Adding an 'i' to Hospitality
By Jules Kay
Steve Jobs may have left the house, but the iRevolution he led has satisfied hungry consumers with innovative products no one knew they were missing until they watched his legendary Apple presentations. In particular, the scrambling popularity for the versatility of the iPad has changed the way business is conducted across the board, from banking to health services, construction to charity. The game changer of the computing world has also reinvented the way people communicate in this increasingly on-the-go version of life most of us lead, and the hospitality and travel industry were among the earliest adopters.
In today's cloudy skies, competition is stiff, with airlines trying to beat their rival route providers by the centimetre -- literally. Copious leg room is now a basic expectation on first and business class cabins, with newer aircrafts such as the Airbus A380 paving the way for an imminent boost in freedom to luxe it up. Qatar serves up 10-course in-flight meals, Cathay Pacific is planning original abstract artwork on its long-hauls, and both Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways are teaming up with Poltrona Frau (of Ferrari leather interior fame) to snazz up passenger seats.
But before cattle class fliers could cry "What about us?", Qantas' budget subsidiary, Jetstar, became the world's first airline to announce iPad-IFE (inflight entertainment) rentals on its flights -- with customized holding brackets to boot. After several postponed deadlines, the concept is set to be launched within the year and since its announcement Iceland Express has also joined the frenzy, as has airBaltic, who upped the ante by offering onboard iPad2. Malaysia Airlines has also revealed plans to introduce the idea on the A330s, while Finnair CEO Mika Vehviläinen recently announced that their next generation jetliners may have iPads replacing in-seat video screens altogether, the devices pre-loaded with personalized content including television shows, games, music and reading material -- before the passenger even arrives at his seat.
On the flip side of the same journey, cabin crews are also being armed with the mighty iPad. All Nippon Airways flights are rolling out the tablet for flight attendant training, a move which the Japanese airline expects to reduce costs by US$2.6m. iPads are also on trial with both British Airways and KLM, with the aim of improving and speeding up customer service with the amount of information at the finger tips of the pursers and other crew, including seat locations, traveling companions, dietary restrictions, frequent flyer status, as well as any customer service related issues lodged with ground staff within the airline's network.
The iPad trend even continues into the cockpit, with Alaska Airlines pioneering a shift towards a paperless flight deck after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handed down its approval of the device in the cockpit. American Airlines, United-Continental, KLM, Qantas, and Delta Airlines soon followed suit with specialty apps allowing for personalized realtime meteorological information and navigation charts, and the digitization of flight manuals shaving 17 kilograms off the weight per pilot, which ultimately translates into decreased fuel consumption. Savings can amount to US$1.2m per year for just American Airlines and eco-warriors also rejoice at the 12,000 sheets of paper saved (the approximated page count per traditional manual).
The i-Proliferation doesn't stop when travellers reach their destination either. Hotels such as Missoni Kuwait have been using them for check-in, while Holiday Inn is testing the iPad to replace room keys. The InterContinental is also leveraging the iPad2's Facetime™ feature for travellers to connect with concierges while planning their trip. All rooms in London's Ecclestone Square come equipped with an iPad, which acts as the go-to panel for guests for everything from curtain control and room temperature to spa reservations and housekeeping requests. They're not the only ones - Miami's Hotel Beaux Arts, New York's Plaza Hotel, Sydney's Establishment Hotel, and the Four Seasons in Los Angeles have already climbed on the bandwagon. Hyatt Hotels & Resorts have gone a step further by implementing iPads throughout their entire empire, cascading through the departments from its Chicago headquarters down to each property.
Compared with large hotels and resorts where time efficiency is of the essence, holiday homes and private villas tend to lean towards a more personal and unhurried approach to service. However, conveniences such as using the iPad for credit card payments, or lending them to guests with a pre-loaded map featuring nearby places of interest, could very well see them being utilized in the holiday residence rental sector to complement face-to-face human interaction, which is ultimately indispensable, however advanced tablets get in the future.
Experts' 2011 sales forecast for Apple's sexy gadget reaches skywards of 40 million units, not including the 14.8 million sold in 2010. With the first generation device only launched in 2010, it is perhaps too early to say if the convenience of this new communication device is here to stay, or whether it will just be a short-term piggyback on the wider Mac appeal. But for now, there's no denying the wow factor of everything iPad-affiliated, as well as the intriguing ways the the simple platform is freeing up an army of innovators to perhaps permanently change the dynamics of social connectivity.