recently posted on his blog news that Apple is indeed planning to release the second generation of iPads in the near future. According to Rose, who is well known for revealing juicy tidbits regarding upcoming Apple devices, the new iPad will feature front and back side cameras. While this remains largely speculative, it’s easy to see how these innovations could give hotels (as well as many other industries looking to utilize the iPad) more room to expand their services.
These technologically-enhanced services, however, need not be limited to the iPad. Many hotels, including the aforementioned Shangri-La Hotel, offer interactive apps replete with restaurant guides and tourist information for iPhones on Apple’s App store. According to the Nikkei report, the Shangri-La Hotel app has already been downloaded more than 1,600 times by users living outside of Japan since June. Regardless of whether Apple’s iPad remains the king of tablet computers, or if it is eventually overthrown by one of its competitors, its success in Japan has sent out a clear message: Technology is now the primary new frontier for the hospitality business.