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Hospitality

Using QR and NFC for a Touchless In-Room Experience

21 May 2020

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The Touchless Post-COVID-19 Era

Alongside the obvious financial ramifications, we’re going to be facing a considerable challenge in adapting our hotel product for a touchless, more considered guest when it comes to physical movement and contact. The news and government guidance have been designed to make us more careful, sceptical and conscious of personal hygiene during the pandemic. This erodes trust and confidence within our guests and will need addressing in the weeks/months/years to come. A great way to do this is to create an environment which allows guests to be as independent as they want, without forcing them to make unnecessary contact with things.

Do you really want to pick up the laminated laundry instructions or the room service menu? Most probably not. This is where I think we can combine some lightning-fast static site / progressive web app technology with native NFC and QR technology built into our phones. The challenge we face is to augment the hotel experience with information, guidance and content without physical touch.

On paper, NFC and QR offer a contactless and easy way to augment information from the physical world. This presents an interesting opportunity for the sector in a post-COVID “can’t touch this” world. Sorry MC Hammer.

How can I use QR codes in Hotels?

Firstly, what are QR codes? Unless you have been living in a well for 20 years, you will have at least seen them somewhere, if not interacted with them. They are coded data in a matrix barcode to communicate messages. They were actually designed back in 1994 by the Japanese car industry for machines to easily read component data.

Translating this into marketing and where we are today, QR codes started their lives in smartphones requiring a specific app to use which always dampened market adoption. While QR readers were popular, it was never really adapted as a native use of the camera. In iOS 11 (end of 2017 wish) the iPhone build QR readers directly into the camera app and Android now has QR functionality directly in Google Lens (made part of the Camera app in late 2018).

While QR codes have perhaps lost their buzz and sheen from the early days of putting them on big billboards, they actually now have the capacity to be far more widely used than ever before because 99.47% of the mobile OS market now has it natively included in their smartphones!

QR codes can be used for sending emails, phoning, business cards, URL redirects, Geolocation, Wireless connections, plain text and more. The one I think has the most power here is the Dynamic QR code. In this case, we use the QR code to point to a URL and then we can control the user experience from there in the same way we manage a normal website.

How can I use NFC in Hotels?

For the purposes of this implementation, the end result of NFC and QR are actually very similar, we are using a redirect link to point people to specific information landing pages which will serve specific information. That way, the two can actually be used together and the database/content on the other side can remain agnostic to the traffic source.

NFC stands for Near Field Communication and can be used to communicate between devices. In this case, the two devices can be a tag (a low-cost chip that you can embed or stick on things) and a user’s smartphone.

When a user with NFC puts their smartphone near the tag, the phone will perform the intended action such as open a particular web address. The cool thing about NFC tags is that they are reprogrammable and you can change their use over time. This functionality can be spoofed with QR codes and redirects but is an important consideration.

Using static site technology for super-fast app-like content

So now the guest has used their surroundings be that QR or NFC to open a URL – what we need to do next is critical. To get the best results we really shouldn’t just open up a page on our current website and we’ll go into the reasons shortly.

The landing page is going to need to be REALLY fast to make this work seamlessly, so fast in fact that your image-heavy, marketing focussed website will probably not be able to deliver the information at the rate a user will expect. We need to be rendering in <300ms ideally which can be very well handled by static site technology.

Static sites are growing in popularity for their speed and performance. Essentially, a static site is just HTML, CSS and Javascript. All the pages of the website area actually individual HTML files as opposed to templates that require a database lookup every time the page loads. For this reason, they are lighting fast and through tools like next.js and Gatsby, can feel much like a native application. To work alongside your main front-facing site, I would probably host it separately on a subdomain such as info.hotel.com

Content management can still easily be done through a headless CMS like Contentful, WordPress and many others; it is more the build and server process that is different.

How can I implement all of this?

With these two technologies considered, let’s smash them together. We can create high quality, branded stickers, NFC tags or print material that we can place on certain aspects of the hotel experience. Each one of these, when scanned, will snap a user within milliseconds to appropriate information on a website. This could also include live chat technology, starting a call with reception instead of using the hotel handset, viewing the daily room service specials by scanning the menu tag.

We can also use this to learn about our guest behaviour and with a strategic and thorough link planning and tracking process we will very easily be able to analyse the levels of interaction around a hotel to further optimise and even educate the guests to allow them to touchless-ly access more information.

QR codes and NFC are only a mechanism here, the real thought and work go into creating clear, structured data that is served at almost instant speeds once the scan has happened so it feels as native as possible.

There are some incredibly exciting developments around Google Lens AR which I would like to address in another post on how hotels and augmented reality will move forward but I think this is certainly a first baby step of augmenting the hotel room experience using technology. There are a lot more exciting and creative possibilities which we’ll explore in due course!

If this is something that could be of value then please do let us know and we’ll be happy to discuss it with you whether that is creating a static site / progressive web app or designing some cool tags.

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