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As You Like It

RFID can help hotels, resorts and restaurants both attract and retain customers by providing personalized and convenient services.
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Oct 01, 2007—In the multibillion-dollar global hospitality industry, hotels, resorts and restaurants are competing fiercely to engender customer allegiance by creating loyalty programs and increasing their use of customer relationship management techniques, as well as with branding and marketing. Now many in the hospitality industry believe that radio frequency identification could give establishments that invest in the technology a competitive advantage, by personalizing the customer experience and making services more convenient.

It's a well-known fact in the hospitality industry that it's far costlier to attract new customers than to keep existing ones, especially high-end patrons. RFID may enable establishments to provide more personalized services and pampering that result in return business. For example, with RFID-enabled room key cards and RFID interrogators stationed at key locations on the premises, the concierge or the bartender in the lounge could greet guests by name. And if guests opted to have personal information loaded onto the RFID chips in their key cards, their rooms could respond to their preferences for temperature, lighting and even radio stations.

During the past few months, the RFID Hospitality Management Systems (RHyMeS) Center at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore has been demonstrating to executives of hotels, resorts and casinos from all over the world how to use RFID to personalize services, which has attracted interest from several chains. "A number of hotels in Singapore would like to empower their staff, particularly those who come into regular contact with guests, with the ability to identify and recognize the guests," says Ng Poh Oon, manager of the RHyMeS Center, which opened in 2006. "With this capability, the hotel staff would then be able to provide that extra personal touch by addressing the guest by his/her name and anticipating his/her needs accordingly."

It's not just high-end guests who could benefit from such services. Family-oriented resorts and amusement parks, as well as convention hotels, are issuing RFID-enabled wristbands and key fobs that guests can use to access their rooms and make cash-free purchases in gift shops, restaurants and arcades. And cruise ships are considering tracking passengers with RFID to increase security (see box on opposite page).

At the same time, hotels and resorts are applying RFID in behind-the-scenes applications to track assets, such as liquor and uniforms. And casinos have embedded RFID tags in gambling chips to impede theft and/or counterfeiting.

While some hotels and other establishments report a return on investment from closed-loop RFID applications, others cite privacy concerns and the cost of RFID room key cards and infrastructure as challenges to RFID adoption. And the benefits of RFID are not likely to spill over to the open supply chain, which includes food, beverages, uniforms and linens, anytime soon. The major chains are not requiring suppliers to RFID-tag shipments of goods to better track inventory, because they see the ROI in such applications as less immediate.
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