Embracing Mobile Technologies

Increase a guest experience by giving them immediate access to the information they need, when and where they need it. Whether a guest is on a casino’s property to gamble on poker, blackjack, slots, bingo, wager in the sportsbook, or just relax at the property’s spa, mobile applications can provide a guest with instant information that cannot only enhance their experience, but possibly shape their experience. Embracing these mobile technologies is an important facet of marketing and guest experiences in this modern age.

Mobile technologies in casinos consisted mostly of hospitality-type applications where users are receiving information about rooms, shows and dining. Interactive tools were developed to expand the offering, providing users with methods to reserve rooms, tickets and tables. These applications became known as guest-facing apps. Properties uploaded apps into the iTunes store or the Android market for the public to download to their mobile devices.

The advent of mobile technology reminds me of when Internet-based kiosks were introduced to the casino industry. This was an interface that became a powerhouse of ideas. Today, kiosk companies supply the industry with loyalty coupons, cash advance, self check-in and self-service many things, all based on pretty close to the same principles that I am seeing on mobile development; well-designed user interfaces, back-end technologies and networking. The new pocket kiosks.

Being able to embrace mobile technologies requires a common ground between marketing and IT. Areas of use for mobile requires a good understanding of who the user is and for what, when and where they will be using the app, but also making sure that security and protocols are in place.

Learn who your guest is and what they expect when they use your app. Some properties have decided to provide their guest with a simple app that allows for common services to be provided. Another approach is to provide VIP guests with an app that allows them to have special conveniences.

What will your guest be using the app for? Put yourself in your guest’s place. If you travel and you visit a casino, what are the most important things you might find useful? I would love to see my guest folio and activity during my stay and also be able to view my points to see how close or far away I am from that big prize. IGT has some neat technology that does just that. That would get me to download the app to my mobile device and keep it there during my stay. But what about after? Do I delete the app and leave my points behind?

When and where will the app be used? If you plan on targeting the guest while they are on their stay, what value can you provide the most through a mobile offering? What type of mobile device do most of your guests have? Do you suspect the iPhones and Androids would cover your mobile strategy? Do you want mobile access to become a value-added service to the guest and also when, as to not distract the guest or deteriorate the property image. How about coverage? Have you tested your property under different providers and does your Wi-Fi expand throughout the areas you seek to offer mobiles services?

Indoor mapping and wayfinding via mobile, I believe, can be a guest-shaping experience. This mapping tool can start from the front desk by giving directions to the room, but also by being able to provide the guest with live methods to interact with commerce available within the property.

Mobile player cards will become more prominent inside casinos as well. This will become a way for properties to reduce costs and become more “green” with the reduction of plastic cards. Mobile player cards can also become digital wallets that help enable transactions through the use of those member accounts.

Mobile betting apps are slowly passing regulations and making their way onto the floor. These apps are all a part of the mobile movement, and when you think of deploying apps, there are many moving parts that go alongside it.

Mobile gaming is expected to be a $48 billion market by 2015, according to Juniper Research. It is expected that if (or when) Japan and Korea both approve gaming it will spread very rapidly and we will see casinos immediately sprout up from this new regulation. Mobile will take on new regulations and have new impact from a global point of view as more properties become multinational. Do you release apps based on the country you are targeting? Or do you make one app that applies to all and change the language preferences to the user? Even domestically, your audience needs definition to offer the biggest value-add.

Push notifications, or SMS messaging, are two key communication protocols for mobile. The use of geo fencing, location-based services and targeted member marketing using mobile analytics and data intelligence are important strategies to segregate from interfaces, which rely on marketing input and aligning programs with infrastructure and content delivery systems. Mobile brings marketing and IT together for solution resolutions as it applies to guest experiences.

QR codes (2-D barcodes) are being used to deliver mobile content to users by scanning a printed barcode. Near Field Communication (NFC) is becoming a big part of transactions and is being tied into marketing as closed-loop verification systems. Augmented reality is of coming age where virtual tags can be placed on real-world objects. Soon you will be able to see this in magazines and printed materials where a mobile device will scan a page and deliver animated content.

So to embrace mobile technologies takes a few things. It’s not just about building an app and hoping that you get enough downloads to make it a hit. It’s not even just about the marketing of that app and getting some exposure to tell people that you have an app. First you need to decide if the app is going to face a guest or your staff. Then you need to decide how to support that app internally. This includes managing the app after it is deployed, as well as all the stages it takes to get it deployed. This involves marketing, IT and executive management to make sure that the app becomes a value-add. The value-add is the essential key to executing mobile. Some things to consider when deploying mobile apps inside your property include the following:

Customer-Facing App
-Web apps

Enterprise App(s)
-Web apps

Set Security Policies
-Open to the public
-Closed loop network

Central Mobile Management
-Over the air controls
-Diagnose and resolve issues
-Mobile user management

Let’s look at the types of devices that are out there today. You have mobile handsets, tablets, Androids, BlackBerrys, iPods and iPads. You have business travelers and vacationers. Chances are your website handles these users today to some degree. You have notebook travelers, at-office and at-home users. The mobile audience requires real-time information to transact to this new generation of technology.

Embracing mobile also requires that security is implemented if it is a data or transaction vehicle. Is the app operating in a public fashion, or behind a firewall and available to only staff? Or is it used to make reservations, purchase tickets or even to utilize as a player card? These factors require architecture and system design, which requires you to follow guidelines from the MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) and CAN-SPAM regulations for SMS (CAN-SPAM Act), PCI compliance and gaming regulations to view and approve the methods.

I see mobile strategies being deployed everywhere. From universities to government to medical, mobile is a way of life. No doubt technology inside the resorts will all have important mobile strategies similar to the advent of web and wide area networks. According to one report by a leading U.K. online bingo authority: 47 percent of bingo players own a mobile phone with web-enabled technology and of that survey, 34 percent stated they would play bingo for real money on that mobile phone. Of those respondents, 65 percent owned Android-enabled phones, 19 percent owned BlackBerrys and 16 percent owned iPhones.

Besides mobile gaming, marketing is a very powerful way to capture and recognize behaviors and preferences through the use of coupons and offers. “There are more than 350 million active users (44 percent) currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook as non-mobile users,” according to Facebook official statistics from November 2011.

Server-based technologies and interfaces will be utilized as necessities to this way of life. Making mobile smarter inside your property is the first step to embracing mobile technologies.